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I Think of Cindi (1987)

I Think of Cindi (1987)

©1987, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1987). I think of Cindi. Unpublished short fiction.

This is the fourth of four short stories about a man with normal intelligence who has been housed in a mental institution because of his quadriplegia. It’s the only one of the four not to be published—probably because it deals with sexuality of the disabled.


About This Story

Throughout my lifetime I have worked in a professional capacity with adults with developmental disabilities– first as a developmental technician, while I was in college, and later as a psychometrist and applied behavior analyst. Periodical psychological testing of my clients was required (not so much now, at least in Georgia), but routine. My work as a behaviorist, on the other hand, was endlessly fascinating. Finding out why  client were behavior in a certain way was rather like detective work, especially since many were nonverbal. I soon discovered the misbehaviors (I’m tempted to put the word in quotes) about which I was consulted were logical responses to their environments, both inner and outer. What made them tick also made me tick. We were the same.

My respect and sympathy for my clients was reflected in my short stories, many of which touched upon disabilities of one sort or another. This vignette is related to three others. Three were published to acclaim of one sort or another. One won first prize for fiction inMockingbird, the literary and art journal of East Tennessee State University. Two others were selected by the journal Kaleidoscope: International Magazine of Literature, Fine Arts, and Disability for reprint in celebratory anniversary celebrations. One appeared in Carol Donley and Sheryl Buckley’s edited text The Tyranny of the Normal. I was flattered beyond belief to find my work appearing in an anthology alongside such literary giants as Franz Kafka, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ray Bradbury,   Donald Barthelme, Edgar Allan Poe, Toni Morrison, John Updike, Alice Walker, Flannery O’Connor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Eudora Welty, Anne Beattie, and Victor Hugo!

The fourth vignette of this series of four has never been published— imagine because the content made editors uncomfortable. If you select Short Fiction from the drop-down menus at the top of the screen on the home page, you’ll find it.


I Think of Cindi

By Dallas Denny


They’re painting the grass green today in anticipation of a visit by our illustrious governor. A crew of maintenance workers, looking like extras in a Humphrey Bogart movie, are moving across the grounds in a thin line, waving six-foot wands which spew forth paint like green fire. When they finish, the entire campus will be, for a time, verdant, but the rains will eventually wash off the water-based paint, leaving the grass even browner than usual. Some day soon, I expect, somebody in the administration section will hit upon the idea of pasting leaves made of construction paper to the ailing trees which surround the buildings—leaves which would screen us from the real world.

A millipede, seeking relief from the green spray paint insanity, comes inside, where the real insanity is. It bustles over the window ledge, its multitudinous legs working in tandem. All those legs! I wonder if it could spare a pair, What kind of god would give a bug thirty pairs and deny me the use of just one?

Tiny globules from the spray guns are wafting about, causing me to sneeze periodically; my disability prevents me from wiping my nose. I have no control over my body, you see. The careful movements I plan somehow become wild flailings of my arms and legs, grimaces, protrusions of my tongue. I can’t even yell for someone to move me, for I’m not coordinated enough to speak. I must simply sit in the direction in which my wheelchair has been parked and look at whatever is in front of me, and today it is the maintenance crew painting the grounds a color not found in nature.

I suppose that’s as interesting as anything that’s happening on the ward. Last month Jack Oliver, who dislikes me, deliberately knocked my cassette deck from the lap tray of my wheelchair, breaking the volume control switch. The technicians have sent it somewhere to be repaired, and most likely I’ll not see it again for six months. Then out of the blue one day the charge nurse will bring it, telling me how lucky I am to have it back. And after he has waited for a decent period, Oliver will knock it to the floor again.

I heard the charge nurse talking to the social worker the other day, and one of them said there’s more than $2500 in my private account. I accumulate $15.00 a month. You figure out how long I’ve been here. Remember, nearly that amount has been used to purchase clothing, toilet articles, and other things I didn’t particularly want my money spent for.

When my tape player works I listen to talking books and sometimes to music—when someone remembers to start a tape. When the tape deck is broken, there’s not much to do. Of course, there’s television, but the techs are fond of soap operas and reality shows, and the one time I managed to work my way to a set and change the selector to a program I wanted to watch, a technician rolled me away and tuned the television to General Hospital.

Now that my two favorite technicians, Johnny Walker and Doritos are gone (one to a good place and one to a bad) things are boring around the ward. Nobody else will bother with me, but those two understood that my disability was physical and not mental, and treated me, verbally at least, as an equal. I would spend evenings in the nursing station with them as they talked of things mundane and things sublime, speaking of adventures and of wasted opportunities, fortunes not made, rock music. Doritos always told me that if he got the chance he would take me out and get me laid, and thank God he did before he was fired. In fact, it was because he did that he was canned. It was more than twenty years ago, but the memory keeps me going. It was the most fun I’ve had since the accident that put me in this spoked-wheel contraption—the accident that makes me envy even a caterpillar.

