“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?” – Edgar Allan Poe
I pedalled hard, bouncing over the cobblestones. What did Lynn mean I shouldn’t visit Imogene today? And why wouldn’t they tell me she was sick? For that matter, why wouldn’t Imogene tell me she was sick? My chest was tight and that combined with the exertion and the jetlag meant that I would need to be slowing down any second now. My head was down and I was trying to concentrate on only one thing – the pumping of the pedals, one after the other. I had left the village now and was pushing my way up the hill into more and more pastoral vistas but I wasn’t looking – couldn’t look. Everything was blurring into a liquid mess as tears brimmed over and ran down my cheeks. I shook my head, angry. What was my problem? I leaned into the final curve before the last hill to my house and pedalled as hard as I could, swerving past great bushes of tiny pink flowers. Before I could stop, I caught something large and brown and very solid on my right and with a screech of brakes and a slithering skid I was slammed by something warm, and soft and hard at the same time.
I lay looking up at the sky, not quite sure what had just happened. A deep ‘moo’ came from just above me and a large head with soft dark eyes crossed into my field of vision. It was a cow. Goddammit! I moaned as I rolled onto my side and gingerly tried to sit up. An excruciating pain in my side made me cry out.
“Fuck!” I knew this pain. This was a broken rib – cracked at the very least. Back in my roller derby days I had felt this exact pain at least half a dozen times. I tried breathing in and out, carefully testing the ‘pain waters’. The cow shook her horns at me in what I chose to take as a friendly way. If it wasn’t friendly I was in much more serious trouble than a broken rib and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.
“Nice cow. Good friendly cow. You like me, right?” I whispered. Every word shot white hot lightening rods of pain through my chest. “Okay,” I whispered. “Okay, cow. I’m going to get up now. Really, really slowly so don’t go berserk on me.” I eased myself up, tears squeezing out between my shut eyelids, groans squeezing out between my clenched teeth. The cow, either disgusted with this foolish human or bored with her suffering, wandered away from the side of the road and back into the field where she belonged.
I sat, biting back pain and bile that threatened to spill up and out of my throat. Trying to breath was like having burning demons from hell tap dancing on my ribcage. “Dammit,” I whispered to myself. “This feels like a couple of ribs.” I rolled onto my knees, eased myself to my feet, and straightened up to something like a standing position. The ancient green bike lay on the ground beside me. Not a dent, not a flat tire, not even a freaking scratch.
“How do I pick this up?” I asked myself. I knew that lifting it was out of the question. I looked down at my torn t-shirt. There was too much of me hanging out to stumble to the nearest farmhouse looking for help. I lifted my eyes up and was only mildly surprised to see a pair of curious green eyes looking back from the hedge.
“Allo.” said the little girl attached to the green eyes. “Why don’t you pick up your bicycle?”
“I can’t. I think I’ve broken my ribs. It hurts.”
“Oh.” The pixie face looked at me quizzically. “Why don’t you ask me to help you?”
“I was just getting to that.” My breathing was shallow and hard. I was struggling to hold my vision.
She jumped up from her space in front of the hedge and trotted over to the bike. She peered down, examining the bike carefully.
“This is Étienne’s bike,” she stated. “I know this because I used it to learn to ride.” She lifted the solid bike up with an unexpected ease for such a tiny girl. “I’m stronger than I look.” she said. “People are always surprised.”
‘What an odd little girl.’ I thought. “Can you help me get it to my house?”
“I think so. If you don’t live too far away. If you live too far, I would have to say no because my Maman has told me not to leave our neighbourhood. Do you live in our neighbourhood?”
“I live at the top of the next hill. The white house with the blue shutters.”
“Okay, I can go there. If you hold the bicycle on one side, and I hold the other, we can push it together.” She pushed the bike closer to me and I grabbed onto the saddle and handlebars. “I think it would be best if we walked slowly. Your face looks funny.”
Slowly, we pushed the bicycle up the hill. Or rather, she pushed the bicycle and I leaned on it and groaned and sweated my way to the top.
“Do you have the key?”
I handed it to her and rested my head against the door jam. I watched her push the big iron key into the lock and turn it with both hands. ‘She must be stronger than she looks to manage that door.’ I thought to myself. She led me into the house and helped me to sit at the kitchen table.
“Would you like a glass of water?”
“There is a bottle in the cupboard under the sink. I’d rather have that.” I waved my hand vaguely in the direction of a mostly full bottle of vodka.
My pixie saviour poured me a huge tumbler-full, the way she might have poured me that glass of water. I didn’t mind. It had been a freaking awful afternoon. It was warm, and disgusting and wonderful.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Ayla. What’s yours?”
“Well, Madeleine. You were my little saviour today. Thanks. I don’t think I would have made it home if you hadn’t come along and helped me.”
“Oh, I know,” she said as she fiddled with a string long left tied on the back of her chair. “Grandmaman says that I have the ‘eye’. I knew you were coming from the village – I saw you riding up the path and hit the cow this morning. I just came and waited by the hedge until it really happened.”
Madeleine jumped up. “I should go now. Bye.”
‘What an odd girl!’ I thought to myself again before I rose and shuffled my way to my bed.