Back inside, they went straight up to the gym, above the staff quarters. Carrie saw the way Brad stiffened as she pushed him to the end of the large room, and positioned the wheelchair in front of the parallel walking bars that he’d used so long ago. His face was a mask of fear, but he looked up into her face as she stood before him.
She smiled. “Do you need help getting started, Brad? I can pull you up if you want me to!”
He swallowed, shaking his head, and put his hands on either side of the bars, as she checked the brake on the wheelchair.
“Don’t try to take a step when you’re on your feet,” she told him. “We don’t need to rush things.”
She moved the foot rests aside and lifted his feet to the floor, then she straightened up and smiled at him, saying softly, “I’m right here, darling. When you’re ready…”
He hesitated, gripping the bars tightly but making no effort to pull himself up. He shuddered inwardly, remembering the pain in his lower back when he had done this, - so many years ago now. It had been extremely hard then, but somehow, he’d known that every effort he made would bring him closer to his goal! He would walk!
But this time he was terrified! Although there was no longer any pain, and he knew that Carrie would not let him fall, his confidence in his own ability had waned considerably. He sat motionless, as if frozen, staring ahead of him, but seeing nothing, not even his wife.
The minutes ticked by, then she bent forward, pressing her lips on his. “It’s ok, my love. We can do this another day. Are you tired?”
He blinked, meeting her eyes as he slowly came to his senses. She had to prise his fingers from the bars, and she gripped his hands in hers. “Relax, Brad. You’re too tense. Just breathe, darling. You don’t have to do this right now.”
“I’m scared, Carrie,” he burst out, leaning against her. “I can’t do it. It’s not going to work this time!”
She held him, pulling his arms around her. Her hands went to his temples, stroking gently, and her voice was soft and soothing. “It’s alright. Just relax. There’s no rush.”
He closed his eyes, and his arms tightened around her. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to let you down. But I just can’t do this!”
“Now get that out of your head right now!” He could hear the smile in her voice. “You’re not letting anyone down, my love. And you can do this! You’re just too tense at the moment. We’ll try again another time. Let me take you down again. It’s almost lunch time anyway.”
Trust Carrie to be so understanding! She lifted his feet back onto the foot rests and smiled up into his face. But he couldn’t meet her eyes. He kept his head low as she pushed the wheelchair along the passage to the lifts, and even as they descended into the staff area. The shame washed over him. He hadn’t even tried to lift himself into a standing position between those bars, suddenly paralysed with fear. How could Carrie not be disappointed in him? He was disappointed in himself!
As they came out of the lift in the staff area, Nanny noticed the deadpan expression on Brad’s face as he briefly lifted his chin. She gave Carrie a questioning look, but Carrie merely shrugged, and smiled.
“Do you think it’ll rain today, Nanny? I was thinking that after lunch I might take a walk into the village.”
Both Carrie and Nanny expected a quick response from Brad, and both were grieved when there was no reaction at all. It seemed as if he had regressed into a well of depression and silence once again.
“Better not risk it,” Nanny said, frowning down at Brad. She knew that Carrie had no intention of going out, that the comment had merely been to check whether or not her husband was paying attention. If he had been listening at all, he would have objected to her walking anywhere alone, and would have insisted that he call Roy if she was determined to go into the village.
Carrie put her hand on Brad’s shoulder, squeezing gently. “Are you tired, love? Perhaps after lunch you’d like to lie down for a while?”
He still did not respond, and she leaned over the back of the chair and kissed him on his cheek.
She felt him tremble before he reached for her hand. He lifted it to his lips as he forced his mind back, inhaling deeply as he closed his eyes, trying to relax.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered, kissing her palm. “I’ve let you down badly, haven’t I?”
She frowned as she came round to the front of the wheelchair, stroking his head. “Look at me, darling.”
He met her eyes, and she sighed softly. “Didn’t I just tell you that no one is being let down? You’re too uptight at the moment, that’s all! There’s no rush. We’ll try again when you feel the time is right. Don’t let this feel like a failure, Brad. It isn’t!”
“But I don’t even have pain anymore,” he cried out in anguish. “I couldn’t even try! It felt as if I was frozen!” He hung his head again as tears filled his eyes, his body shaking with emotion.
Carrie sat down on his lap, her arms holding him close. “It’s ok, my love. Just breathe, and relax,” she whispered.
He held on to her tightly, feeling foolish, hiding his face in her shoulder. He hated feeling so vulnerable, especially in front of the staff, although Nanny would see to it that they carried on with their assigned tasks and ignored him as much as they could.
“Max is joining us for lunch,” Nanny told them, moving to the back of the wheelchair and pushing them both out of the kitchen area and into the lounge. “I don’t think he has any more patients to see this afternoon at the clinic, but he did promise to look in on old Mrs Steel. Her hubby phoned earlier to say her bursitis is giving her trouble again, and Max promised to drop off some anti-inflammatories for her.”
She smiled at Carrie. “It’ll only be about another ten minutes if you want to wash up for lunch, dear. I’ll go and check that Grace and the kiddies are going to join us in the dining-room today.”
When she’d gone, Carrie moved off Brad’s lap, putting her fingers under his chin and smiling down into his eyes.
“I think that maybe after lunch you should lie down and rest. Unless you want to write, or play the piano?”
When he didn’t answer, she frowned. There was a strange, faraway look on his face, and Carrie was concerned that he was stressing again. He said nothing as she pushed the wheelchair into the nearest bathroom and helped him with his ablutions, but she tried to act as if nothing was wrong, keeping up a flurry of idle chit-chat about the family.
He ate very little of the wonderful casserole that chef had provided for lunch, and pushed his dessert aside without trying it, ignoring Max’s scowl.
Brad turned the wheelchair away from the table, muttering, “Excuse me,” very quietly, making eye-contact with no one. They watched him wheel himself out of the dining room, and it was little Sarah who was the first to speak.
“Daddy cross, Mommy?”
Carrie smiled at her. “No, sweetheart, he’s just tired. Finish your pudding.”
No one else said anything until lunch was over and Grace excused herself and took the children back to the playroom, along with little Erin. Then Max stood up, dropping a kiss on top of Nanny’s head.
“Thank chef and the staff for me, please. Lunch was delicious. I won’t be long at the Steel’s cottage.” He looked at Carrie. “Is that husband of yours, ok? He hardly ate anything! Seems to be fretting again!”
“The work in the gym didn’t go as we’d hoped,” she replied. “He’s upset about it, that’s all. Thinks he’s letting me down.”
“Do you want me to speak to him?”
“No, Uncle Max. He’ll get over it. I’m trying to just ignore his mood right now.”
“Good idea. There’s nothing wrong with his legs, you know. He’s just so convinced that his miracle is over, that he’s allowing his brain to tell him that he can’t move them. Until he comes to his senses, he’s going to struggle more than is necessary.”
Vicki poured herself more juice, but she was frowning. “He was so much better yesterday. I thought he was getting over his depression. Even at tea-time he was chatting quite well with Mr. Frazer.”
Carrie sighed. “I don’t think taking him into the gym was a good idea. He froze in front of the parallel bars and wouldn’t even try to pull himself up. Now he seems to be back to square one, so scared that he’ll disappoint me somehow. I’m actually quite worried about him!”
“Give him time,” Max said. “Jim was having some stronger anti-depressants tested for him. I’ll give him a ring and ask how far that’s going. Although it is still a spiritual thing!” He patted Carrie’s arm. “Don’t worry, love. Brad’s had to endure so much in his life, and has always landed on his feet, - although I suppose that’s a bad expression in the circumstances. But he’ll get through this, I’m sure.”