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The Road to Hell

Posted by cdonegal on November 30, 2012 at 11:45 AM

The idea of a pilgrimage had appealed to both of them as they enjoyed their first trip to Europe, visiting holy sites in Rome and making a detour to visit Lourdes. They were grateful for their excellent health. Oh, she had trouble with her ankles and he with his knees, but, they joked, the first 80 years are the hardest.

The old woman dozed in her wheelchair as pilgrims passed by to and from the healing waters of Lourdes. Her husband looked lovingly at her and smiled as he waited to purchase a small phial of the water as a souvenir of their pilgrimage to the renowned grotto.

As he studied the coins in his hands in preparation for paying he heard the shouts of a woman who sounded very much like his wife. Turning to seek the source of the commotion, he was stunned to see a young boy in a Scout uniform pushing his wife toward the edge of the water. It was her shouts that drew his attention, as another boy seemed to speak earnestly to his wife of more than 50 years.

“Mabel” he shouted and began running toward the wheelchair as fast as his arthritic knees would carry him.

“Stop!” he called again but his cry was interrupted by one of surprise as he tripped over a stone and fell hard to the ground, his head bouncing once off the packed earth. A crowd quickly gathered around his immobile body as his wife’s wheelchair bounced to a stop. The scouts who had been with the boy pushing his wife retraced their steps to see whether they could offer first aid to the fallen man. Mabel grabbed her chest and tried to call for help, but she felt faint, her chest fluttered as if filled with butterflys.

Trying to stand, she collapsed on the ground, her face near a pile of fresh excrement left by a white miniature poodle.

Fellow pilgrims rushed to her assistance, drawing the attention of the Scouts who stopped their headlong rush at the shout behind them.

Looking at each other, they pivoted and returned to help the woman who had fallen from the wheelchair, but when the first reached her side, his foot slipped in the poodle waste and he fell, kicking the women’s face hard enough to break her nose and snap back her head. A collective shout of surprise arose from the crowd as the boy scrambled to his knees to attend to her. His friends ran for help.

The old man never fully recovered from the blow to his head. His speech was slurred and he had trouble remembering. His voice would trail off as he thought of his wife and the tragedy of her death beside the healing waters of Lourdes.

If only Mabel had not wanted to sit for a moment in an empty wheelchair, obviously left by someone who had enjoyed a miraculous cure, to watch the panoply of believers while Bert went to buy a souvenir.

He had trouble focusing his mind, but it kept chewing at the irony of two people in excellent health who walked to the healing waters of Lourdes and had to be carried out, one never to regain consciousness before dying in a French hospital so far from home and family, the other never regaining the ability to walk or speak.

The leader of the Russian Boy Scout pack that had thought Lourdes offered the perfect site to do good deeds, quietly resigned his post, but his family noticed that he was never again quite the same.

From Falls the Shadow and Other Stories, © 2012 Craig Lancto

Categories: Falls the Shadow

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