Sister

by Todd Walton, December 12, 2007

I'm tired and a bit depressed — sad news from friends, the world gone madder than usual — so I decide not to ride my bicycle to town. Still, I want to get the mail and cash a check, so I put on my shoes, grab the keys to the pickup, and something tells me, "Ride your bike. It will be good."

What do I mean when I say something tells me? A voice? Well, perhaps. Hard to say whether I hear the command or feel it, but the idea gets through loud and clear.

I don my fluorescent green bike jacket so I'll be visible to drivers on the dark forest curves, put on my helmet, and a wave of sorrow and exhaustion washes over me.

"I think I'll take the truck," I say to my cat lying so happily by the warm fire.

But the command comes again, louder and clearer. "Ride your bike. It will be good."

So I get on my bicycle and set out for Mendocino — an eight-mile roundtrip to the village. When I'm in the mood to go fast, I can make it there in 20 minutes. The return trip takes at least 45, that first mile in from the coast being extremely steep and winding.

Half a mile along I'm ready to give up. I'm not just tired, I think I might be coming down with the flu. But I don't turn back, and as I ride on I realize I'm definitely in the grip of something beyond me. So I stop resisting and give myself to the road ahead.

By the time I get to the coast, I'm feeling good. I congratulate myself for pushing past my ennui and attribute the command to ride my bicycle to my Higher Self that knows what's best for me.

Now I steel myself for the sprint across Big River Bridge, pray for an absence of logging trucks, and put on a burst of speed. And just as I get across the bridge and downshift for the climb to the village, I come abreast of an injured doe lying virtually invisible in the high brown grass next to the highway. She startles as I ride by, but she's so badly hurt she can only quiver in her attempt to flee from me.

I continue into the village with every intention of alerting the state park folks about the deer, but by the time I get my mail and go to the bank and buy a sandwich, I've completely forgotten about the deer. So I settle down to eat on a bench in the sun at the Presbyterian church overlooking the shining sea, and I'll be damned if that voice doesn't come again saying, "Ride home now!"

"But..."

"Now!"

I pack up my sandwich, mount my trusty steed, and ride out to Highway One, where just south of town I come upon an animal control truck parked by the side of the road with the engine running and a flashing red light atop the cab. I have no doubt they've come for the doe, but they're sitting a long hundred yards north of her and on the wrong side of the road.

So I glide to the driver's window and overhear the ranger on a cell phone saying, "I've been up and down this stretch three times and I don't see any deer."

"Excuse me," I offer.

The ranger, a woman with short white hair, her eyes shielded by reflective black shades, turns to me and says gruffly, "Yeah?"

"Are you looking for the wounded deer?"

"Yes, I am," she replies, still gruff.

"She's in the high grass down there on the other side of the highway. Perfectly camouflaged. I only saw her because I was riding my bike and..."

"Thank you," says the ranger.

Now I watch as she rolls down the highway, turns left into Big River state park, makes a U-turn and stops beside the wounded creature. I glide closer but remain across the road, not wishing to intrude, yet fascinated.

The ranger gets out of her truck, steps into the high grass, and bends down to touch the fallen doe, which touch causes the deer to lurch and slide out of the grass onto the edge of the highway. Seeing the deer is beyond repair, the ranger goes back to her truck and gets a rifle, a .22. She returns to the doe, places the barrel against the deer's brain, and pulls the trigger.

And now this public servant does a most extraordinary thing. She sets aside her gun, takes off her dark glasses, and kneels beside the deer. Now she cradles the deer's head in one hand, and places her other hand on the deer's heart. And now she prays — I'm sure she's praying — until the deer's heart ceases to beat.

I glide across the highway and roll close to the ranger. She looks up at me. Her eyes are turquoise, shining from within, and in this moment she is the most beautiful person I have ever beheld.

"Thank you," I say, believing her to be an angel.

"Thank you," she says, looking deep into my eyes.

I roll down to the edge of the sea where for some minutes I forget I have a sandwich to eat and letters to open and a steep ride home. Yes, for some minutes I am transfixed by the knowledge that I was told to ride my bike so I might help an angel end the suffering of our sister.

Todd Walton's web site is underthetablebooks.com.

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