Home Stories Gimp by Bill Tope – FICTION on the WEB short stories

Gimp by Bill Tope – FICTION on the WEB short stories


Alan hits it off with an attractive stranger, but is hampered by prejudice; by Bill Tope.

Image generated with OpenAI

Alan limped across the quad and swiftly found a seat. Hiding his cane away, he assumed a more comfortable position on the green-painted park bench. Then, moving his book bag from the bench to the ground, he sat back and waited. Alan was a handsome man in his late thirties, and he felt confident that his presence would soon attract a similarly attractive female. Though why he went through this ritual, he wasn’t entirely sure. Old habits died hard.

Sure enough, not ten minutes elapsed before a striking, athletic blonde woman paused by the bench.

“Is this seat taken?” she asked.

“No. Please,” said Alan, waving his hand invitingly. She was, he guessed, in her mid-30s.

Taking a seat, the woman, forward-thinking, said, “Hilde,” and held out a hand of ringless fingers.

“Alan,” he replied, taking and then squeezing Hilde’s hand. “You a student too?” he asked.

Hilde smiled, nodded. She really was, thought Alan, quite beautiful. “Physical Ed,” she explained. “Third year.” When Alan said nothing, she asked him, “What do you study, Alan?”

He felt instantly warmed, hearing his name used by such a fetching creature. His imagination began to heat up, the way that it did. “Education,” he replied. “Third year too. I don’t think I’ve seen you before.” He asked himself again why he pursued this line of conversation.

“I transferred in last semester,” she revealed. “I got my 2-year degree from BCJC,” referencing a nearby junior college. “It was a lot less expensive.”

Alan nodded. “So. Phys. Ed,” he said with a grin. “Do you fancy teaching a class of seventh grade girls how to fence?”

“Girls’ PE has come a long way since you and I were in school,” she informed him pointedly, returning the smile. “Title IX was passed only fairly recently, but already it’s begun to affect things. No more will there be only boys’ sports and then just cheerleading for the girls. You were an athlete in high school, right?” she ventured, taking in his sleek, slender build.

He hesitated. “Yeah.” It was a long time ago.

“I bet when you were in school, 90% of athletic funds went just to the boys,” she suggested. “And girls – like you said – played at fencing, maybe a little underfunded gymnastics or field hockey. Then, 20 years ago, Title IX was passed and everything changed, though not overnight. Politicians have tried to derail opportunities for girls, but they’ve been unavailing as yet,” she said, with a gleam in her eye. She was happy to use the word ‘unavailing’ in a cogent sentence. She hoped that Alan had noticed. He was quite handsome, she thought, sort of like Donald Fagen, keyboardist and singer from the rock group, Steely Dan.

“You know your stuff,” acknowledged Alan with a friendly smile. “I think you’re ready to take girls’ athletics by storm.”

Hilde blushed. “Thanks,” she said. “I guess I get all worked up over it, and then…”

“Cool,” said Alan, smiling again.

Alan and Hilde conversed for the next hour, found that they had a lot in common, regarding music, sports teams, political movements, movies, food and the like. Finally, Hilde checked her watch and discovered that she had missed her 11:00 class. “Shit,” she said unhappily.

Alan sighed. “I guess I missed class too. Well, it was just general studies.”

Hilde noted that in the 90 minutes they’d been conversing, Alan had not smoked a cigarette. Good, she thought approvingly. So many college men were addicted to either pot or nicotine and she found it a turnoff, so immersed was she in health and physical education. Alan had thought the same thing about Hilde. “Hey,” she said suddenly, “we’ve got a free hour now; do you want to get some lunch?”

Alan’s face froze. He found himself unwilling to reveal his disability. Things were going along so well. He imagined, briefly, what it would be like to kiss Hilde’s lips, then figuratively shook himself. “I, uh, I’m not doing lunch this week;” he lied. “Got to lose a few pounds,” he said, and he patted his perfectly flat stomach.

“Alan,” chided Hilde. “You’re skinny! I think maybe you’d better have two lunches. You’re thin, like a soccer player.”

“You go ahead if you want,” he said.

“No,” she said, a little taken aback by his abruptness. “Hey,” she said, suddenly changing course, “do you like dancing?” Again, Alan seemed to freeze up. “There’s a new dance club out on Highway 140: Spanky’s. Opened up a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been dying to check it out. Interested?”

“No, I’m busy then,” he mumbled, staring at his shoes.

“I didn’t name a day or a time,” she pointed out, narrowing her eyes. Alan said nothing. “Hey, Alan,” she said. He looked up. “If you’re really not interested, that’s okay, just say so.” He blew out a breath. “It’s just that we were getting along so well, getting to know each other, and I don’t know, I thought there was maybe a chance…” Her voice drifted away.

Finally, after all the self-delusion and game-playing, Alan made up his mind. He’d show her. Reaching behind him, he took up his cane and held it out.

Hilde looked at the cane, then at Alan. “What’s this?” she asked.

“It’s how I get around,” he told her a little crossly, impatiently.

“Are you…” she began, but then Alan interrupted her.

“I’m disabled,” he said defiantly.

Hilde looked confused. “But you don’t…”

“I have Parkinson’s Disease.” The words spilled out, again, a little angrily.

Hilde’s face was inscrutable. “And this matters, because…?”

Because I can’t go dancing with you. Because sometimes I can barely walk,” he told her. “And sometimes my hands shake and I fall and…”

“But,” she interrupted him this time, “why do you think that’s important, if I want to have a friendship, a relationship, with you?” She peered searchingly into Alan’s green eyes.

“Just look at you!” he snarled. “You’re fit and pretty and an athlete and want to teach girls to play sports, and…”

“Are you holding my good health against me?” she asked bluntly.

Alan blinked in surprise. “No, but you wouldn’t want to spend your time, your life, with a gimp, a cripple, a… what are you doing?” he asked suddenly, watching her.

Hilde dug through her handbag, till at length she turned up a billfold. “I want to show you something,” she said. All the joy seemed to have gone out of her voice.

“What is it?”

“This,” she said, extracting a photo and holding it for Alan to see. Alan looked. What he saw was a fifty-something man in a wheelchair, grinning happily into the camera lens.


“My daddy,” she said simply but with pride. “And before you ask, he has ALS.” He looked at her blankly. “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” She paused a beat. “But,” she insisted, “there’s nothing wrong with him!” Alan stared at her. “Yes, he has a fatal, incurable disease, and yes, he’s confined to a wheelchair – a bed, now, actually,” she added parenthetically, “- but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him! Daddy’s the rightest person you ever met,” she said proudly. “I’m sorry you don’t have anyone in your life who can serve as an example, like my father,” she said sadly. She swiftly got her things together, rose to her feet.

“But,” said Alan haplessly, “where are you…”

“Alan,” she said contritely. “You’re so full of self-loathing and intolerance and disdain for yourself and other people, that…” She paused for a moment, as if to choose the right words. “You fooled me at first, but then you revealed yourself.” She shook her head. “You’d have dismissed Daddy as just another, what’d you say, ‘gimp’?” She took a deep, shuddering breath. “You may eventually come round, but I don’t have the time or the inclination to wait for that possibility. ALS,” she told him quietly, “is sometimes an inheritable disease. It often strikes at around 45 or 50 years of age.” As she walked away, she said, “And one never knows just what to expect.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here