The worst part was the ride back across the river in that little wooden punt. The stream was high and jostled them, and the rush of adrenalin that had earlier blocked out the pain had subsided, leaving her to feel the intense pain in her foot, and in her right elbow, where she had landed so hard, and in her upper rib cage, which had borne the impact on the massive tree root as she landed. The scrapes on her hands and legs she didn’t yet feel.
Paul was concerned and apologetic, though why he kept saying he was sorry was a mystery to Catherine. She had fallen under her own steam, if not intentionally. Colin wondered where the nearest doctor might reside, he rambled on and on about it. Emily took her left hand and squeezed it encouragingly. That hurt, and Catherine winced. Everything hurt.
Back at the Soulis house, Mme Soulis greeted the three healthy hikers and the one battered one with her usual aplomb, as if it was to be expected that one of them should pitch down the dry waterfall. Colin wanted a doctor but she ignored him and summoned old Soulis, who gave her a rather personal, and painful examination right there in the front foyer; twisting her ankles and arms, poking her abdomen and asking questions in French that Catherine could not understand.
“I think he asked if you have a headache?” Paul said, from his position beside her chair, a large carved piece of furniture more like a throne, and completely out of place in the hallway. He put his arm around her shoulder as he bent over to ask.
Dammit, she did have a headache, she hadn’t noticed until he asked. Dammit. Colin took it upon himself to feel her scalp for bumps, and found none.
“I want drugs,” Catherine said.
“Nothing is broken,” Paul said, “He says you are fine.”
“What?” said Catherine, who felt for the first time the sting of a scratch on her cheek.
“It is probably a sprain, that left ankle,” Paul continued.
“A sprain can be worse than a break,” Colin said unhelpfully.
“And maybe a nasty bruise on the elbow,” Paul said, wincing in empathy.
“We need some stretchy bandages for the ankle,” Emily said, and Mme Soulis, whom they hadn’t notice had left the foyer, suddenly reappeared as if on cue with a roll of beige stretchy tape. She also had a bottle that suspiciously looked like Iodine, which Catherine, remembering it from her childhood, planned to resist.
Mme Soulis spoke, and Paul did his best to translate. “Your condition is not serious, and you do not need a hospital, but your own doctor when you get home. Something like that.”
“It feels serious,” Catherine said sulkily, her eyes welling with tears. “Ow, I might have broken a rib!”
“Can you breathe?” Paul asked, on old Soulis’ behalf.
“No broken ribs then,” said Paul morosely, as if it would have better if she was right even if it meant broken ribs.
Mme Soulis disappeared again and returned with a cup of hot herbal tea. Catherine sipped while old Soulis wrapped the tape expertly around her left foot, under the watchful eye of Paul and Emily, who had done many an impromptu ankle taping. Someone handed her a kleenex to blot her tears. Then old Soulis took the nefarious little bottle from Mme Soulis’ hand, and dabbed it on a square of folded gauze.
“I’ll do that,” said Colin. And as he dabbed, painlessly, at her legs, arms and cheek, Catherine sipped the last of her tea, suddenly drowsy, aching, spent. “You’ll be ok, baby,” said someone. Colin?
Later, she slept. The soft, cool dry sheets of their bed felt heavenly against her aches; she didn’t think she had ever felt so comfortable, the fall notwithstanding. She awoke when she heard the door close tentatively. On the bedside table was another cup of tea, and a large ceramic basin, steam rising from warm water, a pale yellow sponge floating on its surface. She didn’t have the energy to give herself a sponge bath. Where was Colin? She tried awkwardly to heave herself up into a semi-sitting position, and saw she was naked and pulled a white sheet up around her chin. Not before noticing one large rib bruise and two small purple smudges on her right breast. Ouch.
Catherine took the cup of tea in her hands and sipped—it was obviously medicinal in some way, some crazy magic Soulis way, and the closest thing to drugs she was likely to get here— and stared out the window at the clearing around the house, and the forest beyond, edging closer. It was grey, and she had no idea of the time and no idea where her watch was. It must be late— dinner time? Was Colin with Emily and Paul, enjoying a gourmet dinner while she suffered with a basin of water and a cup of indeterminate tea?
Colin burst in to the room at that moment, flush faced and a glass of white wine in his hand. “Ah, you’re awake!” He sat in the desk chair that had been brought close to the foot of the bed. Catherine hadn’t noticed it there before. “I’ve been sitting here for ages, honest! Just went down for a glass of wine. It’s happy hour. Emily and Paul send their love.”
She could tell by the flush in his cheeks and they way he unintentionally mimicked their English accents, that this was not his first glass of wine of the evening. Colin was what she would call a cheap drunk. Drinking was not his thing.
“Madam Soulis is making a dinner tray for the two of us,” Colin said happily. “I think it’s chicken.”
“With wine? I wouldn’t mind some wine. A lot of wine.”
Colin stood and set the almost empty wine glass down on the desk. “Is the water still warm? Let me give you the sponge bath of your life.”
The water was still warm, and he bathed every part of her body with the soft yellow sponge, silky and soothing, kissing all the tender places. If it hadn’t hurt so much, it would have been the most erotic moment of her married life.
- Painting Mary Witte.
- Excerpted from my NaNoWriMo novel, The Houseboat. The Houseboat Part 1.