Literature Fiction

Wheels of fortune

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(Garden image by Iconcom | Pexels; Sign image by Yomex Owo | Unsplash — Adapted)

This short story is an *IA Writing Competition (fiction category) entry.

*This article was a June prize co-winner in the IA Writing Competition Most Enthralling Fiction category.


Everyone peered at the curve.

The nursery manager pointed at the curve.

The curve said it all.

He lectured:

"It’s a disaster. You guys are flattening the wrong curve. We need to grow the numbers. Our sales are rooted."

Slightest of chuckles. Ever so slight, in fact.

"You know it’s the best soil in the state, not the Tanami Desert. We should be able to grow stuff. Sell stuff.


"Don’t give me that shit about you all being in wheelchairs. We have to compete, compete, compete. Every second business around here is a bloody nursery and here we are with every staff member in a wheelchair trying to grow and sell plants to the able-bodied when they are getting the same or better up the road without having to bend over to hear your sales pitch.


"We’ve got a month to turn the business around or we go into receivership. Now pump up your tyres and get out there and get innovative."

His face reddened. 

"Otherwise, I might as well change the name of this nursery to Gardens Were Us. Now don’t sit around all day... get off your ar..."  

He paused. 

"Well, don’t sit around here..."

And on he went.

He waddled off to his office. He had a good heart, but these staff meetings didn’t highlight his sensitive side. The concept of the business was so altruistic. Employment for the disabled and rely on the goodwill of the able public to support sales. All fine when the economy was ticking over, but the current recession meant people shopped with their feet above shopping with the wheelies.

The able-bodied manager waddled off to his office. The staff meeting had its usual impact. Long faces, sighs and complaints.

"Geez, he can be an arsehole. Sometimes I think we are just wheeling around in circles.


"We have tried every innovative technique to boost sales. You know, just the other day, I wrapped a bandage around my head for an extra bit of sympathy, but the bloody customer just thought the plants were infectious.


"It’s pretty difficult growing and tending to plants by the disabled for the abled. Crikey, I keep stretching my arm, watering the bloody plants from top down."

A collective groan. It was going to be another one of chief complainant Maria’s speeches. Her wheelchair squeaked as she continued.

"You know that bloody manager wanted me to grow some exotic bamboo he is keen on... now how am I supposed to tend to two-metre high bamboo... and the watering...


"Whinge, whinge... he goes on about the tops of the plants needing watering... I tell you, it is causing a lot of strain on my shoulders and arms... and the smell... you know, being at arse height to everyone... 


"Geez... let’s get the union involved."

Mae, the union delegate, called for calm.

"From here on, let’s work in accordance with our ability. Let’s water at wheelchair height. Let’s tend the plants at wheelchair height. Basically, let’s run the business at wheelchair height."

Nods of agreement were as good as a vote.

The impact on the nursery was profound. Plants at able-bodied eye level basically did a U-turn to seek out the new care arrangements, resulting in a canopy of brown stems and branches to confront the eyes of the able-bodied shopper. It was the equivalent of an offensive plant "brown eye" for the able-bodied shopper.

‘A bloomin' disgrace’ headlined the News Ltd-owned local daily paper. 

The local radio shock jock called the workers "militant wheelchair wankers" and called for anti-anti-discrimination legislation. Even Costa ran an obituary piece about the nursery on the ABC’s Gardening Australia.

Sales plummeted. The manager fumed.

He pleaded for a return to the normal watering and tendering, but the workers were now happy and could enjoy at eye level the fruits of their labour. He even had to remove his favourite sunflowers to the sanctity of the stairwell behind his office.

It was an industrial dispute of a magnitude never before seen in the horticultural industry.

Grace – lead organiser from the Wheelchair Workers Union – was called in and listened and listened and listened. She took notes; she inspected; she wheeled herself around. She sighed; she consulted. She looked at the manager’s curve.

A mass meeting was called and a plan outlined.

The nursery was redesigned by a wheelchair architect to meet the specifications of the workforce. Door frames were lowered to one metre and a maze of boardwalks created a tunnel effect below the new canopy linking the various sections of the nursery.

The new design was all about the abilities of the workers and the plants as opposed to the comforts of the clientele. The needs of able-bodied humans were minimised. Plants were allowed to flourish naturally in accordance with the environment as opposed to the whims of the manager.

The staff were able to identify the areas where the plants would flourish best as opposed to placing them to catch the customer’s eye. The migrant wheelchair workers, on day release from the local detention centre, administered sections that showcased their country of origin.

The thickness of the canopy could be manipulated to simulate various climates.

A wheel through the nursery was the equivalent of a bush "walk" through a range of climate and geographical zones. The customer would be forced to discover as opposed to shop for preconceived ideas about their plant desires. They could easily traverse the savanna of the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania, enjoy the highlands of Papua New Guinea and dip into the jungles of South America in a morning visit.

At wheelchair level, plants bloomed under the new canopy. Flowers now curved and dipped under to enjoy the new care. Fronds of reds and purples previously defeated by the sun now sprouted from stems.

Ancient plants that were prized when the pre neanderthal population was on the verge of standing revived under the care and returned to the present day with prehistoric vines thickening and curling and then holding python-like the most delicate of blooms by their stems. A fragility and balance that mesmerised the eye.

The canopy filtered light and allowed the growth of sensitive blue and mauve petals that produced a perfume which lingered at ground level before fading upwards. The sensation teased able-bodied senses. The new angles and piecework features of the canopy filtered the sun to produce dazzling moving spotlights of gold and silver throughout the day.

The silence of the wheelchairs meant the never before grown, footstep-sensitive plants ventured out like shy platypi. All the tunnels converged to the magnificent "Rainbow Plant". A carnivorous plant that previously only sprouted in the individual colours of the rainbow was treated with such care and with an organic diet of locally produced shaves of meat that it combined all colours in one eye-watering firework spectacle. It all left the observer in a euphoric drug-blissed sensory state.

Yet another array of colour and perfume would open up with the moonlight. Evening Primrose, Moonflowers, Night Gladiolus and even the Dutchman's Pipe Cactus relished the care and delivered folds of colour. The exotic Casablanca lily thrived and lifted the nursery to a richness of perfume that peaked at midnight and floated the observer to a dream.

The nursery went to 24-hour trading.

It became a haven for wellness and healing and a point of referral for progressive medicos dealing with chronic patient pain.

The news swept through the disabled community.

Queues of wheelchairs lined the entrance. Sales boomed. The sales curve spiked. Even the nursery manager smiled.

In fact, business was so good tensions emerged in the able-bodied community. There was a lack of able-bodied car parks for a starter and abled-bodied toilets were often locked or used for storage. Water fountains were at wheelchair height.

A wheelchair hire section was opened for the abled-bodied to fully appreciate the nursery.

At the request of the local Member of Parliament, the new nursery was opened by the Minister for Disability, who, fittingly, with her speech impediment, began thus:  

"De local Member has fought very hard for dis approval. Congratulations for his success.


"I would like to thank dis member for dis opportunity to open de nursery. I am not exaggerating when I say that dis pleasure really is a result of dis loyal staff and it is dis unity inspired by dis Grace and dis Mae who are sitting amongst us.


"It really has transformed dis location."

She then straightened her back for her final words.

"Dis respect for the disabled has delivered a nursery not only for the disabled but dis abled body community as well."

John Longhurst is a former industrial advocate and political adviser. He currently works as an English and History teacher on the South Coast of NSW.

* Full IA Writing Competition details HERE.

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