Wednesday, February 26, 2014

SUCH IS LIFE



        Darkness.  Nothing but darkness.  No moon, no stars, just complete and utter darkness.

She listened.  There were no birds singing, no leaves rustling, no voices to be heard.  
A lone coyote howled in the distance and the small dog she held in her arms whimpered as she shook uncontrollably.
The excruciating pain she had felt in her left ankle had subsided, thanks to the three feet of cold water she stood in, although she couldn’t decide what was worse, being chilled to the core or the twisted ankle. Her long brown hair was wet and tangled, and the little dog, that probably weighed only seven pounds, felt very heavy, but she held onto it nevertheless.  The screaming and crying she had done that day had produced a hoarse throat.  “At least I have plenty of water to drink,” she told the mutt. The dog whined.
She tried to think warm thoughts, a steaming cup of hot chocolate, a roaring fire, a tropical sandy beach, but nothing helped. It was impossible to see the time showing on her watch, tears fell down her cheeks. As she shifted her weight, she let out cry that made Trixie whimper. She wanted so much to sit, but then she would be fully immersed in the water and gagging on it. Instead, she leaned against the wooden wall and let the memory of the morning keep the fear at bay.


***

       Lara closed her eyes and in her thoughts saw her Aunt Betty, a tall burly woman with short jet black hair and a dark complexion, placing the food trays on the kitchen table. She was the last of a dying breed, a hard-working woman with no time for foolishness and wasting of time. The woman was the most energetic person anyone could ever meet, something inherited from her mother’s native roots.  She was a playful yet serious woman, and you did whatever she asked of you, and when she spoke, you listened and listened well.  You did not want to make this woman angry, for she had the power to make your life hell, if she had a mind to.  
Lara's Uncle Hugh had come out of the bathroom, hair slicked back, beard combed, shirt tucked inside his pants. He was much younger than his wife, but because he was a smoker, his face showed age. He had given greetings then sat down in his usual spot at the kitchen table.
Lara and her younger brother, Al, had been helping their aunt and uncle with the Saturday morning chores: feeding the animals, shoveling manure, and collecting eggs. It was a small farm with few animals, but hard work even so. Al had just finished with the shoveling and Lara had the egg basket filled when the breakfast bell rang. They had walked back to the main house, stomachs growling. After they had washed up they went to warm up by the wood stove. The weather was always bad once the clocks fell back an hour, but you could always count on the warmth of a roaring fire. 
Their aunt Betty had signaled them to sit down as she placed the last of the food on the table. Spread out on the table was a delicious assortment of breakfast items. The bacon, ham, and pork sausage were made from a pig that had been slaughtered a week ago, blueberry muffins and homemade lassy bread were hot from the oven, and the scrambled eggs came from free-range chickens. Although the oranges for the orange juice weren’t fresh, the juice looked tasty. Everything looked delectable, however, the most heavenly smell didn’t come from the food, it came from the coffee still percolating; it filled the house with its robust aroma. When it was done their aunt Betty poured a cup for everyone.
After the meal was over Lara had gotten up and started clearing the table. Their aunt and uncle had gone to the living room to enjoy a second cup of coffee. Al had gone outside with Trixie. 
Lara had just finished the dishes when Al ran in.  
“Trixie got away from me!”
“Oh, no,” Lara said. “Do you know which way she headed?”
“Somewhere behind the chicken coop, come on hurry up, Lara, if she makes it to the highway she’s good as gone!” 
The highway would be getting very busy soon since their aunt and uncle lived just off the highway, an hour from the ferry, and when those eighteen wheelers got off the boat it was non-stop until they reached St. John’s, a twelve hour trip across the island. Nothing slowed those trucks down.
Lara grabbed her jacket and pulled on her boots.  They went to the back of the chicken coop and started calling to the little Jack Russell.  
“You go that way, toward the highway, and I’ll go this way toward the river.”  Al said.  
       “Alright,” Lara agreed.
Lara had been scouring the woods and was almost at the highway.  The highway traffic rush had begun. She could hear the roar of the eighteen wheelers as they drove past. Her spine tingled as she thought of poor little Trixie getting flattened by those wheels. Her body would be unrecognizable. 
Just then she heard a dog bark, not Trixie’s bark, but another dog, a larger dog. She walked up to the highway and when the way was clear she ran across.  A little path led into the woods to where her aunt’s only neighbor, Maggie, lived.  She heard the dog bark again. 
“I bet you went to find a mate, didn’t you, you little devil?” Lara whispered to the trees. She followed the small pathway through the woods until she came to a small clearing. Straight ahead she saw Maggie’s house and the German Shepherd she owned was barking steadily, trying to get out of his pen.  As Lara walked toward the house the little woman came out yelling at the dog to shut up and there on the step was Trixie. 
The woman spotted Lara as she got closer and recognized her. 
“Hi, there,” she said. “Trixie got away from ya again, eh?”
“Yeah.”
“Well, you come to the right place. Little Trixie here must be in heat, she been comin’ over here a lot lately, and poor ol’ Bowser, well, he couldn’t git it up if he tried.”
Lara laughed. She was fourteen, and old enough to understand the connotation.
“Would you like to come in for a spot of tea?” Maggie asked.
“Sure, love to,” Lara replied, sweeping Trixie in her arms. A shot of lighting lit up the sky as she closed the door behind her.
Maggie was an odd sort, but in the best way possible, quick-witted and spry, not bad for a lady in her seventies. Rain began to pelt against the window as they watched the flames dance in the window of the wood stove, each enjoying the orange pekoe.  Such a cozy place, Lara thought, and wished she could stay longer. 
After a quick downpour, the rain let up and Lara had to get going. She got up and thanked Maggie for the tea and hospitality. She picked up Trixie and they headed for the path.  Bowser let out a whine as his “girlfriend” was carried away. Dark clouds hung heavy in the sky, making it seem later than it was.
When Lara got to the path she saw that the pathway was built up with mud.  Luckily, there were paths all through the woods, so she decided to take the next one further on down. It was gloomy through the path and alders smacked her face. She stopped for a moment to tie the hood of her raincoat. There was a crack, which sounded like thunder, and before she knew what was happening she was falling. Trixie flew from her arms. Then Lara hit bottom with a loud splash. It took her a few minutes before realizing what had happened. She had fallen into an abandoned well.


