Davis L. Bigelow
Multiple motors sent exhaust into the night air. The procession of one car and three vans wound their way out of the Midnight Lake Campground. Down the dark dusty road they drove, the Kilronan Valley only vaguely visible in the faint starlight that was mostly covered by clouds. Stan Calderbank lay in the back of Richard and Carlea’s van, Alida at his side, her hand in his once more. Within the van’s dark interior, even the voices of six-year-old Gerald and four-year-old Grant were switched off. The only sound reaching Stan was the gentle rumble of rubber on a well-maintained gravel road.
Minutes passed. Before long, they all turned left onto the main highway. A convoy of four, the two worried families accelerated down the pavement towards the hospital.
“Welcome to Peebles.” Gerald Calderbank read out as Richard sped past the sign.
“That didn’t take very long!” Grant added, and the forty minute spell of silence was finally broken.
Ten minutes later, Glen and Stan both lay on clean white cots in the emergency room. The Peebles Hospital was a small one, and it took another fifteen minutes before the on-call doctor arrived.
Another half an hour found the wizened physician scrutinizing a bank of backlit x-rays. Alida sat nearby. Stan lay still, eyes fixed and wondering. Then the old doctor turned. White-coated and suntanned, he began to speak. The old man’s voice was filled with certainly. “Well Mr. Calderbank.” He stated, glancing briefly at the intense gaze of Alida, “You are a very lucky man.”
In spite of herself, Alida put a hand to her breast and let out a little puff of air. The doctor continued, setting his hand reassuringly on Stan’s arm and nodding slightly as the words cascaded expressively from an aging throat. “The break to your femur is clean and I think it can be set it without difficulty.”
The lines on Stan’s deeply tanned face relaxed a little. “Thank you.” He rasped.
The doctor smiled warmly and continued, “I’ll give you some more Demerol and while it’s taking effect, I’ll tape your ribs. Two of them are broken.”
“Then I’ll set and cast your leg.”
Stan nodded again.
“Considering what you’ve been through, your injuries could be seen as being relatively minor. The prognosis of a full recovery is very promising.” The doctor gently patted his wrinkled hand on Stan’s arm. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
An hour later, Stan was wheeled back to his waiting wife. Alida arose. The graceful woman smiled as she moved closer to her injured husband and caressed his strong hand with her delicate fingers. Tears cascaded quietly down her delicate features. Stan’s injuries were an unpleasant surprise. “But he’ll be OK now.” She told herself.
Tentatively, Alida lifted the sheet that covered Stan and inspected the doctor’s handiwork. She nodded approvingly and shot he husband an empathetic look. Stan glanced down at his broken leg. It was encased in a fibreglass cocoon, but the familiar throbbing was strangely absent. The big man’s brain and body were still numb from medication, but his thoughts were his own.
The big man looked up at his wife. He studied her high cheekbones and small nose, her red lips and the tiny wrinkles framing at the corners of her pretty mouth. Finally, he found her opal eyes, pools of sapphire where it seemed he could swim forever.
“I’m sorry.” He finally said.
Alida’s soft voice spoke. “It’s alright my love. You’re OK now.”
Stan closed his eyes, gratitude filling his soul like hot chocolate trickling into a tall mug. Visions of his family paraded across the stage of Stan Calderbank’s memory, the procession led by his beloved Alida. Following her, all dressed in their finest, came his three sons and their sweet wives. Five precious grandchildren ran in their wake, energized by boundless youth and overflowing with the pure joys of life. Children’s laughter flooded the warm air.
Then the big man was in the water – frigid water! Skull Creek boiled over his vulnerable body. Death reached out to claim him but he was delivered. Suddenly, he heard the deafening roar of the grizzly. He felt the hot fetid breath and spewed spittle strike his face, but he lived on. “Why was I spared?” The question burned in his mind.
Next, Stan lay on the field of boulders under Ravenscrag Mountain awaiting a rescue that seemed to forever elude him. He felt the pains of a broken body. He saw the fog. He felt the bonfire. He felt the distress of hunger and thirst. He recalled the lurching travois and their narrow escape in the truck. “I know.” He thought. “I know why my life had been spared.”
Stan Calderbank opened his eyes. His face was wet with tears he hadn’t realized were even flowing. His Alida stared down at him, compassion for him adorning her slender face, her eyes sparkling with mists of emotion.
“I’m sorry... I was unkind... to you.” The big man rasped, swallowing hard. He squeezed Alida’s hand in his. “I’ll do better... in the future.”
Alida reached out her delicate fingers and touched Stan’s broad face. Then she bent down and kissed him tenderly, her own tears spilling. “I love you Stan.” She whispered.
“Big C?” Glen’s familiar voice cut into the tender moment.
“Yeah?” Stan rasped, turning his head and wiping his eyes. With a pair of professionally made crutches under his arms, Glen McPherson approached Stan and Alida. The small man’s face was clean, if one didn’t count the beard stubble. Glen was smiling. The stubborn Scotsman had stark white bandages on both his knees and his left ankle was cradled in a yellowish fibreglass cast. The narrow cut on his face had been cleaned and then stitched shut. Stan’s eyes silently examined the cut for a moment. It had looked much worse before. It definitely gave his small friend a more roguish appearance!
“I haven’t seen... you move so... fast in days!” The big man eventually said.
“We’re quite a pair.” Glen said, grinning. “How are you doing?”
“Much better... but I’ll be... laid up for... a while.” Stan lifted the sheet to reveal his cast.
“Nonsense!” Glen countered, an indomitable twinkle in his eyes. “If it makes you feel any better, in the 1976 Olympic Games, a Japanese gymnast named Shun Fijimoto broke his femur during the floor exercises. He was so committed to winning a team Gold Medal that he got a cast, just like yours, and competed in the ring exercises.”
Stan was listening, but rolled his eyes a little as the small man continued.
“The ring exercises didn’t require the use of Mr. Fujimoto’s legs until the end of the performance when he flew through the air, twisting and turning and flipping before landing hard on a thin mat!”
Stan and Alida both winced.
“Shun Fijimoto gave a flawless performance on the rings and landed his dismount perfectly, holding the landing for just long enough to secure the Gold Medal for him and his team.”
Stan grimaced at the thought and Glen went on with the story.
“Afterwards, when they interviewed Mr. Fujimoto in the hospital, he was asked how he did it. Like a true champion, he smiled and said, “The pain shot through me like a knife, but now the pain is gone and I have a Gold Medal.”
The bold gymnast’s words hung in the air for several silent seconds. In spite of his suffering, Stan smiled. He too was alive – and he had something much more precious than a Gold Medal. The big man gave Alida’s hand a little squeeze and his eyes met Glen’s. Glen saw deep gratitude there, but there was something else too. “Life truly is… about living.” Stan rasped.
Glen nodded, but remained quiet for a few moments while his smile melted into contemplation.
“Well,” Stan finally broke the silence. “Are you ready… to drag me back… to Maple Creek… to get our stuff?”
Glen grinned wryly, “Ok, but this time we’ll have to take a roll of duct tape and some real crutches - just in case!” Then he winked at Alida, a rakish smile climbing his ruddy cheeks. “And maybe you and Lillie can accompany us too! Stan’s just too heavy to drag by myself!”