Cris Mazza's novella, Disability, punctures deeply into the world of the severely disabled, where nothing is as it should be. Told in a broken shorthand voice, Mazza's language is acute, evoking a place where the patients, the caregivers, and the system are all disabled.
Teri and Cleo are minimum-wage nurse-aides at a state ward for severely retarded and physically handicapped children. They are expected to feed, bathe, clothe, and carry out the required therapies for their patients in a 4-hour shift. They're working within a system where money for therapy is only continued if therapy shows improvement … and yet the state-paid therapists who oversee the ward know the patients will never show any improvement. To keep the money coming in, it's up to the minimum-wage caregivers to "see" and chart important improvements, thus keeping the therapy program alive.
Blinded, in their own way, by pet-like adoption of favorite patients, Teri and Cleo struggle to remain both optimistic and realistic, two emotions very much at odds, but which they try to maintain in balance. As their personal failures mount—and even transpose or emulate the travesties within the state ward—Teri and Cleo, with their own unseen "disabilities" in dealing with their lives and pasts, react harshly to the breakdown in the emotional balancing act.
"Disability is consistently provocative and interesting. It refuses to fit into the literary and political contexts it seems to invoke, and so defines its own genre and terminology."—American Book Review
"Bold readers, brace yourselves. Cris Mazza has found the perfect subject for her high-energy prose and her pitch-black compassion: an Institution serving, and staffed by, the 'disabled.' Mazza's sexually confused caregivers and the doomed exuberant boy they love all come to frightening life. But calling this a 'slice of' life would diminish it: Disability is as dense, relentless, tender, savage and strange as moment-by-moment life itself, conjured on the page whole." —Elizabeth Searle (author of Celebrities in Disgrace and A Four-sided Bed)
"Written in a shorthand style without any punctuation besides periods, the story builds a tangible energy among the characters." —Library Journal Review
The funk is always penetrated & acknowledged 1st. Hotdogs & mashed potatoes & wet carpet & industrial disinfectant & plastic toys & usually pee & sometimes poop. Hardly noticeable to Teri anymore except during that 1st stride through the glass door at the end of the hall. Like entering an aquarium from 1 end - a heavy piece of glass that swings out then re-seals. The interior air like water that doesn't escape & stays shaped like a long rectangular box circulated through a filter of some sort but is never exchanged w/ the atmosphere outside.
State ward for profoundly retarded severely disabled children - not a castle on an endless lawn but a contracted-out portion of a suburban convalescent hospital 2/3 still geriatric the last long wing now housing young & juvenile morons & idiots. Walls painted sky blue w/ friendly fluffy clouds. Filtered sun comes through the glass doors to warm the first few feet of sea blue pee & poop & sometimes vomit stained carpet.
After high school graduation fifteen years ago Teri's part-time job as a hospital housekeeper became geriatric nurse-aide w/o a raise in minimum-wage pay. Since then a lot of changes like w/o consent impregnated w/ a child who stuck around 8 years more or less then chose to live w/ the source of sperm - but the job in 1 form or another remains & remains part-time. Three years ago the half-empty last wing was not recarpeted but cleaned & painted & cribs purchased then idiots brought in by ambulance 1 by 1. Idiot is a medical term. There are other medical terms on their charts - syndromes disorders palsies.
Every two rooms share a bathroom every bathroom has a toilet & sink & mirror no tub. A tangled ball of sheets & towels on the floor at the start of every afternoon shift left by the a.m. aides. Cows who work full time from 6 to 3 then go bowling or to bingo either waiting for their navy husbands to come home from westpac or spending weekends washing motorcycle grease from garage jumpsuits. At work watch soaps & game shows on the B&W TVs which every room in the hospital has 1 of. Teri changes both her TVs to reruns of Rawhide then Leave it to Beaver then I Love Lucy then Rockford Files then Mary Tyler Moore then Unsolved Mysteries. Four hours of TV shift over. Every bed changed every child diapered twice or more p.r.n. every stomach filled every poopy diaper rinsed before being flung down the chute every lunch-crusted t-shirt peeled away & likewise down the chute w/ the sheets & towels. Potatoes creamed peas dried milk pureed meat washed from creases in necks navels & crotches s.o.s. Skin lotioned & powdered. Arms & legs wrestled into clean t-shirt or nightgown or footed pjs then restrained or otherwise strapped in bed w/ rail up & blanket available for night shift to repeatedly replace over twisting or deathly still body. Shift over.