‘Want’ and the Short Story: (Almost) Creamed By A Wheelchair

Trajectoire No. 2 by Claude Millette, Musée Plein Air de Lachine

Trajectoire No.2
Claude Millette

A man in a wheelchair on the sidewalk up ahead was waving his arms wildly and yelling angrily at passers-by. They were giving him a wide berth, some crossing the road to avoid him. I was going to give him a wide berth too.

He yelled at me as I passed, and waved his arms. I couldn’t understand what he was saying except for ‘the bus’.

“What bus?” I asked, looking around, thinking he was crazy, that a bus wouldn’t be coming up a little street like this. But in fact a bus was coming up behind me and I realized he was at a bus stop and wanted me to push him onto the bus.

“Push,” he said. “You’ve got to push me. Now.” I pushed. “No,” he shouted. “Not now. Wait. You got to wait.”

The bus drew up. “Push,” he said. I pushed. “No,” he said. “You got to wait.” The driver lowered the step, opened the ramp. “PUSH,” he yelled. I pushed. I got the front wheels of the wheelchair on to the ramp but just couldn’t get the whole thing up. I consider myself pretty strong but that chair was heavy, much heavier than my mother’s wheelchair had been, and he was certainly bigger than her. I pushed harder, now at about a 40 degree angle.

I pushed even harder. The passengers in the front seats looked on with absolutely no expression. I started to laugh. We were stuck.

A young man came up behind me and gave a good push. At last the wheelchair rolled up the ramp.

“STOP,” the guy in the wheelchair shouted. The young man and I stopped pushing. The man leaned forward to slide his bus ticket into the slot. “That’s all right, let go now,” he said. And then, more quietly: “Thank you, dear.”

“You’re welcome,” I said and let go. He hadn’t put the brake on. Back down the ramp came the wheelchair. Only the young man saved me from being creamed. Finally the bus driver smiled.

Later I thought what a neat little lesson I’d been given in the fundamental need for ‘want’ in a short story.

This whole incident and the series of ‘action-reaction’ that gives a story momentum emerged from one man’s motivation, his ‘want’ – wanting to get on the bus.

  • waving and yelling to get help; he couldn’t do it by himself
  • problem: he’s scaring people so he has to try again
  • problem resolved: someone comes to help and up the ramp we go
  • the solution to the problem has created a bigger problem – the helper is useless, she can’t get him up the ramp
  • help arrives (that’s lucky and a bit deus ex machina – what would have happened if no young man had been there?) and we get to the top
  • problem solved – we’re at the top so helpers let go (but not right at the top)
  • the wheelchair goes into reverse

When I write the sequence of the story out like this, I can see the points where, if this were fiction, I might decide on different actions/reactions – perhaps no-one would come to help when we get stuck on the ramp and we’d end back on the sidewalk and the story would have to go somewhere else; perhaps the story might end with success: we get over the top and into the bus aisle and all the passengers cheer.

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