We motioned what we hoped was a, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to the hopeful women and children in the street and ran after the car. When the Peugeot turned around and stopped, facing the right direction--forward--Debbie and I quickly opened the front doors, said, “Merci beaucoup,” a dozen times as the man exited the car, and drove off in what, for Debbie, was record time.
On the highway again, driving a pleasant 40 mph, we could finally laugh. Mary swore she hadn't been nervous for a second as she was a good judge of character and knew our driver-savior had only the best intentions. Debbie and I recounted our experience fending off the jewelry and clothing sellers, grateful we'd managed to get away without investing hundreds of Euros. And all of us agreed we were anxious to reach our destination, have a drink at the hotel where my friends had reservations, and forget the dubious thrill of driving in France.
Despite a bit of trouble reading road signs and circling around the hotel four times before we figured out how to access the hotel driveway, we pulled into the parking lot around 5:00. Mary said she'd grab Debbie's purse, along with her own, from the backseat so Debbie and I should go on ahead. Deb and I were still laughing when we heard a thud and a moan.
We raced back to the car and found Mary flat on the ground, not moving. She said her foot had gotten caught somewhere, her leg had twisted, and she couldn't get up. The more she moaned, the more we fretted at not being able to do anything. Finally, Mary agreed we could help her up as long as we promised not to touch her leg.
Debbie and I lifted her as gently as possible while Mary stifled a scream. As we settled her on the back seat of the car, we noticed the seat belt was fully retracted and lying on the ground. She must have gotten her foot stuck in the belt and when she tried to leave the car, it jerked her backward and to the ground.
Once settled, Mary insisted she'd be okay. She wanted Debbie and me to go into the hotel and get, at least, a drink of water on this 90 degree day. When we came back with some water for her, it was clear that Mary was anything but okay.
Her foot, ankle and lower leg were swollen to three times their normal size, and she said the pain was clawing at her. Mary wanted to go home. Debbie somehow found what had eluded her all afternoon--Reverse--and we managed to drive the few miles back to old Arles without getting lost more than twice.
Although Deb intended to park in the public lot and had sworn she'd never drive on the ancient city's serpentine streets which had trapped more than one tourist, she didn't hesitate to drive right into the old city to our hotel.
At the hotel entrance, though, we were faced with a problem. Mary insisted she could not walk a single step, and looking at her leg, we didn't doubt her for a second. We thought about carrying her because Mary has spent her entire adult life on one diet after another, so she'd probably be pretty light. But, then, if Debbie and I dropped her, with Mary's luck, she'd probably wind up with two bad legs. We searched the street for good Samaritins, but, while all the faces we saw expressed concern, no one offered assistance. And the little bit of French Debbie and I knew eluded us at that moment, so we didn't know how to ask for the help we desperately needed.
Debbie stayed with Mary while I went into the lobby. I was trying to explain the problem to our friendly manager when I noticed the office chair. The one with casters. Those wheels would get Mary out of the street.
The manager held the door while Deb and I gently lifted Mary into the office chair and wheeled her to the elevator and up to our suite (actually one bedroom with two twin beds and a sitting room with a foldout couch).
Debbie went back to deal with the car. She told us later she got lost on the sinuous streets and a kind stranger had to help her back down a hill when Reverse mysteriously disappeared again. I tried to get Mary comfortable, but she begged to be left alone. She said she thought she might cry, and since she's the most stoic of women, crying in front of me would have hurt her more than her leg. I handed her a box of tissues and headed for the drugstore.
I'd passed the store, with its neon-green cross, many times before and knew the pharmacist, who, in France, was almost as well-trained as a doctor, would be able to help. One of the pharmacists in this store spoke limited English and understood Mary's problem; she gathered pain medication, a soothing salve, and crutches. The crutches were something of a surprise, but, then, drugstores in France always carry items that are unexpected. Just in case, I also asked the pharmacist for a map and the name of a local clinic. I hoped we wouldn't need it, that Mary just had a bad sprain. But, still, it was better to be prepared.
None of the items I bought helped. Mary couldn't get the hang of the crutches which rested under the elbows instead of under the arms, and no amount of pain medication stilled the throbbing in her leg. As she had since the accident, she refused to consider going to a doctor or a hospital. Maybe, she suggested, if she simply got a good night's sleep, she'd be feeling better in the morning.
Debbie and I studied the map over our salads that night in the little restaurant next door, Bar Americain, that had become our regular gathering spot. The Joan of Arc Clinic was the closest, we thought, but, still, given our navigational skills, it might as well have been in Italy. We remembered how frustrated we'd been earlier in the day trying to find a hotel. How on earth would we manage the traffic on a Saturday morning when the weekly market was set up along the main street? And there would undoubtedly be “backing-up” to do. Would Debbie be up to the task? Would Reverse be there when she needed it?
I had an extra glass of wine while Deb ordered a sandwich to take back to Mary. All we could do was hope that Mary was right. Maybe she did only have a bad sprain that a good night's rest would cure.