She was three, with sun-tanned, fatly dimpled little legs and rounded arms. It was summer and the field was hot, the water calling, cool and beckoning with flashes of shade and shadow under the willows where the brook widened to a pond where the cattle drank sometimes. It wasn’t easily seen though, the cows knew where to go but others, passing, might have no idea it existed.
“Jandy, where are you going, darling?”
“Stay near me, dear.”
A man’s voice. “Don’t worry.”
“She’s only three. They can always find danger at that age.”
“What danger. You can see everything around us for miles and the stream’s only a couple of inches deep.”
It was; where it was only a brook, and the trees hid where it was not. The sun was hot, almost burning small chubby arms and back above the light cotton of the bright pink playsuit. The water called enticingly to an overheated child and Jandy answered the call, stamping in the shallow stream, throwing water up, diamond drops in the sunlight as it showered over the small body. Her clear happy giggles shrilled out.
“See, she’s fine. We’ll have to go soon.”
“I’ll start packing, you move the car closer, that way we won’t have so far to carry everything.”
A cane hamper was filled with used plates and mugs. The picnic blanket was gathered up, crumbs shaken out, and slim hands began to fold it as heavier footsteps went towards the vehicle, which had brought them there.
Jandy paddled her way under the trees; the shade was soft on her hot skin. The water slipped over her body, deeper, then deeper. Her foot slid on a stone and she was drifting under the water, almost unafraid, until she tried to breathe. Water filling her mouth, her ears and eyes, choking her. She flailed, unable to swim.
Untaught, she could not float or save herself, until – a hand laid itself in hers. She clutched, despairing; the grip of her small fingers an unspoken plea. Don’t let me die, not die, not yet, oh please? She could not have formalized the words, but it was all there, in the desperate imploring grasp. It was answered, the hand lifted her, choking and gasping from the water, flipped her belly down across the bank edge, leaving her stranded there.
Her eyes opened as she attempted to find air again, and she stared into leaf-green eyes whose gaze swallowed her until they were all she could see. At last she had breath, and her outraged howl brought both parents at the run.
“I thought you said she was safe?”
“I didn’t know this was here, dear God, she could have drowned.”
“My baby, oh, thank God you managed to get out.”
The deeper voice struck in then. “Marcie, how could she? Look at the bank, if she was in that pond there’s no way she could have climbed out on her own. She hasn’t the strength.”
“Don’t be silly, there’s no one else around, she had to have done it.” Jandy was rocked, loved, cradled all the way home. Until she forgot the eyes, the hand, and even the event. At ten she learned to swim, unafraid of the water, unremembering of a pond where cattle sometimes drank, under shady willows.
She was almost forty but looked younger. She had a good job, which she loved, but it kept her on the road a lot, sometimes overseas. She was in another country the day she crashed, driving along a dusty narrow country road, perhaps a little faster than she should have, but it was safe. There was no car in view where the road climbed ahead. She was not to know there was a side road. In the land she traversed, private roads were often without signposts.
Her car rushed around the bend, to find another vehicle suddenly turning before it, she swerved, skidding on the dusty uneven surface. Her car hurtled sideways, slammed one side into a tree, spun, and toppled half a turn. Silence smothered the sounds, leaving only a soft dripping of petrol. Then, so slowly the beginning was impossible to see, there came the quiet blooming of the fire-rose.
Hot! It was so hot; the sun was starting to burn her. Jandy’s hand went out, groping. Into it another hand was laid, so gently at first she did not register. Then her eyes flew open. Fire was creeping up about her, she would burn alive. Her hand clamped down desperately and from the blazing sunshine a vague face formed. She could see nothing clearly, only the eyes. Green eyes swallowing her up as her hand gripped tighter, in an unspoken plea. Don’t let me die, not die, not yet, oh, please, not yet?
The unseen hand raised her, seemed to float her through the air until she landed belly down on the bank past the car. She caught her breath; crawled further from what could have been her pyre. At last, as staggering footsteps came towards her, she looked up. The man was elderly, brown-eyed, with once black hair now almost completely gray.
“Madonna Mia, Senora, you are alive?”
Was she? Jandy moved, stretching her arms, her legs. There were bruises and scratches, yes, but no major damage. She stared up.
“You, senor, are you hurt?”
“By God’s grace I am not. It was my entire fault, senora, I should have looked, but there is little traffic here. I did not expect you.”
“You are alone, there wasn’t anyone in the car with you?”
The elderly man stared. “No, senora. Was anyone with you, if so, I fear…” he broke off as they turned to look at what remained of her car. Jandy shook her head.
“I was alone. Now, is there anywhere I may obtain another vehicle, or at least find a telephone to use so that I may report this?”
As she dealt with the police and the technicalities attendant on the loss of a car with all her papers; with the stress of the crash, and the distress of her elderly companion who kept apologizing for his lack of care – the memory of the green eyes, the saving hand, slipped away. She must have crawled free without help. The police themselves assured her of this.
For weeks she was kept in the country with questions involving the crash, and grew to like, and then to love the place and people. In the months to come she would buy a house, deep in the hills of the countryside. It was there that she finally retired on her seventieth birthday. She did good quietly among the local people and was respected by all, even liked by many, but she called no one her close friend.
Jandy’s ninetieth birthday was celebrated alone. She’d out-lived her parents and she had been an only child. Her will would leave all the money she’d garnered; in a long and illustrious career, to the small, poor school some miles from her home, for scholarships to the university in the city.
Her cat had died the previous month, there was no way she would find another and maybe leave the poor beast to be discarded onto the street, or given for euthanasia. After all, it was unlikely she’d outlive another pet. She lingered on, healthy enough apart from the normal aches and pains of her age. But alone, and quietly – never quite acknowledging the feeling – a little lonely as if there was someone she had never known, but missed despite that.
It was the early hours of a morning a week after her birthday when the sound came. A soft groaning, rising to a roar of sound. Deafening, paralyzing, and Jandy knew it then for what it was as the earth below her home heaved and shifted. There was a period of confusion when she was showered with objects, some small, some larger and heavier. When at last the shaking and the bombardment ceased she lay still.
There was no pain but she could not move. Her body felt lighter as the hours passed and over the hills behind what had been her home, dawn-light showed the sky a little paler. There was no sound, only the sudden feeling of presence. She looked up into green eyes; it was as if she’d expected them, her mouth curved into a tiny smile as a hand slipped into her own chill fingers.
And a voice that only she could hear, said, “Will you deny me again, my once and future love? Come with me, I have no wish to walk alone any longer.”
This time she did not clutch that lifeline. Her hand curled a little, a comradely grip, the sort of grasp with which one holds the hand of an old and very dear friend. Gradually as the light grew she was seeing more of the face in which those eyes were set. Her body was without pain, in fact she felt comfortable, warm, and secure. The green gaze held her cradled in expectation as all sensations save that of the hand in hers, faded and she who had once been his until she wanted to walk the mortal world just one more time, accepted that time was over.
They came from the village to find her at last, and mourned her sincerely. Yet as one old man said, as he tossed over her the vivid multi-colored silk cloth she had used upon the huge mahogany table. “Do not mourn her too greatly. She lived long but Lord Death comes for all. Yet she must have died without pain or fear, for look, my brothers, see how happily she smiles, as if she greets someone beloved.”