***

While Lara had been trying to figure a way out of the well, Al had been following the trail to the river, calling out to Trixie. There was no sign of her. The time on his watch showed almost noon. The late breakfast he had eaten was pretty much digested, and he felt hungry again. He got to the river, did a quick look about, and headed back to the house. When he arrived at the house his parents were chatting and enjoying a cup of coffee with Betty and Hugh. He took off his coat and boots and once again warmed himself by the woodstove.
“Did Lara get back yet?” he asked.
“No, she’s not here, where did she go?” his mother asked.
       “Sorry, Aunt Betty, but Trixie got away so I followed the trail to the river to look for her and Lara went toward the highway.” He gave his aunt the puppy dog eyes, hoping not to get scolded.
“She’s probably gone for a walk,” Betty said. “Go get yourself something to eat; there might be something on the tube to watch.”
Al did as he was told and never thought anymore about it. He figured his aunt Betty was right. Lara did like to walk after a meal. She probably found Trixie and they just kept going.
Their mother, Jolene, agreed. The four adults chatted some more then started an early card game as lightning streaked the sky and the rain fell. 


***

Lara felt around the slimy surface of the wooden wall and was disgusted. Her hands stung from imbedded splinters of wood.  She had tried several times to scale the wall of the well, but it was too slimy and muddy. With each effort to get out she became more desperate, frantic, she didn’t like enclosed spaces and this added to her distress. At her last attempt she was almost to the top when her left sneaker caught against a jutting board. She slipped, twisting her ankle, and down she fell.  She felt immediate pain in her ankle and had to stand on her other foot. The board and sneaker fell beside her. Trixie, who had been struggling to stay afloat at the bottom, remained unharmed.  She got so mad at her sneaker she grabbed it and threw it up at the sky. It never came back down.
Trixie barked. She grabbed the dog and held it tight against her chest, craving the small amount of warmth that had been lost. The pain in her ankle worsened. Something crawled across her face and she flicked at.
        “Spiders, I hate spiders,” she said to Trixie. Then she felt something in the water and screamed.  Once she realized it was just the board she had knocked from the side of the wall, she jammed one side of the board at the well’s bottom and semi-sat on the two by six. Her ankle throbbed, but it felt good to sit, despite everything.She couldn’t scream anymore, she couldn’t even whisper, the water didn’t help any to ease the burning in her throat, the damage had been done, she screamed all she was going to scream.  Despite her shaking, throat burning, and ankle throbbing, Lara held on to that little dog as if it was the last thing that she would ever hold. She was exhausted now. And just as she thought it could get no worse, the rain turned into sleet. 

