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Norma Henley: In Her Chair

The following homage to one of my former students was originally five pages long. I’ve boiled it down to two hundred and two words.

Norma Henley: In Her Chair

Her wheelchair was old; the metal clanked. Limbs twisted, her clenched hand batted the controls as she maneuvered the chair into my office.

An attendant interpreted the punctuated moans coming from Norma’s slack lips. Norma would be taking my composition course. Norma had things to say.

For three semesters, she labored on her article condemning airlines’ mistreatment of disabled passengers. She wrote on an old-fashioned computer, her crooked index finger wavering in the air above keys separated by a metal plate punched with holes. Her finger hovered and plunged, jabbing at keys, one precious letter appearing every few seconds.

Institutionalized, released, rendered sterile, frustrated yet laughing like a raucous crow, hoarse and shrieking, Norma insisted, “Sex is great.”

Christmas vacation: Norma in the hospital. I squatted at her bedside.

She spoke. She repeated herself five times before I understood: “They give me two weeks to live.”

Two days later, she died.

Publisher after publisher rejected her article. Excuses.

Listen to Norma, and imagine yourself in her chair:

“Imagine that you are going on vacation, bags packed and ticket to sunny Southern California in hand, when the flight attendant at the gate takes one look at you and refuses to let you board.”

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