It was an absolute gift of a night. The air was like Mom’s kitchen, soft, fragrant, and yielding. The silhouette of black walnut tree and barn roofline featured against a pale wash of moon sky. A thin drape of cloud wisped just above the Big Dipper, as if someone in the heavens were serving up a batch of hot chocolate. Friendly insects made soothing night sounds, and goose-bumped forearms shivered ever so slightly in the very last of the season’s t-shirt weather. Strains of kid music bounced through the upstairs window as an iPod playlist strummed the girls to sleep.
The boys and I had finished nighttime chores and I had sent them in to clean up for dessert. I had one chore remaining, and no one, including me, wanted to be there for it.
Lupe, a dear little doeling had fallen ill, her young body weakened and ravaged by disease. Of goodly milking stock, she had all the promise in the world. With proper care and handling she would have capably given a gallon of milk a day, but somewhere along the way something went wrong. She had spent the better part of the prior two days unable to move her body, suffering and nearly paralyzed. She lay in a pool of sickly stool not twenty feet from where she was birthed, the only sign of life a slight craning of the long slender goat neck, and a sad hoarse cry.
Poor little Lupita.
We tasted death this year. And not the honorable kind which stands as a credit to both beast and farmer. But the premature kind that is a credit to no one except Mother Nature’s sometimes cruel math.
It’s never an easy call to make, but when you have consulted the experts, tried the remedies, and uttered the heartfelt prayers and still failed, in the name of welfare you sometimes have to do the difficult things.
And so as the boys ambled inside, I gathered up the .22, loaded two bullets, hummed something memorized from the himnario, and, under the big barn light where she lay, I fired. The first one hit square and her world went dark, her suffering instantaneously ended. No need for that second bullet.
Then that total stillness of fresh death, the buzz from the halogen bulb, and the distinct crooning of Jack Johnson’s voice from the upstairs window.
I gathered up Lupita’s remains, loaded her into the bucket of the John Deere, and solemnly buried her out back in the compost pile. Within weeks the young tendons and muscles and organs that failed her would return to the earth. I went inside, washed the residue of death from my hands, sprinkled sugar on the homemade crème brûlée, and torched it. The boys and I ate around the table, somber but silently grateful for the chance to talk straight and honest things together.
Early the next morning the newscasters on the airport televisions detailed the various disasters around the world, the gate attendant made jokes about coffee to an especially sleepy crowd, and I took my seat for the long flight to LAX.
A first class cabin to Los Angeles is always a colorful place filled with B-list comics, musicians, screenwriters, and directors. You get the big name hair stylists and costume people. The standard of grooming is second to none.
I thought I recognized my aisle-mate from a long-ago episode of Hollywood Squares. He wore big, colorful Elton John glasses, a heavy mop of graying hair, and an ironic t-shirt emblazoned with mustachioed kittens playing billiards. I was surrounded by the people behind all those reprehensible straight-to-Netflix films.
I felt tired, heavy, and utterly conventional. Hi I’m Paul. I wear gabardine trousers. My goat just died.
Then the big bird laden with all those immaculate sets of fingernails and pairs of expensive shoes lifted effortlessly out of the morning fog despite the still heavy heart in seat 2A.