Continued from Part III.
From the moment of arriving in the town, Stan’s memory was a blur of movement and panic and shouting and chaos. François had got the attention of a medic, who helped Stan finally collapse on a stretcher and be covered with warm blankets until he could be triaged. From this horizontal vantage point he watched as his new friend run through the crowds of injured skiers and rescue teams. There seemed to be a lot of wounded, and it was difficult for François to get attention – he seemed to be gesturing and shouting and pleading for help, competing against the cries of the wounded and the disorganisation and the general feeling of doom.
Though finally warm and wrapped up tightly, Stan felt a cold hand grasp at his heart. He thought of Matilda, the woman he had never met, brought alive solely through François’s description. Was she still out there somewhere? Still alive? Perhaps trapped and hoping, as Stan had himself hoped some hours ago, for a human sound, or the sight of movement not far away. Was it Stan’s fault that she was still out there? It was hard to say, and not a question he wanted to face. He faded from consciousness with a weight upon his shoulders.
It would be many years before Stan saw François again. Stan received a card at the hospital, and then they exchanged letters, detailing subsequent events but never quite touching upon the circumstances of their meeting. Matilda was never found. For Stan, a return to the city was a return to normal life, but a fresh perspective brought him renewed vigour and purpose.
Five years later, he met François in a quiet restaurant one Sunday. He saw a man but a mere shell of his former self. A man caught in the past, a man shredded by the loss of his love. As Stan stared into the eyes of the man to whom he owed his life, he realised that a further rescue was in order.
They returned, together, to the mountain where they met. They searched, and found nothing, and searched some more. When every inch of ground had been gazed upon, François fell upon the snow and sobbed. Stan, at his side, let the sorrow take its course. At last it was over. François stood, weakly, and Stan helped him back to town.
They had paid their respects, and now could go forth stronger than before.