I was scheduled to be taken into the community to see one of those inspirational films. It was the idea of the head technician, who was pleased at the thought of disabled people portraying themselves, as they supposedly did in the movie. I wouldn’t know about that; I never go to the theater. The outing was inspirational, certainly, but not in the way the head technician had planned.

Doritos was assigned to take me. We left after supper one brisk October evening, rolling sedately past the security guard at the front gate, who nodded sleepily as we passed in the lift van. I was already starting to get light-headed from the pills Doritos had fed me before we left. I don’t know how many I swallowed. I hadn’t even realized what they were; I was that used to taking whatever anyone in a white uniform gave me.

We drove straight to Johnny Walker’s house, which was a dilapidated duplex with a motorcycle parked under the front steps. Doritos used the hydraulic lift to unload me from the van and rolled my wheelchair to the steps. Grunting, he hoisted me onto the front stoop and knocked on the door. After a moment, Johnny Walker opened the door and Doritos rolled me into the living room.

I supposed it was the living room. It was right out of Woodstock. There was no furniture to speak of, just beanbags and cushions and a Harmon-Kardon stereo receiver in the corner. Record albums were scattered about everywhere; CDs were still ten years in the future. From the wall, Dennis Hopper raised his arm in an obscene gesture, and Jimi Hendrix sat uncomfortably atop a horse. A third poster glowed vibrantly in the rays of a black light, a ship on a phosphorescent sea. Neil Young’s falsetto filled the room. Doritos placed a set of stereo headphones over my ears, and I closed my eyes and let the music carry me away.

A minute or so later, or an hour, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I opened my eyes. As I looked up, Johnny Walker placed something between my lips, pantomiming that I should inhale and hold my breath as long as I could. I knew what it was, and I did as he said. I kept the smoke in my mouth until my lungs burned, and then expelled it and choked about half to death. I felt a band tightening around my temples and I was stoned, never mind the pills Doritos kept feeding me allevening. I didn’t mind. I figured they couldn’t hurt. Any change would be an improvement in my life.

After about an hour J.W. and Doritos, giggling like two lunatics, loaded the only real lunatic on the premises onto the van and carefully secured my wheelchair to the bolts in the floor. We drove about ten miles an hour to the liquor store, where Doritos bought tequila while Johnny Walker picked up a disposable salt shaker and a sack of limes at the adjoining Kroger. J.W. placed a pinch of salt on my tongue, then upended the bottle of tequila in my mouth, lowering it only when the liquor began to run down my chin. Then he cut a slice of lime into my mouth.

And then we were out of town on the two-lane state highway that follows the Harpeth River. Soon we were past the last of the street lights, into the dark countryside. After about thirty minutes Doritos and J.W. started arguing about where to turn. I remember we backed up once. Finally, we pulled up in front of a white farmhouse. Johnny and Doritos unloaded me and rolled me onto the front porch. A young woman with long straight brown hair answered the door and Doritos began arguing with her, wheedling and cajoling. She kept shaking her head no, her eyes occasionally darting toward me and then, guiltily, away. Eventually she shrugged, and I was rolled into a large room filled with old furniture. On a couch sat a young man of about twenty, stroking a cat. The young man was very pretty. Doritos looked at him, and then at me and raised a quizzical eyebrow. I shook my head vigorously— “No!”

In a minute a girl—she couldn’t have been more than twenty—entered the room from a hallway. She was the first woman I had ever seen with a shaved head. This, I was quick to figure out, was my date. Doritos pulled her into a corner and they spoke excitedly for several minutes, Doritos waving his wallet about as he gesticulated. Eventually they came to some agreement and Doritos rolled me into a room with tie-dyed curtains and a four-poster bed. He transferred me onto the bed, winking at me as he did so, and then he was out the door, leaving me alone with the girl.

Her name was Cindi, she said, spelled with an i. She faced me nervously, making small talk. What does a bald-headed woman say to a quadriplegic? Just when I began to think talking was all she was going to do, she suddenly whipped off her t-shirt. I’m not going to talk about what happened next—it’s private. But some time during the next half hour I was dimly aware of a crash, as if all the sheet metal in the world were bending. Cindi with an i and I paid it no mind.

We were lying cuddled together, dozing, when Johnny Walker and Doritos came into the room, tugged me into my clothes, and dropped me into the wheelchair. They were stoned and drunk, and Doritos was looking worried. He was angry with Johnny Walker. Cindi thrust her tongue deep into my mouth in a liquid farewell, and then, as my wheelchair was pulled backward from the room, she receded absurdly, as if she were a character in a poorly animated cartoon.

