No one knows when the dark days are coming. They just happen. They can occur even when everything begins in the most perfect of ways. On the days when the sun shines high, and puffy white clouds intermittently offer shade. When the coffee tastes like a gift from the God, and the birds sing as a choir in the trees. It can even come on a day when all things flow together into a state of joy, when a sparkling lightness lands in every step. Still, the darkness can come. It brings with it shades of trouble, an unexpected phone call, a knock on the door, or an unfortunate circumstance to remind you of life’s fragile state.
This dark day began with a two-month old foal showing signs of illness. Dancer’s high-headed bounce had disappeared, and his sparkling eyes had dulled. He had swelling on his left hind leg and it felt hot to touch.
Tracey called the vet.
The middle-aged vet arrived, Dr. Brenner moved with quiet assurance around the subdued foal.
Dick held the mare on the outside of the stall.
Tracey entered the stall with the vet. The foal never even spared them a glance.
I stood beside the little guy holding his head. The halter hung loose. It was almost too big to stay buckled. It hardly seemed necessary.
The vet takes Dancer’s temperature, and listens to his heart and breathing. He kneels down beside the colt’s slightly swollen hind leg, and gently pushes the hair aside. “Ahhh,” he said with dismay in his voice. “Not great. This poor little guy has a snakebite. It’s hard to see, but there are two puncture marks. What sorts of snakes do you have around here? Coral? Water Moccasin?”
“I saw a Water Moccasin a couple of months ago.” I answer.
Dick wraps his sausage-like fingers around the top of the stall leaning in close, “What’s the treatment for a snakebite?”
The vet answers as he exits the stall, “ The colt needs an antivenom shot, IV fluids, corticosteroids, pain medication, antibiotics, and wound care.”
Tracey follows the vet out of the stall. “What are his chances?”
The vet turns to face Dick and Tracey, “Not great, the smaller the animal the less chance of recovery.” He pauses and then goes on, “Sorry, but there you have it. “ Dr. Brenner grimaces, “It’s not ideal— I know. Do you still want to try?”
Tracey nods, “Of course.”
Dick gives Tracey a sour look but keeps his mouth shut
Dr. Brenner returns with a couple syringes. He injects the foal with the antivenom and then gives him a shot of antibiotics. The foal is quiet.
The vet turns to the door to get the next syringe. The foal explodes, blindly leaping around the stall. I rein him in with the lead shank to prevent him from hitting the wall. I hold him close but he’s strong, in the grips of a bad reaction. He throws himself over directly into me. I fly into the cinder brick wall backwards slamming the back of my head, and my lower back against the wall. The air leaves my lungs and refuses to return. I gasp.
The foal lay on his side winded, nostrils flaring.
The vet kneels down beside the foal.
Tracey rushes over to me and places a hand on my shoulder, “Are you ok?”
I wince drawing in a tiny breath. I feel pain radiate down my back. My head is a spike set in a railroad track and any movement is the hammer. “Need,” I gasp, “to rest a sec.” I said forcing the words out.
I gesture with a loose hand towards the foal. “How bout him?”
Tracey slides over to the vet and hovers over his shoulder, “What do you think?” She asks.
He runs a hand through his grey-flecked hair, and gives his head a soft shake. “It’s not looking good, he had a reaction to the preservative in the antibiotics. It happens sometimes. But with his system already being compromised…” He grimaces, “I’d be surprised if he pulls through. I can keep going by putting him on an IV and giving him pain medication to keep him comfortable. But, it’s your decision.”
Tracey frowns and glances towards Dick.
“We have to try. “ Tracey said. “That colts worth too much to just give up on him.”
The mare shuffles around Dick impatiently. She wants to be with her baby. She softly nickers.
The foal’s ears flicker.
The back of my head is pulsing. I reach up and touch the tender spot. It’s swelling into a baseball size bump. I push myself upright, and sharp pain radiates throughout my lower back. I inhale sharply.
Tracey shoots me a hard look, “Deb, I think you should go up to the house and rest for a while. That colt really sent you crashing. The stall door rattled when you hit the wall, and it’s cinder brick.” Tracey tips her head towards Dick, “ Dick will drive you back up to the house.”
I furrow my brow and gaze at Dancer flat-out on the ground; his nostrils blow with every strained breath. I can see the pain in his eyes. I feel the tears rise up in my own. “But, I want to help look after Dancer.” I said with a waver in my voice.
Tracey shakes her head. “I know you want to help. But there’s nothing to do. The vet’s got this. Go put your feet up, and get some ice on your head and back.” She steps up to me continuing on, “Dick and I have a function to attend this evening, we need you to be fit to water tonight.” She holds out a hand. “Tabby can help me finish up around the barn. It’s not going to kill her to do a little work.”
“Alright.” I reluctantly agree. I accept her hand.
I cautiously rise to my feet, and pain shoots through my back.
I drop Tracey’s hand and make my way over to Dancer. I screw up my face as I bend down to stroke his silky shoulder. He still has the baby fine hair. He’s too young to die. “Come on little buddy. You can do this.” I encourage.
