By Kathy L. Price
Black asphalt bisected the desert landscape. It lay there in a perfectly straight line, shimmering in the heat, and offered both a mix of dismay at the distance yet to be traveled and a beckoning into the mountains beyond. The late afternoon sun hung just above the ridge line – too low in the sky for the visors in the car to be of any use. Even with dark glasses, Beth found it a struggle to keep her eyes on the road. The sun was just too bright. If she focused on the edge, though, it wasn’t too bad. She kept up her speed, hoping to make San Isidro before it was completely dark. Besides, it wouldn’t be long before the sun slid behind the mountain and it wouldn’t be so blinding.
Beth didn’t see the cow until it was airborne. In the split-fraction of a second before the air-bags deployed, Beth saw a big hump between its shoulders and a pair of gracefully curved horns; a hide beautifully striped in rich mahogany and black, with scattered flecks of tan. Beth thought how attractive it was then remembered the one big thing her high school driver’s education teacher had emphasized: no matter what, you should “never, never, never hit a cow.” His description of what would happen turned out to be spot-on: the bumper had struck the animal about knee height and launched the beast up into the air, over the hood, and into her lap.
When she finally woke, she heard electronic beeps and the rhythmic clicking of monitors keeping track of her vital signs. She ached all over. Her right arm was in a cast and she couldn’t move it, so slowly, painfully, she lifted her left to touch the massive bandages around her head. Her jaw throbbed and was evidently wired shut since she could not open her mouth at all. Beth did manage to open her swollen eyes but only a tiny bit, yet she was still blinded by the harsh lights. Vaguely, she recalled the explosion of the airbags, the searing pain and blackness, then waking to a loud and unidentifiable noise. It had sounded like a chain saw, but that couldn’t be right. She remembered hearing voices and feeling strong hands pull at her, then excruciating pain, sirens, and more pain followed by blessed darkness.
The doctor explained later that most of her injuries occurred as the cow thrashed around inside the car. It had been badly injured and in its efforts to escape the highly confined space, its flailing hooves had broken her right arm and several ribs. She had been kicked repeatedly in the head and had a severe concussion. One of its horns had ripped her right cheek and she had lost a lot of blood. The animal had to be killed and pulled out of the car in pieces before they could even get to her. It was a miracle she’d survived.
The biggest shock of all came when Beth learned she’d been in the hospital for a week. She knew there had been something important she had to do but it hurt to think. Oh – the big meeting in San Isidro and she would have missed her subsequent flight back to the States, too. A million concerns flitted through her mind before another dose of morphine eased the pain and allowed her to drift back into sleep. She’d have to deal with it all later. Her last thought was a flashback to high school and thinking how her teacher had been right:
No matter what, never, never, never hit a cow.