***

Al, who had been sleeping on the sofa, awakened to a clap of thunder. It was almost dark outside. Betty, Hugh, and his parents were still playing cards. Al got up and went to them.
       “What time is it?” he asked.
       “It’s almost five,” his mother announced, “musta did a lot of shoveling this morning did you?” They laughed. 
“Is Lara back yet?”
“No, actually, she’s not. Shoot, I didn’t realize how fast the time went.” His mother glanced again at the kitchen clock. “How long has she been gone? What time did you get back?”
Everyone became concerned now as questions arose regarding how long she’d been gone and where she might have went. Everyone agreed to go out to find her.
They started the search along the highway, following the trail that led to the pasture since Trixie had been found there the last time she ran away. They hiked along in the mud and pouring rain. It would have been much easier if someone had had a vehicle, but times were tough, and walking was the main source of transport. It had taken them twenty minutes to get up to the pasture and another ten minutes spent calling to them before heading back. Transport trucks flew by with blinding lights. Jolene shone her flashlight on the road, thinking the worse. When they got back to the driveway which led to the house, they crossed the road to search the other side. They had spoken to Maggie and now she and Bowser joined in the search. Flashlight rays scoured the area. No tracks could be seen thanks to the sleet that was falling. Everyone called out to Lara and Trixie as they walked in pairs in the ditch and along the paths that ran parallel to the highway.  
Bowser was leading and started barking. When Maggie finally caught up to him, he had something in his mouth.
Bowser dropped the sneaker at her foot and started barking again. His barking drew the others.  Maggie shone her light to where he was barking.
“There’s a hole, me mutt’s barkin’ down a hole!”  
Everyone gathered around the hole with lights shining in.  Lara was up against a corner, not moving.  Trixie struggled close to her thigh trying to get up on it.
“Al, go back to the shed and get a rope!” his uncle ordered.  “Betty, you go back with him to get some blankets.”  
Maggie was trying to calm Bowser. Lara’s father, Joe, was trying to make his way down the well, but it was too risky, if he slipped and fell he could land on her. He called her name and got no response. Both men felt helpless.  Lara’s mother was screaming, on the verge of tears, blaming herself because she hadn’t done something sooner. Maggie went back to her house to stoke the fire. Lara was going to need a roaring fire and since her house was the closest they would head there once they got her out. An ambulance would be two hours away and there were no paramedics.
Joe and Hugh kept screaming at Lara, but there was no movement.  Al got back first and tied the rope around his waist.  Al was lowered slowly into the well. When he got to the bottom he yelled and shook Lara, but again there was no response. He put a finger to her throat, faint rapid pulse. 
“She’s alive!” he yelled up. He tied the rope around her and they were pulled up.  
They were all around her now, tapping her face, trying to get a response. 
“She’s in shock; we have to get her to Maggie’s fast.” Her father wrapped her in the blankets and they were on their way.
When they entered Maggie’s house the heat could have melted plastic. Maggie had run a hot bath, but they decided to put her by the wood stove instead.  They lay her on the carpet by the stove and Maggie brought more blankets. Everyone waited. Jolene held her daughter against her, reassuring her, but there was no response. Then a mumble, a cough, eyes trying to open. 
“Trixie.” 
“Trixie’s here, we have her, she’s fine.” Tears of joy ran down her mother’s cheeks. Everyone sighed in relief. 
Maggie had called for an ambulance and when they showed up, Lara was responding well. They took her and her family to the hospital. Betty and Hugh said thank you to Maggie and went home. 
The next morning, Hugh got up early to do the chores since his helpers were not available. The sky was clearing, the air was crisp, and the storm was over. After that he went over to the well to have a look. He had no idea how Lara could have survived the fall. It was a fall of at least twenty feet or more. He had brought with him a few boards to place on top and walked back to the house. He would get Joe to come back later to fill the hole. Betty had called the hospital and had good news for him when he walked in the door. Lara’s ankle was fractured, but other than that she was doing fine. They would be home that afternoon.
 As the wood in the wood stove crackled Betty placed breakfast on the table, along with a pot of coffee, and they both enjoyed another delicious meal.