In the front room, the boy who had been petting the cat had fallen asleep on the couch. He was sitting upright, his head lolling as if his neck were broken. The brown-haired girl opened the front door and Doritos and Johnny Walker pushed me outside and bumped me down the steps into the yard.

It was drizzling outside, and the tires of my wheelchair sank an inch or more into the mud, making the going hard. Both Johnny Walker and Doritos had to push. They rolled me past the spot where the van had been parked. We passed it at the end of the driveway. It was lying sedately on its side on the far side of the road, the wheelchair lift sticking obscenely into the air. I could see tire tracks where it had rolled over the embankment which paralleled the drive. I turned my head around as far as my neck would allow and looked at Doritos. He smiled glumly and shrugged. He told me Johnny had gone back to get the bottle of tequila and had somehow knocked the van out of gear.

Eventually we came to a blacktop road which glistened wetly in the darkness. They pushed me for at least an hour; soon we were all quite thoroughly drenched. Eventually, we came to an overpass. I could hear cars and trucks whizzing by at regular intervals; it was the interstate highway.

Somehow Doritos and Johnny Walker got me over the waist-high concrete barrier without spilling me out of my chair or hurting me much, and somehow they got me up the steep embankment and onto the shoulder of the highway. I don’t think it would have been possible if they hadn’t been so drunk and ‘luded, and it wasn’t easy even then. It wasn’t long before Doritos’ persuasive hitchhiking moves caused a semi rig to slow and stop some fifty yards ahead of us. Its emergency flashers beat a visual tattoo in the misty night as Johnny Walker tilted my wheelchair back onto the rear wheels and ran with me to the truck.

There was no way they were going to get me and the wheelchair into the cab. I wondered what came next. Were they going to leave my chair sitting eerily empty by the wayside while they kept me upright in the seat between them? Were they going to abandon me and the chair both?

I needn’t have worried. I rode back to the hospital in the trailer of the semi, surrounded by cases and cases of lettuce from Sunnydale Farms. The driver had left the lights on, and I passed the time by watching an inchworm make its way along the top side of one case, bridge the gap to the next case, and finally end up baffled and frozen with indecision when the gap between the second and third cases was too wide to arch over. I wanted to be that inchworm.

I also would have liked to have seen the expression on the face of the hospital security guard as the produce truck rolled by him at four-thirty in the morning. Suddenly, the big doors of the truck were thrown open and I was lowered to the pavement in front of the Chronic Building. Johnny and Doritos wheeled me, soaking wet and muddy, through the front door and back, back, back to the chronic ward.

Jackson, the night technician, let us through the heavily-barred door, snickering at the sight of us. We did look pretty rough. In the round stainless steel mirror that is screwed to the wall beside the nursing station we were distorted, soaked and brown with mud on the lower halves of our bodies. Johnny Walker found a twenty dollar bill in his front pocket and pulled Jackson aside. Jackson nodded vigorous assent to whatever Johnny was saying. Doritos carefully hung the keys to the van on the wall of the nursing station and signed the vehicle back in, and then pushed me to the shower room where he stuck me, wheelchair and all, under a stream of tepid water while Johnny Walker went to get a mop to swab away the telltale trail we had left on the floor.

Fifteen minutes later I was lying in my bed in clean underwear while Doritos and Johnny Walker polished my wheelchair with towels, removing all traces of my night of sin. I wondered how they were going to account for the missing van, but I wasn’t really concerned. That was their problem, or more specifically, Doritos’, since Johnny Walker hadn’t officially been along.

As soon as Doritos and J.W. had gone, I felt a burning urge to urinate. I cursed myself for not remembering to sign to them for a urinal. Jackson would be getting me up within thirty minutes. He would be rough with me if I were wet, but I decided not to wait.

I thought of Cindi with an i as the bed grew warm around me.

The caterpillar has changed direction, and disappears across the sill, quick-step. I suppose it decided to risk the green paint. A pity. I would have like to have rolled my wheelchair over it. All those legs, in perfect coordination. I look down. My bare knees have acquired a distinctive green tint from the airborne paint particles. The painters have moved closer now. They’re about fifty yards away, and occasionally the wind wafts pigment at me. I must be starting to look like Lou Ferrigno. The Incredible Quadriplegic Hulk. I wish I could turn away and at least keep the stuff out of my eyes. The technicians haven’t noticed; I’m sure they’re having a good time in the nursing station, playing cards and telling jokes. I can hear their laughter, but I can’t make out what they’re saying. I wish Doritos and Johnny Walker still worked here.

I feel the need to pee. Staff routinely takes me at four o’clock, but I don’t think I’ll wait. No, I won’t wait.

As the warm urine trickles down my leg, I think of Cindi with an i, of Johnny Walker, of Doritos, and of that inchworm. I think especially of the inchworm. All those legs!