Charles saw them both at the same time: a small white bird and the girl wheeling down the walk. The bird glided downward and rested in the grass; the girl directed the chair smoothly along the sunlit, shadowy walk. She stopped to watch the ducks on the pond and when she shoved the wheels again, Charles stood up. "May I push you?" he called, running across the grass to her. The white bird flew to the top of a tree.
It was mostly he who talked and he seemed afraid to stop for fear she'd ask him to leave her by herself. Nothing in her face had supported the idea of helplessness conveyed by the wheelchair, and he knew that his assistance was not viewed as a favor. He asked the cause of her handicap.
"It was an automobile accident when I was 12," Amy explained.
They went for lunch, and he would have felt awkward except that she knew completely how to take care of herself.
"Do you live with someone?" he asked the next day when they met.
"Just myself," she answered. Asking the question made him feel uneasy because of his own loneliness even though he was hoping for this answer.
He came to like to feel the white handles in his grasp, to walk between the two white-rimmed metal wheels. And he grew almost more familiar with the slight wave at the back of her hair than with her eyes or her mouth. Once, he said to the wave at the back of her hair, "I hope I'm the only chair-pusher in your life," but she had only smiled a little and her eyes had admitted nothing.
She cooked dinner for him once in June. He expected her to be proud of her ability to do everything from her seat in the wheelchair—and was faintly disappointed to see that she would not feel pride at what was, for her, simply a matter of course. He watched his own hand pick up the salt shaker and place it on one of the higher unused shelves, and awaited her plea for assistance. He didn't know why he'd done it, but the look in her eyes made him realize how cruel his prank was. 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 windowsill 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. Every day 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. The most awkward event, she felt, was getting in and out of the boat. For Charles, however, these "freight handlings," as she came to call it, seemed to be the highlight of the outings. In the boat she felt helpless, unable to move around, sitting in one spot. Also, she was unable to swim, should the boat turn over. Charles didn't observe her discomfort; she did note how much he enjoyed being in control. When he called for her one day in early August, she refused to.
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.
"Why don't you just rest your arms and let me push you?"
"Your arms will get sore14. I've been helping you do it for three months now."
"I wheeled myself for 12 years before you came along."
"But I don't like having to walk beside you while you push yourself!"
"Do you think I liked sitting helpless in your boat every weekend for the past two months?"
He never considered this and was shocked into silence. 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 12 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 don't want to feel helpless."