Breath & Shadow
Spring 2018 - Vol. 15, Issue 2
"Pinstripe Suit and Yellow Wheels"
The first thing you'll notice is the wheelchair. You won't comment on it though, because you aren't a small child and you aren't an asshole. It will be the second thing. The suit, I bet, it usually is: tan with ivory pinstripes really draws the eye. It's a damn fine suit, I look great in it, and you'll figure it's safe to talk about, so you'll compliment it, and I'll tell you that my boyfriend made it for me, bespoke, because he's a tailor. And now I'm a gay guy in a wheelchair and you've got two things not to accidentally say the wrong thing about.
Whether you commented or not, I will spend the elevator ride to your office boasting about the suit. I'll tell you how the arms are made more flexible so I can reach to spin my wheels; the jacket is cut short so I'm not sitting on the tail; and the pants are long so they reach the top of my shoes. You'll nod earnestly to show how impressed you are, because clearly the love I have for this suit is bordering on the obsessive. And just then, when you're at your most agreeable, I'll tell you that the whole front of the pants folds forwards so I can pee in a bottle. There will be a moment of silence.
Look, I know it's my job, and I'm probably protesting too much, but do I try not to lie when I'm working. I hope, when you look back, you'll notice those small details of my craft. Like the fact I didn't exactly say I do pee in a bottle, I just kind-of planted the idea. A small thing, but it's important to me.
Up on the fourth floor you'll show me around the cube farm and introduce more people than strictly necessary. It's fun to show off a new visitor, extra if the visitor is unusual, like a media guy in a pinstripe suit and a bright yellow wheelchair. "This is Dexter, from the ad agency," you'll say, "he used to work for Google." And I'll play along, praising your hospitality, complimenting the team, putting everyone at ease.
I know most of them already. Well, I've read their Linked In profiles, and lurked on their Facebook. Like you, they all seem nice. Like you, they're all very normal. In my office there's only four of us, but we're anything but. We have a gay sartorial cripple, that's me; a tall guy in a skirt who's definitely not trans; a retired lady with a plummy accent and a poker habit; and a twenty-something who borrows her friend's baby to do a mean harangued new mom. Our very own fantastic four, with complimentary superpowers.
Anyway, back to you. After the introductions, when the tour ends and you're thinking of offering coffee, I'll ask where the nearest disabled bathroom is. You'll tell me it's back on the ground floor, off the lobby. So I'll look pained, and say, in an urgent embarrassed whisper "I'm really sorry, you wouldn't happen to have a little room nearby I could use for a moment, it can't wait." And then, if you're slow to get it, I'll nod at the flap in my pants and say, "you know, to do my business."
Now, from the building plans, I happen to know you have a choice of three: the conference room has glass walls with fiddly blinds; letting me use the kitchen would be plain unhygienic; so with the boss in a meeting (I did my homework) his office is the one you'll choose. In I'll go to 'do my business,' and, no matter how many times you've been told that visitors are never to be left unescorted, you'll stand guard outside to make sure I am not disturbed.
And when I am done I'll go to leave. You'll be surprised, because it looks like we hadn't started. So I'll give you my real business card with my real name and real job title. It says "Pen. Tester," which makes it sound like I work for Bic, so I'll explain: "Your company hired me to break into their system, to check their security. You didn't pass."
I'm not sure how you'll react: sullen, defensive, indignant, I've seen it all. I've been called the names that an hour before were carefully avoided. I've been forcibly wheeled from the building with my handbrake on. I've even been lectured on how I'm making it harder for the 'disabled community.' 'Cus folks like me depend on your goodwill, or something like that. Which is true, I guess, but not in the way you might assume.
I really hope you don't get fired, or anything unpleasant. My whole plan only works because you're nice, so of course I feel a little bit bad, I really do. Not enough to not exploit your niceness, of course, but a little, deep down. Which says something for my character, surely: I am not a total asshole. A slightly assholeish gay sartorial cripple. Yeah, I'm proud of that. Proud that, unlike all the normal people in this very normal world, I was born to do this job.
Ian is a Welsh writer of both fiction and non-fiction. He has published several textbooks, magazine articles, games, a novel, and a poetry collection. He lives with wife and son in a former police station that sadly no longer has working cells.