Disabled, Sexy and Broke

By Lucy Ryan
Art by Julia Nowak

It's the kind of Saturday afternoon I can only describe with a cliché - dingy, rain-soaked and grey - my first day at my shiny new job. It's in property and has one of those cleverly coded titles where truly I'm a glorified receptionist, and if it sounds otherwise I must stress how desperately thankful I am for the position. I need the money, and I need the glacial gap in my CV narrowed.

Until I started I had pretty much thought of office jobs as nightmarish Sartre-esque hellscapes where dozens of people who want nothing to do with the place sit and fester under a humming strip light until the clock strikes five, but in all honesty the place is alright. It's even, dare I say it... pleasant, even if it's a good hemisphere away from what I want to do with my life. It is not the dream, but it is a job, and I am thankful. That part is important.

Anyway, it is Saturday, and it is raining heavily enough that people have given up stepping inside for shelter whilst politely pretending they have any interest in a three bed and garden conversion for £1.5mil. That’s when my brand new boss smiles with the best intentions and asks me what my weekday job is.

Ignoring the tickle at the back of my throat and the brush of sweat along my brow, I tell him I'm a writer. I tell him with my fancy logophile words, stretching out my meager accomplishments until they sound like a thriving career and flourish with a smile. Freelance since fifteen! Multi-published poet! Currently writing guest blog posts, poems and articles for any up-and-coming publication that will listen!

And maybe if I say it enough times it will be true - live your own truth, baby, you're a writer, that's all you ever need to be. For now though, the reality remains rather murky.

My weekday job isn't being a writer, not really. It's exhaustion. It’s startling nerve pain that wracks my whole body in shivers. It's crying until my throat is hoarse and my knuckles are white from gripping the nearest static thing so I don't collapse beneath my own weight.

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"I write the world back into colour, even when my skin drains pale"

I'm not working Saturdays for a little financial boost, I'm doing it because it's about all my exhausted body can cope with. Sure, I spread my week a little thin; an evening course every Monday, volunteer work with an arts charity mid-week so I can maybe glance at other poets and act as if I'm inching towards the career I've always ached for in the soul-place, the empty hole the words are supposed to fill out. And on Saturdays I drag my bones around the office, paint on a pretty smile and work for my dinner.

And so we jump to my latest hospital appointment, with my latest 'specialist.’ He's scrawling down notes about all the drugs and therapies that haven't worked (medicated since age 10! Increasingly drug resistant! Sick of cold IV tubes full of liquid suicidal thoughts!) and I’m scrawling down notes about how the hissing lights lift the colour of the drab blue leather that squeaks when I sit, because in the moment it feels profound.

And, you know, maybe it is. I'm a writer - I write the world back into colour, even when my skin drains pale.

Here I am then, four weeks later, a static pillar against the ever rotating staff of the Saturday shift. I’m the smiling face at the front of the office, illuminated by the colour-changing sign that shifts like an aura, a giant mood ring. I am exposed by the wide, clear windows, catching myself yawning in the reflection. I grin as I sift through emails, as I check on the key releases, as the other employees talk about their latest ski trips.

So maybe it's a fake smile, cringing through the pain and the entrapment of a rolling chair and desk. No one has to know that.