Freebie Mondays: A Modest Proposal (Story 15 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: A Modest Proposal (Story 15 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea). (I broke this rule again cuz cool idea!)

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: “what is it like to be disabled in your world?”

I decided to take this opportunity to develop some of the magical infrastructure in my Aruvalia Chronicles series, which is set in a high fantasy world that has made it to modern day. Hopefully, some of the information presented here will get to appear in the novels someday as well. Though the main point of the exercise was world building, I formatted the final prompt as a proposal written by someone who lives in the fantasy world.
. . .

Once upon a time I used to wake up, swing my feet out of bed and rub my toes through the carpet. I saw it in a movie once, and couldn’t get it out of my head. Every day when those tiny little threads poked through my toes, it reminded me that I was grounded, connected to the earth I walk on by the calloused flesh on the bases of my feet.

I walked to school every morning and home again in the afternoon. Half a mile each way across the flat, often half-frozen ground that seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon. It was a harsh land where few plants grew and the only trees were pines. But it was my home and I loved it in the way of someone who has never known another place.

I believed I would live my whole life there. That I would follow in my parents’ footsteps, find the first job that became available and eek my existence out of the frozen northland – because that was simply what people did. It never occurred to me to leave.

Not until the storm.

It has many names. No one could agree what to call it when it sprang out of thin air near the planet’s northern pole, and many have suggested names since it vanished back into the ether. But I refuse to speak a single one of them.

Names grant things power, and that storm no longer has power over me.

But you’ll know which one I mean without having to say it. Everyone knows about it and what it did, even those who weren’t around at the time.

My story is not atypical. I thought at the time I was the unluckiest person who ever lived. That the storm used its wind to form a ghostly appendage and pick me out of the masses as its specific target.

But cars flip on highways plenty without the force of the wind to lift and toss them. And many passengers have been pulled from their battered vehicles with worse injuries than mine.

I don’t remember the impact, just the sickly sensation of falling and the realization that I had probably done something stupid enough to kill me. The pain came later, when I woke beneath the bright hospital lights to the steady beep of the machinery monitoring my heart rate.

This story isn’t about that though.

There are moments in our lives that define us. We experience them so strongly that they can shift our path through life. Sometimes they offer a gentle whisper and sometimes they grasp us by the face and force us to turn our heads. Either way, they become defining moments because we cannot ignore them. And forever after we can trace all we have done to that crossroads.

My experience with that historical storm could have set me on many paths. I could have allowed the pain that followed that car accident to shape the rest of my life – I know others who have done similar.

But I refused. No mass of wind and magic gets to decide who I am.

These days when I wake up, I tend to lie there a little on my back staring up at the ceiling. Once upon a time, I always woke up to the same view, but now it changes. Some ceilings have intricate designs. Others are just plain plaster. And some are plaster with little swirls, as if someone made a half-hearted attempt to keep it interesting.

In truth, I don’t care much about the ceiling. I spend most of my time thinking about what lies beyond it – the sky, the sun, the awakening city. But it’s a reminder that my ritual has changed.

I have changed.

The chair is waiting for me when I roll out of bed. It started as a mechanism of steel and cool-colored cushions, but I have covered it in marks of myself, stickers and charms and swatches of fabric that proclaim loudly the best features of my personality. I like the idea that people can hear it when I wiz past them on the sidewalk. I like to believe they think, there is a girl that knows herself well.

Because I do.

I know that I used to traipse all over the town where I grew up, tromping up and down stairs and skipping over curbs without ever paying a single thought to what it might be like if I could move my legs.

The first few weeks after the hospital were enlightening to say the least. I felt slow, encumbered, and generally frustrated that things which once cost me effort now consumed large portions of my day. I tried to tell myself I merely needed time to adjust, that I would learn the trick to navigating curbs with my wheels the same way I once navigated them with my heels. I used every positive-thinking mantra you’ve ever heard of and more.

Then I came to Silvergarden.

There was a time I could never imagine a place so big the buildings seem to scrape the sky. The number of people that move through her boggles my mind even after months to adjust to my new environment.

Growing up, I always thought I would hate this city. I poo-pooed it with my friends while we walked home from school each afternoon. What could the city possibly have that we did not have beneath the open, fresh air of the winter sun?

It turns out quite a lot. The buildings are bigger, true. The roads are wider and choked with more traffic. The air is thicker and not always fresh, and the sun often hides behind the shadows of the sentinel buildings that stand watch over the pedestrians.

But I rarely have to think about my travel route when I depart my apartment. If the elevator should break down, I need not fear that I live on the eleventh floor. The stairs will shimmy and adjust as my chair approaches, adopting a gentle downward slope. I admit that sometimes I use the stairs simply because I enjoy skidding around the corners to take the next flight with a little extra speed.

I do not have to call ahead and order a special car. It seems every cab in Silvergarden is enchanted. I have watched giants slide easily into cabs merely half their side and exit again without a cramp or haunch. All I need do is approach the doorway of my desired ride and the back seat folds away, creating space for me to park my chair.

