From "From Another Country":
Something brushed past her hip: still thinking of the dog, she glanced down and saw a red-haired child, perhaps three years old, running past and giggling. From behind, sounding more despairing, the woman's voice again: "Gav-in!"
The man in black stepped forward, now, like the child, actually standing in the street. His arms were outstretched, and he bent his knees, lowering himself, reaching for the child who, seemingly unaware, was running directly toward him.
Alida was staring straight at the man in black now, and still she could not see his face. There was a glare of sunlight reflecting off the windows of an approaching car, and it dazzled her.
Later, she went over and over it in her mind, trying to figure out why she had done what she did.
She had known, on the instant of seeing the man in black stretching out his arms, that the child was doomed. Young Gavin was obviously about to die--probably to be hit by a car rounding the bend.
It would have been a normal response, not even heroic, to have grabbed the child, to have scooped him into her arms and pulled him back to safety and to the gratitude of his mother. It would have been the act of a moment, the obvious thing to do, to have thrown herself at the child. But she had not.
Instead, against all reason, Alida had flung herself at the man in black, had thrown herself into his waiting, outstretched arms, and taken the embrace that was meant for the child.
The next thing she knew was pain. A blinding agony that lanced all through her, stretched her joints out of socket and broke every bone, took even her scream and shattered it inside her agonized eardrums. She was ripped apart and thrown back together into a shuddering, wracked heap that knew not even its own name.
"Are you all right, love?"
Opening her eyes was like ripping skin off a barely healed wound; her throat was too raw for a moan. Alida realized that she was alive. She was standing on Newington Church Street, her back against a wall, and before her was a little white-haired lady--hair-net protecting her fresh perm, blue dress buttoned up to the neck, handbag square and glossy as the Queen's--gazing at her with concern.
Alida looked down at herself and saw that she was whole, with no signs of blood or bruising, even her clothes--flowered print skirt and sleeveless pullover--undisturbed.
"What happened?" she asked, and clenched her teeth and rocked against the wall as an aftershock of pain ripped through her.
"I don't know my love, I'm sure. I happened to notice you, and you were backing up to the wall as if you couldn't stand properly on your own, and you had a look on your face ... it was the look that worried me...."
"Not ... a car didn't hit me?" Alida looked out at the road, past the woman's emphatic negative, to where the multi-colored traffic glittered in the sun and surged ceaselessly past.
She saw the yellow dog panting in the sunlight, still blocking the door to the tobacconist's shop, although the two young men and the woman with the pushchair had moved on out of sight. She forced herself away from the wall, far enough to look around the bend, and was rewarded by the sight of Gavin's red curls. The little boy's hand was firmly in his mother's grip as they walked away.
As for the man in black--
The pain that was her memory of him was so sudden and sharp that she bit her tongue, finding the taste of blood a relief.
"I'll be all right," she said to the woman who was still worrying about her. "It's over now."
"Maybe it was the heat," said the old woman. "I'd see a doctor, though, just to make sure. It might be your heart, and you can't be too careful."
But Alida knew it wasn't the heat, and it wasn't her heart. It was death, and she had survived it.