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good conscience

I didn’t recognise the older lady from the ditch without her helmet.


A week ago, I heard a thump and then something like a lawnmower engine. I glanced out of the front window and saw a motorcycle in the storm ditch next door, its rider caught underneath it. I dashed out as she called for help and heaved the bike back to vertical, freeing her leg. I knew in theory that if you drop your bike it’s hard to get it back up; in practice, it was heavier than I ever imagined. Harleys are all heft.

The clip-on windscreen had come off along with bits of the bodywork. She distractedly started trying to snap them back into place.

– Are you okay?
– This is my girlfriend’s bike, I hope I haven’t ruined it.
– Are you okay, though?

Jacked up on adrenaline but nothing serious, at least not obviously so.

The Harley was stuck, couldn’t be rocked out of the ditch because the undercarriage wedged itself against the slope. I considered my options, but there weren’t many.

An old van was heading our way and I waved it down. The driver parked up and got out, a cigarette dangling from his lip like a cliché. ‘I’ll lift the back, you pull the front.’ With the first push the front tyre rolled over my toes. Bikes want to hurt you. The second push freed it. ‘You’re a gent,’ I said, and he tapped me on the shoulder, got back into the van and drove off, ciggie still in his mouth.

– Are you sure you’re okay, I said.
– I’m okay, just shaken up. Thank you, I’ll be okay.

And she rode off.


She was planning to leave a card on the porch table by the front door but I saw her and stepped out. She handed me the card. I finally worked out who she was. ‘I just wanted to thank you for helping me last week.’ ‘I’m just glad you’re okay.’ She had a bandage on her wrist. Just a sprain, she said, nothing broken. They took a bunch of X-rays. There are lots of little bones in your hand, I said. Yes, but they gave it a good look and it doesn’t feel broken. We talked a little longer and I wished her well.

The card was addressed to ‘The Good Neighbor’. I tore open the envelope: a 4th of July card, all flags and flowers. I opened the card: a $100 bill, the value garishly obvious. I can’t take this. I hurried back out and down the drive, socks but no shoes, and called after her as she crossed the street.

– I can’t take this.
– I want you to have it, you can buy yourself something nice.
– That’s kind of you, but I can’t in good conscience accept it.

The money was in my left hand. my right tapping my chest. I appreciate it, but I can’t. Not in good conscience. Please. Pay it forward. Eventually, my insistence broke through, and she took it back.


Back inside, I finally got to read the card. ‘Thank God for people like you. God bless you!’ I don’t believe, but perhaps I act as though I do.