I never appreciated the way magic bends the laws of physics until I spent a day on the town and never once had to wait for a different vehicle to arrive.

I have strolled randomly off the street into popular bars with my friends and had no difficulty sitting with them at the bar. Sometimes the spaces in front of them are enchanted to levitate me gently up to the proper height, and sometimes it almost seems as if the bar dips down to my level. I never have difficulty conversing with my friends on these outings. We find ourselves all in the proper positions, all at eye level and never struggling to reach what is set in front of us, though if I back up and glance from afar, the height variance in patrons becomes immediately obvious.

It seems to me that at some point in the distant past, those tasked with constructing this city realized there would be many different races moving through this space and that action would be required to ensure each of them could utilize it with ease. This appears to apply to those of us with disabilities as well. I do not know whether this was intentional or a byproduct of other thinking, but I cannot argue with the results.

In my small town to the north, each outing required a meticulous level of planning. I needed to know which routes could accommodate my passage easily, even if taking those routes added time to my journey. If I needed a car, special arrangements needed to be made well in advance. And because of the town’s limited resources, sometimes this meant changing the day I hoped to accomplish certain things.

By the time I had managed to account for all of these requirements I was often exhausted. It made me pick and choose when I would leave and encouraged me to stay in. But in Silvergarden, I have never once had to make such a choice. When a friend calls and asks if I would like to meet for unexpected coffee or a quick lunch, it is a simple matter of looking up the address of my destination before I depart.

I once believed our great kingdom’s capital was a magical oasis simply because of its proximity to the crown. All of the best things are here, I told myself. I could not expect to find such ease of transport and accessibility elsewhere.

But I once also believed that the only useful magical infrastructure kept ice from forming on those winding northern roads that made up my home. I could fathom no other way magic might assist me in my day to day living.

So imagine my shock when I visited other cities of much smaller sizes and discovered that, there too, I could move about with all of my alacrity and never have to worry much about what challenges might stand in my path.

I begin to wonder why such quality of life is limited to the large spaces, to the cities and rich tourists towns. If we can put our heads together in order to create a city that accommodates every size or need of those who pass through it, why should pockets of our kingdom remain outside this innovation?

Answers are shockingly easy to find when one possesses a library card and a will.

Suffice to say, places with larger populations have more access to government grants. I suppose it makes sense that if more people will benefit from an initiative, it is easier to part with the money. Smaller towns have an easier time graining donations from wealthy patrons because when a noble lives in or near a place, they generally want to have a good reputation with the locals.

I could wax eloquent about the numbers I discovered for some time. Or compile them into a chart and create some droning lecture that perfectly proves my point.

But that would be a waste of the space allotted to my petition, and I should hate to think of whoever ends up reading this falling asleep at their desk should I chose that route.

Instead of arguing what many studies before my time have already proven, I shall end this essay with an impassioned plea.

Why should one such as me have to choose to live far from my home, family and everything I hold dear in order to simply get around and work with ease? Should not every person in Aruvalia no matter how tiny the place where they live have access to the same services and activities prevalent in its grand cities? Shouldn’t we design every building, every town and every access path no matter how remote to function in the same way as the heavily trafficked areas of our city?

Should not every individual be treated with the same regard no matter where they have chosen to live?

The town in which I grew up was hardly the frontier. It was out of the way, certainly. And making a living there is much harder than in a place like Silvergarden. Jobs are few, supplies travel a long way to reach the people in need of them, and major community centers are several hours drive away.

Yet someone had to decide to build there. Someone designed the streets and town center, just as each new building erected in Silvergarden undergoes a stringent planning process.

Should it not be part of the building and planning process to include the same considerations across all spaces in Aruvalia? Many will say that money is not available and lack of funds prohibits such projects. But there is a base living standard in our great kingdom, and I believe accessibility should be part of it. If only one person ever benefits from these efforts, then those efforts can never be considered wasted. And should we not be ready to host any citizen of our kingdom at any time, especially in spaces which are meant to be communal?

When the storm came, the queen remembered that she was ruler not just of the sprawling spaces which house cities, but of the small out of the way pockets as well. The shelters and evacuation efforts spanned hundreds of miles. No place was forgotten, even if it was a lonely house at the end of a long, winding road.

How citizens chose to respond to those efforts varied. Had I listened to the warning cries sooner, my life might have taken a different path. And yet, I cannot find it in my heart to be angry about the sudden curve in my road. For I now see the world with new eyes, eyes refreshed and invigorated. And if I can share this perspective with others who have yet to see it, then I shall consider myself accomplished indeed.

If the queen should see these words I have written, then I hope they will reminder that in times of plenty as well as in times of trouble, she is queen of all the realm and not simply those places with the densest population. Accessibility should be neither afterthought nor luxury. And I would love nothing more than to one day return to the place of my birth and live there with as much ease as I now experience in my travels presenting this very concept to Her Majesty’s representatives.

~Arlayna Merith

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.