by Anton Wills-Eve

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Free Association.”

                           Over Our  Rubicon

It was the coldest, whitest day of the year. Okay, we had been warned about blizzards and heavy snowfalls but not on this scale. Penny gripped my hand really tightly as we half slid, half skated our way to school, half a mile across the field and another mile down the country lane into the village and a few more yards to the school. She looked up at me shyly and asked,

“Are you afraid the blizzard will get worse, Jim, and maybe leave us stuck here all day?” I honestly was not at all certain but could see the tight lipped, determined little girl did not want to appear frightened of the weather even though she obviously was. I suppose at the age of nine, holding onto a fourteen year old boy who had been both a neighbour and a hero all her life, made her more determined than ever not to seem scared. I felt I had to cheer her up so said, half jokingly,

“The snow won’t beat us, Penn. We’ll make the road easily before it gets much deeper. See the willow trees by the stream where we join the lane? Well once we cross the narrow water we’ll have no more difficulties from there to the village. Believe me, I’ve often done this walk in the winter. Anyway, when I drop you off at school, I’ll get the college bus for the rest of my journey so we’ll both be fine.” She smiled confidently up at me and tightened her grip as her foot slid sideways slightly. I grinned back encouragingly as the snow clouds thickened ominously overhead and the sky darkened noticeably. But somehow we reached the willow trees without mishap. Then, to my dismay, I realised the stream had not frozen solid as I expected and I could see we were going to have to try to jump across.

“Penn, I can do this but it may be a bit wide for you. If I go first could you throw me your school bag and then hold on to the overhanging willow branch and try swinging over the water. I’ll catch you easily half way, but your snow boots might get soaked. It’s our best chance as the stream is not deep at all.” She slung her bag much too far, which made us both laugh, but it was the last time we did because, as the branch hardly propelled her at all, I had to lunge forward to stop her landing in the icy water. A loud crack followed by an excruciating pain, told me I had twisted or broken my ankle and I hit the water first.

“Jim, Jim.” Penny shouted as she landed on top of me, my legs and waist in the water and the rest of me on the snow covered bank. I could not speak because of the pain in my ankle but Penny could. As she scrambled up the bank, retrieving her woollen beret on the way, she looked down on me almost in tears and asked, “How am I going to get you out? You’re much bigger than I am and you’ve hurt your foot badly, haven’t you?”

“Yes, I think I have, Penn, could you reach the lane and shout for help?” This was all I could think of, but I had reckoned without my little companion. No way was she leaving me half in and half out of the freezing stream. She told me she had an idea. Despite my protests, and as I could only move from the knees up, she took off the green belt that kept her overcoat fully shut round her, and tied it to my ankles. To this day I have no idea how I remained concious it hurt so much, but her grim little face was enough to make me let her help me.

It took Penny twenty minutes to roll my legs up the bank as I helped by clawing my upper body well clear of the water. We both just collapsed with total exhaustion. “Oh thank you Penn.Thank you. I’d have died of cold if I’d stayed there. Could you get to the lane and try to get help or you’ll die of cold too?” But she insisted on one more thing first.

“I’ll find my bag and get my lunch box. We can’t have you starving to death after saving you from drowning.” It took another three hours of to-ing and fro-ing from me to the lane, as the snow got heavier and we admitted to each other just how worried we were. But Penny did her best to remain cheerful for my sake until rescue arrived in the shape of a passing farmer who knew us well.

It was as we were being driven to hospital in the ambulance that had been called for us that I thanked Penny and said I didn’t know how she managed to do so much for me. All she did was blush crimson, kiss me on the cheek and whisper, “Well, Jim, you see, I’m going to marry you!”

My problem is that that was only two weeks ago!

Anton Wills-Eve