“Please, don’t leave!” the woman cried again.
Was she asking him to go over to her? She sounded distressed, even weak. His heartbeat quickening, Evan pushed off again with his poles and rushed down towards the splash of violet in the snow. A woman in a purple jacket was lying in the snow on her back, a snowmobile jammed against the base of a tree, mere feet away. The pungent fumes of gasoline and hot metal tickled their way up Evan’s nostrils, and he sneezed into his jacket sleeve.
The woman grimaced as she let down her arm. “Thank you,” she said, short of breath. “Snowmobile crash. I was trapped in the snow. I’ve broken my leg, and three ribs, from what I can tell.”
Evan slammed his boot clamps with his poles and knelt down two metres away from the woman.
“A man helped me out of the snow,” she said, her laboured breaths exiting her mouth in tiny puffs of vapour. “He’s on his way to get help.”
Her long, greying hair fell out of her red toque in a dark tumble; her face was round, beet-red, and a cascading tear drew a glassy line down her right cheek. A gash on her other cheek leaked blood down her neck. Her eyes, bright and green, were pure emeralds on her blood-stained face.
Evan continued to kneel beside her, the obligation to say something nagging him like repeated pokes in the shoulder. But how could he? He was never the first one to speak.
The lady sniffled, and it caused her to grimace. She gripped her side with a gloved hand. “Do you think you could stay here, with me?” she asked.
And do what? Evan had absolutely no means of helping this poor woman.
“Yes,” Evan replied, despite his tightening chest.
“Thank you,” the lady said, a wave of relief washing over her face. “Take your goggles off; let me see this Good Samaritan.” She smiled, and the wrinkles lining her eyes doubled.
Evan fumbled for the edges of his mask, and slowly raised it to the top of his helmet.
“Thank you,” the lady said again, her eyes studying him until a fierce cough broke her gaze. She hacked three times, covering her mouth with her grey glove. When she took her hand off her face, both her glove and her lips were stained with blood. She stared at her hand in horror.
A jolt of worry caused Evan to lean in towards her. “Ah—are you alright?” Evan stammered. He had not a clue what to do, but he knew he had to help her, somehow.
The woman tried to inhale deeply, but a horrible wheeze broke the silence. Her face twisted in a knotted expression of pain. “This isn’t good.” She put her hand over her side and felt around delicately. “I’m bleeding internally.”
“How—do you know?” Evan asked, his concern for the woman coaxing the words out of his throat.
“I’m a doctor,” she replied quickly. “I know when I need medical attention.”
Evan nodded, feeling utterly powerless. How was she going to get anywhere?
“Where’s your cell phone?” she asked, the urgency still present in her voice. She coughed again, her throat squeezing tight. Her tongue was now a deep red.
“I don’t—have one,” answered Evan. In fact, he had never owned one.
“Damn,” she sighed, her brows drooping. She reached into the pocket of her snow-pants with a pained grunt. “Mine’s smashed. ”
Evan glanced at the heaping black wreck partially buried in the snow.
“There are no medics on this side of the hill,” she said with a sigh. “I don’t know how long I can hold out.”
“I should st—still get help,” Evan said. He started to get up.
“No,” the woman replied sharply, grabbing onto his boot. “Help is on its way, and I can only hope that I have that long. I’m stuck here.”
Evan froze in place.
“Please,” she pleaded, “stay. You can be my help.”
Evan sat back down in the snow, and the woman’s body seemed to relax. She wanted him to stay, but what help could he possibly be to her?
“I’m Jean Dawson,” she said.
And then he realized it: she wanted him to talk to her. The thought of it sent an anxious ripple down his entire body, and his every muscle screamed at him to flee. The one thing that Evan had learned about conversation was that it never ceased to expose pain.
“I assume you have a name, too?” she asked, trying to bring a smile to her face.
“Evan,” he replied, his gaze burrowing into the snow, resisting Jean with all their power.
“Evan what?” she asked. She sounded weak, but cheerful, now that he had chosen to stay, and when she spoke, she was sounding less and less aware of the severity of her injuries.
“My la—last name?” Evan breathed deeply. Of all the things he despised about himself, his last name had to be chief among them. “Evan—Lowe,” he mumbled. It was a stark reflection of what he was: low, inferior, fearful.
“And was that so hard to say?” she replied, before another cough erupted from her throat. She threw a hand up in front of her face, and her hair shook. Evan scooted towards her in an instant and held her head up while she coughed. When she was finished, he led her head back down gently onto the snow.
“Yes,” Evan replied.
“Why?” she asked delicately, probably trying to prevent another fit of coughing.
Evan turned away, and fixed his gaze on the snowmobile. He felt his veins pulse all across his body, his jaws clench together tightly, his muscles tying him up, imprisoning him in a cocoon of anxiety. That was the one question he wanted never to answer.
“It’s okay,” said Jean. “My daughter has a friend who’s a recluse, too. I should know to be more sensitive.”
Recluse. The word stabbed Evan in the gut. “It’s called Avoidant Personality Disorder,” he said reflexively, in a thick, firm voice entirely unlike his own.
Jean took a moment to respond. “Well, yes, I shouldn’t have used that word. But, I’m a gynecologist, not a psychologist. I’m sorry, dear.”
Evan looked back down into Jean’s eyes. He wasn’t sure how to accept an apology from a total stranger.
“You know why I need you here, Evan?” Jean asked, pointing at him with her wool mitten.
“You want to t—talk?” Evan guessed.
“Partially,” Jean answered. “It distracts from the pain.”
Evan almost grunted in disagreement.
“For physical pain, it does the trick,” she continued. “When you hurt yourself as a child, didn’t your mother ever tell you stories to help you forget about the pain?”
Evan gulped. Mother: the word set off a small explosion inside Evan’s mind, and he physically winced at the sound of it. His mother was the one who had caused his pain, and there certainly weren’t any stories told to him afterward.
The sound of chattering teeth refocused Evan’s attention on the present moment; Jean was shivering.
Without second thought, Evan peeled off his black coat and laid it over Jean, who smiled at him. “For having an aversion to talking, you make a fine gentleman,” she said through clapping jaws.
“Has a girl ever tried to get your number?” she asked.
Evan arched an eyebrow. “I’ve never wanted to b—be around girls.”
“So you’ve never given a thought to dating someone?”
Evan shook his head. “I wouldn’t be a—any good at it.”
“That’s what I thought when my husband first asked me out, but things turned out alright. We’d be celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary next month. He wanted to take me to Italy.”
“Jean, don’t say that. It’s n—not too late. Help is still c—coming.”
She shifted her body in the snow, but instead of making herself more comfortable, she cried out in pain, clutching her midsection underneath Evan’s coat.
“Jean! Jean!” exclaimed Evan with sudden volume. “Jean!”
After a few more blood-filled coughs, Jean slowly let her head fall back onto the snow. Her shoulders, however, were still rigid.
Beginning to panic once more, Evan opened his mouth again, his voice greeting the air with little more than a squeak. “Jean, are you okay?”
Jean bit her lip; a tear fell down her cheek, mixing with the blood that was freezing to her face. “No,” she whispered, and that single word brought more blood up from her lungs and onto her gloved hand.
Evan pounded the snow with his fists. He couldn’t leave her, and help just wasn’t coming fast enough. The muscles of his face clenched in hopeless frustration.
“Evan,” she breathed, her voice shakier than ever. “I’m getting weaker. The pain is—getting stronger. I’m not going to—make it.”