So Things Were
Andrew [not allowed to post last names on BZ]
The mare bent her neck down gracefully and snatched a tuft of verdant grass with her broad, flat teeth. Fine drops of dew misted her lips as she pulled the grass from the dirt and into her mouth, lifting her head again as she begin to chew. It was a cool, summer morning and the sun was just cresting over the trees that framed the pasture, edging its way into the slate sky and heralding a mild warmth cast upon the mare’s palomino back as she continued to graze.
The mare, whose name was Lucy – Lady Lucy to be precise, but rare was the occurrence when the shorthand was not preferred – was twenty-one, quite old for a horse. For many years, as long as she had lived at this stable, she served as a lesson horse, the gentlest mare in the field. Lucy was always willing to have a neophyte climb on her back and learn the graceful joy of riding a horse, and she never refused the requisite treats that the excited little children were always happy to give her afterwards. Apples, carrots, peppermints, and store-bought grain confections: all these and more were awarded to Lucy for her temperate temperament. Indeed, the mare was known as the resident “chow hound” of the barn just as much as she was known to be the sweetest of the horses, everyone’s first choice on his or her respective lesson day.
So things were, and had been for more than a decade, but Lucy was getting older now, and her strength waned as older age and arthritis began to descend upon her golden frame. Her spirits were never lessened – nor was her appetite – and her ears would still prick up from beneath her messy, cream-colored mane whenever a human stepped up to the gate at her field, or the door to her stall. But her joints were too tender for regular work now – and over the past ten months, she had slowly been phased out of lessons, and gradually relegated to field board.
It was for the horse, naturally. Lucy certainly entertained no thoughts of being “cast aside” as she stood grazing normally in the morning. She certainly did not consider herself a drain of any resources, or someone whose usefulness had expired. She merely enjoyed the verdant grass at her feet as the sun inched higher and the day grew warmer. As she stood grazing placidly, a low rumbling noise sounded from beyond the horizon, somewhat heavier than the usual car motor sound. Lucy looked up with her right eye. A bright red truck was ascending the road to the stable, with a large, silver horse trailer in tow.
The teenager’s back was bent ungracefully as she tipped the carton of milk and poured a portion of its contents onto her Cheerios, which she had adorned also with a scoop of sugar. Small droplets of milk splattered on her hands as she messily poured, and then brought a spoonful to her mouth absentmindedly, leaving the carton on the table next to her rather than bothering to put it back in the fridge. She didn’t notice the sun rising majestically in the sky, except when its glare interfered with reading the newspaper comics.
The teenager, whose name was Pippa – Philippa Floros to be precise, but rare was the occurrence when the shorthand was not preferred – was seventeen, a recent high school graduate. She worked currently at the local grocery, a job she was quite thrilled would cease at the summer’s conclusion, when she flitted off to the state university, though she was less-than-thrilled at the impending lack of spending money that would beget.
But Pippa did not dwell too much on that. She knew the grocery would hire her back in the winter break, and again the following summer, as these things generally go. And if they didn’t, she would find somewhere else for part-time minimum wage. It worked through high school and it would work through college – things were no different. There was no perceptible change from one day to the next, no events that changed the placidity of a teen-aged life. Was she really a different person the day after graduation than she had been the day before? No, of course not. Pippa was too happy-go-lucky to waste time on ruminations of such gravity, regardless. She knew the things that she liked, which were friends, horses, and dolmades, and she paid plenty of attention to all three, which were immediate, physical, and extant.
So things were, and had been for many years. Pippa certainly entertained no thoughts on how symbolic this transitional juncture in her life was as she sat eating sweetened cereal normally in the morning. She did not consider herself on the cusp of great changes and transformative experiences, nor did she consider how near she was to two decades, something that not long ago had seemed impossibly far away. Pippa merely thought about the here and now, her present state of affairs, as the sun’s glare made the comics increasingly illegible. The antics of Garfield were more distracting than recognizing the reality of mortality. Pippa had never thought of what to do with her life, because she never had really considered its cosmic brevity. She glanced at the clock above the stove. It was time to leave for her shift, same as every other morning shift she would undertake indefinitely. She replaced the milk in the fridge and exited the house, her red sedan making a low rumbling noise as she descended the driveway.
