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Tambour d’un Timbale by Buz Ecker

It was near dawn when Jamie could feel Noelle’s hand in his. He gave it a slight squeeze.

“Jamie!” He could not answer, nor could he open his eyes, but he heard her. Jamie tried to focus.
The pain was intense, searing—like there was an axe wedged in his thigh. He knew it was Noelle, and he
loved her. He heard the first dawn birds, and a quiet breeze, and the boom of the rapids through the
canyon, sounding like the drumrolls of hundreds of timpani.

Noelle was dozing, and couldn’t be sure of his slight squeeze. She stared into his closed eyes as she
sat there. “Good morning, Babe.” Tears formed in Noelle’s eyes and dripped on her grimy pants. “You
will get flown to the hospital in Winnipeg, and you will be saved!” Noelle squeezed his hand and looked
at Jamie’s closed eyes. She rubbed his arms and touched the hair on his forehead. “The helicopter will
be here soon. I know Jesse and Tenth made it to the Bloodvein Indian Reservation sometime in the
night. I just know they did. They had a flashlight, and we are that close! The helicopter is on the way,
Babe.” Noelle sobbed and buried her face in Jamie’s chest. Jamie heard it all, but could not move.

At 6:45, the helicopter appeared from the southwest over the clear waters of the grand Lake
Winnipeg. Jesse and Tenth had landed at 3:30 in the morning at the Reservation and woke the nurse.
She contacted Winnipeg, 150 miles south, by short wave radio, and the helicopter left Winnipeg at first
light. The sound of the hitting noise the rotors made were faint at first, and then became louder, then it
was seen. Jesse, Tenth, and the Reservation nurse were standing on the ferry dock, and some Ojibway
came out of their small homes to watch. The helicopter with long, silver pontoons landed in a flurry of
wind and noise out in the small bay, then taxied to where they were; the rotors shut down, but were still
spinning. The helicopter was long and silver and displayed a large red cross on each side next to the
Canadian flag. Tenth and Jesse secured the moorings with the pontoons when the rotors finally stopped.

The pilot opened the door and stepped on one of the pontoons, then to the dock in front of Jesse,
Tenth, and the nurse. A man sat in the helicopter and did not get out. “What’s going on here? Where is
the injured young man located? We only got by radio that he is a little ways upriver on the Bloodvein,
eh? Tenth took a map out of his back pocket and pointed to the marked rapids where Jamie was with
Noelle. The pilot peered at it. “I understand we don’t have much time, eh? Lost a lot of blood,
unconscious, right? Looks like cliffs where he is from all these tight contour lines on the map, eh?”

Tenth looked at the pilot. “There are cliffs there, but you can land at the top where it’s flat. He’s
down by the river under a sleeping bag. You got to hurry, sir. He slipped with the canoe on his back and
cut his leg real bad in portaging by the rapids.”

“Well okay, we got a map. We’ll be off, and we’ll get him. The medic knows what he’s doing, eh?”
The pilot stepped on the pontoon, then back into the helicopter. Tenth and Jesse untied the ropes. Then
the big rotors started, then they throttled up making waves and blowing fiercely into Jesse, Tenth, and
the nurse. The helicopter with the long, silver pontoons taxied back, then rose over the jack pines and
firs, and headed upriver.

The helicopter took off with a twenty minute flight to reach the rapids in the canyon where Noelle
was crying next to Jamie by the booming rapids. Noelle stared at his face, then Jamie opened his eyes.
Noelle rubbed her sooty hands all over his face. “Jamie! My Jamie!” He could not hear her. Jamie looked
at the thin, wispy morning clouds, tinted red by the dawn. It had taken the four of them almost two
weeks to make it this far paddling by canoe, starting way back in Red Lake, Ontario. It was the summer
after their senior year in college. After this, it would be looking for employment in the real world. Jesse,
Tenth, and Jamie were roommates. Tenth and Jesse were there for fun; Jamie to prove he could do it.
Noelle was a year behind them, and she was there to support Jamie. It had rained, they endured
headwinds and mosquitos and deep muskeg on the portages before they got to the headwaters of
Bloodvein River. This took one full week. Then it was another week to paddle to the Indian Reservation
by the grand Lake Winnipeg. Now the pain from the deep wound in his thigh burned like torches stuck
in this leg.

“Jamie! Jamie! Are you okay? Your eyes are open! It’s me, Babe. I love you so much! The helicopter
will be here soon. Jesse and Tenth are your best friends and they would never let us down. Talk to me! I
love you so much! Oh, God Jamie! Your eyes are open. Can you hear me, Babe? I love you! You mean
the world to me! We’re so young and it’s 1974! We have so much longer to live!” Noelle sobbed while
she stared at him as he looked straight to the skies.

“Le jeune homme de la Résistance française a dit que les bombes de Saint-Lo ressemblaient le
tambour d’un timbale. ‘’

“Jamie! What did you say? You’re still with us!” Jamie did not move, still staring straight to the skies
and the flourish of the dawn.

“Jamie, my love, what are you saying? Talk to me! I love you! I’m right here, Babe. The helicopter is
on the way. I know it! You won’t die! You can’t! Else then I will die too, just to be around you! It’s me,
Jamie! Noelle!”

“Bases are juiced. Count is full. And here comes the payoff pitch. Swung on! Hit deep to right center,
and it is off the wall for extra bases! One run scores, two runs score. Now here comes the third run…play
at the plate! Safe! It doesn’t get any better than this!”

Noelle stared at her Jamie. “The helicopter is coming!” Indeed, the hitting of the rotors from the
helicopter were heard over the timpani noise of the rapids.

“I’ll never be like him.”

Jamie finally moved his head toward Noelle as the helicopter flew low over the trees and hovered
over them. “Noelle?”
“Yes, Jamie! It’s me. I’m still here. The helicopter is here to save you!”

“Don’t leave me, Noelle.”

“I would never leave you, Babe! You know that!”

“But, Noelle, my leg. It hurts so much. Hold my hand, don’t let go,” Jamie whispered.

Then Jamie took one last deep breath, holding the hand of his Noelle. The helicopter landed up on
top of the cliff behind them, and when the rotors stopped, the medic ran down to them. He checked
Jamie’s pulse, then pulled back the sleeping bag to see the enormous gash in Jamie’s leg. “I’m sorry,

Noelle then straddled over Jamie and hugged him and cried on his face, then let out a wail that
pierced the noise of the rapids and echoed through the canyon. The medic and the pilot came back,
carrying a stretcher.

“We have to go, Miss. I’m very sorry,” the pilot said. They carried Jamie to the helicopter; Noelle
behind, staring at the light blue lichen on the ground around her steps.

The helicopter landed in the waters by the Bloodvein Indian Reservation and taxied up to the ferry
dock. When the rotors stopped, Noelle stepped onto a pontoon, then on to the dock, where Jesse and
Tenth were waiting. The three stood there hugging each other and sobbing. As she wailed under the still
rotors of the helicopter, Noelle had a hope. She had a hope that the cells of her egg that Jamie may have
fertilized deep within her womb, were dividing now more than ever. She knew, however, that these very
same cells would one day become like the father and grandfather before, tormented by the drumroll of
a timpani.

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