Charles is a lonely young man and Amy is a crippled girl on a wheelchair. They meet, get to know each other and begin going out together. Charles falls in love with Amy and hopes to be “the only chairpusher” in her life. But Amy prefers independence to being taken care of all the time. She leaves in pursuit of her goal in life.
If It Comes Back
ve him a shock in his easy joy. He felt as though he were playing poker and he had just accidentally revealed his hand to the opponent. To make her forget what he’d done, he told her about the little white bird in the park.
“I’ve seen it, too,” she said. “I read a poem once about a little white bird that came to rest on a window sill and the lady who lived in the house began to put out food for it. Soon the lady fell in love, but it was a mismatched love. Everyday the little bird came to the window and the lady put out food. When the love affair was over, the little white bird never returned, but the woman went on putting out the crumbs every day for years and the wind just blew them away.”
In July he took her boating frequently. She prepared a picnic lunch each time, and he manned the sails. The most awkward event of this, she felt, was the loading and unloading of herself. For Charles, however, these “freight handlings,” as she came to call it, seemed to be the highlight of the outings. He appeared to take great delight in wheeling her to the end of the pier, picking her up out of the chair, balancing himself to set her into the boat, then collapsing the chair and setting it on its side on board. On the first few outings, she had felt distinctly ill at ease at having been placed helplessly in a spot form which she could not move herself. It occurred to her, too, that she was unable to swim, should the boat turn over. Charles, who adapted himself marvelously to the captain’s role, was completely oblivious to her discomfort; she noted with a returning sense of helplessness how much he enjoyed being in control. When he called for her one day in early August with a brand new captain’s hat cocked atop his soft brown hair, all her emotions revolted at the idea of another day trapped on the wooden seat over the water — and she refused to go.
They would, instead, she said, go for a walk in which she would move herself by the strength of her own arms and he would walk beside her. He finally agreed, but his displeasure grew with each step; this was a role he didn’t want to play.
“Why don’t you just rest your arms and let me push you?”
“Your arms’ll get sore; I’ve been helping you do it for three months now.”
“I wheeled myself for twelve years before you came along – I doubt that my arms have forgotten how.”
“But I don’t like having to walk beside you while you push yourself!”
“Do you think I’ve liked having to sit helpless in your boat every weekend for the past two months?”
For a moment he was stunned into silence by this new learning. Finally he said quietly, “I never realized that, Amy. You’re in a wheelchair all the time — I never thought you’d mind sitting in the boat. It’s the same thing.”
“It is not the same thing. In this chair, I can move by myself; I can go anywhere I need to go. That boat traps me so I can’t do anything — I couldn’t even save myself if something happened and I fell out.”
“But I’m there. Don’t you think I could save you or help you move or whatever it is you want?”
“Yes, but Charles — the point is I’ve spent twelve years learning to manage by myself. I even live in a city that’s miles from my family so I’ll have to be independent and do things for myself. Being placed in the boat takes all that I’ve won away from me. Can’t you see why I object to it? I can’t let myself be at anyone’s mercy — not even yours.”
They continued down the path in silence as his feelings boiled within him and finally ran over the edge of his control: “Amy, I need to have you dependent upon me. I need your dependence upon me.” And, as if to punctuate his desire, he took the familiar white bars in hand and pushed her rapidly along so that her own hands came off the wheels and rested in her lap. The wave at the back of her hair did not show the anger in her eyes, and it was just as well for it was an anger he would not have understood.
She would not answer her telephone the next morning but in his mail that afternoon came an envelope that he knew had come from Amy. The handwriting was not beautiful, but it was without question hers. Inside was only a card on which she had written:
If you want something baby written,
You must let it go free.
If it comes back to you,
If it doesn’t,
You really never had it anyway.
He ran out of his apartment, refusing to believe that Amy might no longer be in her home. As he was running towards her apartment, he kept hearing a roar in his ears: “You must let it go free; you must let it go free.”
But he thought: I can’t risk it, she is mine, can’t just let go, can’t give her a chance not to belong to me, can’t let her think she doesn’t need me, she must need me. Oh God, I have to have her.
But her apartment was empty. Somehow in the hours overnight, she had packed — by herself – and moved by herself. The rooms were now impersonal; their cold stillness could not respond when he fell to the floor and sobbed.
By the middle of August he had heard nothing from Amy. He lay often on his bed with her letter on his chest and counted the minute cracks in his ceiling; he went often to the park but scrupulously avoided looking for the white bird. Sometimes he would sit for hours there in the wind under a tree and not even notice that he was outside, that life went on around him.
September came and had almost gone before he finally received an envelope of familiar stationery. The handwriting was not beautiful but it was without question hers. The postmark was that of a city many miles distant. With a shock of feeling returning to his heart, he tore open the envelope and at first thought it was empty. Then he noticed on his desk a single white feather that had fallen from it. In his mind, the white bird rose in flight and its wings let fly one feather. Were it not for the feather lost in departure, no one would have known that the white bird had ever been. Thus he knew Amy would not be back, and it was many hours before he let the feather drop out of his hand.