It scares me, the little girl thought, propelling her summer-sled down the grass by pushing with both hands from the slope, pressing her legs hard against the wood until the skin turned white. If I make it down from the house to the corner of the pharmacy in one push, I can at least say I’ve done it once, and if I don’t, I can try it again, plus I’ll have to do it over and over until I can do it in just one push, and if I hurt myself, they’ll take care of me, and they’ll give me sweets.
She scares me, the village pharmacist thought, looking out the window, adjusting his glasses up his nose, getting sick with tuberculosis while cleaning his vials. If she makes it down the slope in one piece, she’ll want to do it again, and I’ll have to watch over and over and be scared, and even if she falls, her parents won’t come running since they’re always inside, and I’ll have to console her and clean her, put on ointments and give sweets. She’ll be happy with the sweets, and I’ll regret not having children.
What does she want? the Labrador thought. Should I run down the slope next to her and bark my head off? Should I just sit? “Sit!” she shouts, but me, after licking the salt from the skin on her knee, I know she doesn’t mean it.
There it is, the little girl thought. If I can feel the wind in my face, I probably won’t stop in the middle, even though, who knows, I’ve had a few surprises already. Like the bell ringing for lunch. And then having to sit with them, and say please and say thank you and keep my back straight and not rock the chair. On the other hand, even that’s better than riding through cow dung.
I’ve had it, the cow dung thought. I’ve had it with how she rides through me as if I was a piece of nothing. It’s not enough that I get dumped in the middle of the slope, now I have to be split in halves. If only she’d take the trouble, she’d find out that I have so much to offer, a lot more than goo and smell and feed for the grass, but for that she has to dig a little deeper. And the dog stares at the exploded me like it’s a festival. But wait for it.
It’s fun, the Labrador thought, so much fun. This morning I was bored. I’d lay by her feet outside, moving nothing but an eyebrow to check on her when she’d throw gravel to the grass, and now I’m running like mad, and her, she’s riding straight through the cow dung and splashing it everywhere. What do I care if we get hurt? Personally, I think this is heaven and I could be dead in a second but I never want another life.
Why am I falling? the little girl thought. Why do I have to keep falling instead of making it all the way to the corner of the pharmacy?
Wait, she’s falling, the village pharmacist thought. It’s annoying to see these things coming and then to see them come. Thank God it’s only grass on that slope. And she’ll start crying in a second, but before that she’ll make a pause. There’s always a pause before little children cry, maybe pain travels at a slower pace for them, maybe there’s a window of time during which they don’t know they’re in pain yet. What is the speed of pain? Why doesn’t she move?
She destroyed me, the summer-sled thought. From a rock in the cow dung that no one saw coming. Most of the time, I just stay planted sideways in the grass until she picks me up. Not this time though. Maybe she’s lying there doing nothing because in her heart she wants the dog to never stop licking her face and the village pharmacist to run over with an unlimited supply of sweets.
She freed me, the rock thought. That was Fate! And me, I’ve been waiting for Fate on this slope for a million years. I jumped up for a second. That was awesome! A million years in the making of that second. In fact, I don’t care if it’s Fate or someone else. Maybe this really is the beginning of something.
It’s cold, the village pharmacist thought, running outside without a jacket and forgetting the gauze and the ointments. Why would I think of the temperature right now? How can I be so distracted? A minute ago there was still sun and she was laughing at the top of the slope with her dog and now she is lying there unmoving. What do I care if I’m cold and it is getting overcast?
I feel pretty good here, the little girl thought. Should I keep lying down like that on the grass for forever, looking at them through the slits of my eyes, playing like I am dead and smelling of cow dung? Maybe if I try to cry, they’ll forgive me and I’ll get sweets. Maybe if I try to say something.
Was that a tear? the Labrador thought, whining and licking. It’s salty and it does taste like a tear. I would lick her tears anytime anywhere. Is she trying to say something? Say something! Say anything! She never does what I tell her. It’s always the other way around. Please! Please! Please! What does she want me to do?
Is that the pharmacist touching my forehead? the little girl thought, acquiring, despite herself, a taste for doctors for the rest of her life.
I have a good feeling about this, the village pharmacist thought, if she opens her eyes and begins to smile like that, she probably hasn’t broken any bones. Was that a rain drop?
They forgot me, Fate thought, lying on her back in the grass where the little girl had left her imprint. They all took off when the rain started. She even picked up the rock as a souvenir. Maybe they will come back for me. Maybe they will remind me. I don’t remember where I left off. I sort of lost the thread. I should say it’s nice to ride down that slope in the summer. It’s the kind of thing you don’t know why but you’ll always remember.
Cécile Barlier was born in France and received her master’s degree from the Sorbonne University in Paris. She has been a regular student and occasional teacher at the Writer’s Studio in San Francisco for a number of years. Her short stories “A Gypsy’s Book of Revelations” and “Forgetting” have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. “Forgetting” is featured in Epiphany’s 30th Anniversary Anthology. Her work is featured or is forthcoming in Amarillo Bay, Bacopa Literary Review (first place for fiction, 2012), Clare Literary Journal, Crack the Spine, Cerise Press, Delmarva Review, The Emerson Review, Gold Man Review, Knee-Jerk, The Lindenwood Review, The Meadow, New Delta Review, Penmen Review, Red Savina Review, Saint Ann’s Review, Serving House Journal, Sou’wester, Summerset Review, The Tower Journal, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and Whistling Shade.