Lucy did not understand why she was being loaded on the trailer. She hadn’t been brought to a show in well over a year; it was far too much excitement and stress for the old, arthritic mare. But Lucy remembered the procedure, and didn’t put up a fuss as she was led up the ramp and into the big metal box, enticed by a full net of hay. The leadrope latched to her halter was tied to a hook in the trailer’s wall, and the ramp was closed and latched behind her.
Lucy pulled hay from the net and chewed as voices spoke outside the trailer. She didn’t understand the English words, naturally, nor did she recognize the intonation of wistful sadness when her owner said to the new faces “Take good care of her. She can’t do a lot of work but she’s a real sweetheart.” Lucy didn’t understand when her owner, who was no longer her owner now, confessed “It breaks my heart to let her go, but I’d rather she be happy with a new family than stay at a lesson barn where she can’t work anymore, and be unhappy.”
Lucy didn’t know she was unhappy.
Pippa was unhappy to be having this conversation for the third time this year.
“So you’re all graduated now!” Agnes said cheerfully as the two of them opened the store for the morning and prepared the registers for customers. Agnes was the assistant manager of the grocery, an elderly, overweight lady with a silver pompadour and a kind, if over-excited, disposition. Pippa replied that yes, she was indeed a high school graduate.
“How exciting! You’re going to college?” Yes, Pippa was going to college.
“What are you going to major in? What do you want to do with your life?” No, Pippa hadn’t thought about what to major it. No, Pippa didn’t know what she wanted to do once she was out of college. Just like when the question was asked in April, and February.
It was not so much that Pippa resented the inquiry itself, despite its repetition: it was merely that she had nothing of substance to say on the matter. So Pippa responded as little as possible, and ignored as much of the chatter that happened at the workplace as she could. She peddled the bounty of food to the denizens of America, giving luscious chocolate to the obsese and overpriced whole-grains to the skinny, making no judgment of any party, merely taking their money. People bought bread and milk and eggs, potatoes and chives and butter, carrots and apples and peppermints. Pippa was the gatekeeper of the cornucopia. It was terribly bland work.
Weeks passed. Months passed.
The new humans had been friendly and caring at first. Upon arriving at her new home, Lucy was greeted by an exuberant young girl bouncing up and down with happiness. A horse! Lucy was reminded of the young children who learned to ride with her help, the many faces that had been so happy for this adventure. They all grew older, and went elsewhere, over time.
The new owners led Lucy to the field where she was to be kept, and for some weeks, she was ridden by the small girl, fed regularly, and given ample treats at every opportunity. While she missed her companions from the field, Lucy was content.
Slowly at first, however, something changed. Lucy couldn’t understand the fickleness of a young child, or the wastefulness of the parents who spoiled her. She could only notice that she started to feel hungry, that the feeding became less and less regular, before stopping entirely. She could only feel the pain in her feet as they grew out, never trimmed, and never touched by a farrier. The edges of her hooves cracked and curled upwards and it hurt the mare just to walk. Lucy didn’t understand the meaning of the English word “pounds,” or that she lost four-hundred of them. She only knew she was hungry, and alone. Lucy lay down one day in exhaustion, and found that she couldn’t stand back up.
Pippa’s phone rang.
It was a Saturday evening, and she didn’t have work this day. She was sitting on her bed with her laptop at her feet and a jar of olives in her hand as a snack. She grabbed the phone and checked the screen to see who was calling.
Her heart sank. It was Maria, and that meant bad news. She set down the jar and answered.
“Pippa? It’s me, Maria.” Pippa was aware.
“We got a call from Animal Control. You know what that means.”
“Can you be at the shelter by six?”
“Thank you so much, Pippa.”