My heart hurts as I head to the house with Dick. I tune him out, I don’t remember walking into the house. I say a silent prayer for Dancer.
A couple of hours later Tracey comes to check on me. She has the two bouncy Corgi’s, Salt and Pepper with her. They jump at the edge of the bed so I lean over and lift them up to cuddle with me. They lick my face and snuggle. I smile at the loving little dogs.
Tracey’s quiet. I lift my head to meet her eyes— they are two reflective pools of sadness.
“He didn’t make it,” she said in a heavy voice. “Owen is burying him out in the back.”
I close up my heart, and try to swallow the sorrow, but it leaks out my eyes, “I’m sorry Tracey. He was such a beauty. So full of himself.”
She nods, “Yeah it’s the shits— but that’s life.” She adds without conviction.
Yes, death is a part of life, the end part— the big finale for the body. People who raise animals experience this more often than most. It never gets any easier.
“How are you feeling?” She asks.
“Better,” I said in a hollow voice, “The pain relief and ice has helped.” I sit up taller. My body protests. I slap imaginary duct tape over my body’s loud voice. “I can come back out and help with the night feeding.” I offer.
Tracy gives me a hard look, “Come on,” she scoffed, “don’t try to be a hero. There’s no key to the city here. Stay in bed. You can do the watering tonight.”
I scowl. I hate lying around. I can hear Mom and Dad calling me lazy bones. “Oh fine.” I relent.
Salt and Pepper follow Tracey out the door.
The clock ticked on to watering time, Tabby and Zack are sprawled out on the sofa watching TV as I walk past. Pepper is cuddled up under Zack’s arm.
I stop and look around. “Where’s Salt?’ I ask.
Zack gives me a distracted look, “Tabby has her.”
Tabby glares at Zack, “I don’t have her. I thought you had her.”
They glower at each other— Two cats with their backs up, hissing with their eyeballs.
I snort, “You guys.” I wave them off each other. “Chillax. I’ll look for her outside.”
I slip my shoes on grunting in discomfort from my aches and pains, keeping my worries to myself. The poison cane toads are out and about. I hope she hasn’t gotten into chasing them.
I walk into the barn and flick on the lights. A few of the horses greet me with a nicker.
“Salt! Come here baby, come on.” I call out in a musical tone. I attempt a whistle but it sounds more like a balloon going flat.
I walk up the alley and the mare that lost her foal is whinnying frantically to me. My heart constricts. I step into her stall and rub her shoulder. She swings away from me, and calls again. It’s not me she wants. What she wants can no longer come.
I swallow my sorrow for her.
I walk to the office thinking maybe Salt got locked inside. I flip the light switch on. No happy little doggie here.
I cruise around the desk, and there’s Salt stretched out on the floor. She looks dead. Oh my God, this can’t be happening. What is going on today?
I drop to my knees wincing in pain. Salt doesn’t move. I feel for a pulse in her neck, there is a shallow flutter.
I grab the phone on the desk and call the house.
“Hello, knick knack patty whack, do you want to bone?” answers Zack.
“Zack!” I shout. “What the hell? Put Tabby on.”
“Tabby, it’s Deb. Do you have a number for your mom and dad? Salt is really sick. I don’t know what happened, but she needs a vet.”
“What? Shit! How bad?” Where is she?”
“Tabby! Just call your mom.” I said sternly, “I’ll bring Salt to the house. Just find out where we need to go?”
I pick up Salt, she droops in my hands, and her tongue falls out of the side of her mouth. I fold her into my chest carrying her like a baby.
I get to the house and Tabby has a map in hand. We are heading to a twenty-four hour vet clinic in West Palm Beach.
Shit! I think to myself, city driving— Eek! Something I have rarely done. Now I am officially responsible for the lives of two kids and a dog. Zack is too young to stay home alone and I need Tabby for directions. May the force be with me man! What I really need is the guy that offered me a joint on the freeway last week to show up again. Meet me in lane number three on the way to the vet please—because I’m freaking out!
We arrive alive at the vet clinic. There were several screams of terror along the way. A few what the hell are you doings? And a couple near misses with blaring horns, but somehow but we are intact.
Tabby never asked me to drive her anywhere else again.
Dick and Tracey met us at the vet clinic.
The vet was baffled. She had no idea what was wrong with Salt. It was some kind of poisoning, but it wasn’t consistent with the cane toad poison.
The next morning Owe, the handyman and our undertaker, discovered the reason for Salts illness. Owen hadn’t finished burying the foal’s body and Salt had eaten a large chunk of the muscle in the hind end, right where the injection site for the pain medication had been. Salt overdosed on pain meds.
Salt spent three days at the vet clinic. She returned home not quite as clever as she had been, but as loving as ever.
You just never know in life, one moment you’re given sparkles and rainbows— and the next, you’re getting shot in the baloney butt with a lightening bolt, while the Universe calls out “Bulls eye!”