Pippa loved horses more than any other animal. She’d taken lessons for many years, starting when she was an excited little girl ready for adventure. In recent years, they’d grown too expensive to afford, but Pippa volunteered at a local equine rescue shelter run by Maria. Twice a week she drove to the next county to groom and exercise the horses, and she used much of her grocery-store salary to buy feed and other requisites to donate to the shelter.
When Maria called, though, it was for more dire volunteer work. It meant the shelter would be acquiring a new resident – which meant that another local animal was being abused. It broke Pippa’s heart how people treated these gentle creatures. The first horse she’d helped rescue was simply found wandering on the shoulder of a highway, abandoned by its owners. Their most recent rescue, Lexi, had been stuck in a stall made of wooden frames covered in plastic sheeting, with a chain-link gate, and never let out. When Maria and Pippa had arrived, after a tip from a neighbor, the horse was knee-deep in weeks’ worth of its own excrement and so emaciated she looked like loose skin draped over a skeleton.
But the shelter had great success in the two years Pippa had been volunteering. Each horse they’d rescued with the assistance of Animal Control had made a great recovery through their care and attention. Though she was aware that the recovery was not a foregone conclusion, and was as familiar with the tender work involved in ensuring it as she was with what the consequences otherwise would be, they’d had nothing hut hard-won victory over cruelty thus far.
Pippa arrived at the shelter early the next morning and joined Maria, Dr. O’Connell the veterinarian, and two officers from the Animal Control division, who had received a report from someone on the west end of the county that their neighbors were keeping a horse who looked weak and starved.
The owners put up a fuss when the five arrived. They always did. They claimed that Maria and the officers had “no right” to take their property, that the horse was merely “skinny,” and so on. And they were wrong, and their resistance was useless. Maria and Pippa carefully helped the palomino to her feet. She was terribly emaciated, he bones and joints jutting out from under her skin, creaking as she moved. Her stomach was so far receded that it looked almost like a straight line at a forty-five-degree angle from her front legs to her back backs. When the vet placed a hand on the mare’s side, his fingers fell into the recesses between the raised ribs. With effort, and slowly, the three led the horse into their trailer. Pippa ran a finger softly through her cream-colored mane. “It’s going to be okay,” she whispered.
They brought the horse named Lucy to the shelter, and brought her into one of the spacious new stalls Pippa has helped to build two summers prior. They brought food and water, and brushed her coat for the first time in months. Lucy saw all this through a haze. Her vision was somewhat blurred, somewhat darkened – she didn’t understand what had happened, or how she got here, but she knew this place was different. The food almost burned in her throat, the first she’d had in weeks, but she ate it with as much relish as she could muster, and as much force as her meager strength could allow. When the youngest of the three humans brought her a peppermint, Lucy remembered something happy, from a previous time. She was cared for, here, and someone was always at her side. So it was for several days. But she was still so weak, and so tired, so tired she had to lie down again.
“I don’t think she’s going to make it,” Dr. O’Connell confessed.
Pippa’s eyes widened. Maria looked to the ground and nodded sadly.
“Just like Rocky, four years ago. We just got to her too late.”
“Keep trying to rehabilitate her. See how she is by the end of the week. But if she’s not getting any better; if she’s still in this much pain…” The vet’s sentence trailed off. Maria nodded again.
Pippa didn’t speak or make a scene, but he shock was palpable. She had always understood this risk, knew that it had happened before, but it still was unbelievable, as finality and a curtailed future she’d never faced firsthand before. Pippa knelt down by the beautiful, dying horse that lay there quietly and desperately in the hay. She knelt there again some days later, alongside Maria, as Dr. O’Connell brough a syringe of barbiturates from his truck. Pippa didn’t understand why it had come to this, or why this majestic creature had been so mistreated and abused, or how anyone’s heart could be so black as to have such a casual disregard for life. But what she did understand at that moment the veterinarian slid the needle into Lady Lucy’s neck was the nature of death, and the finality of mortality, and the preciousness of life itself.
The mare understood, too. Though her vision was dim now, and growing dimmer, she saw the three sad faces above her and in one particular she saw a young girl, about to embark on adventure, a reminder of a happy life she had led, once before. But it was over now.