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It's Nelly's World


alec vanderboom

The obituaries, although the last thing, are the first thing for some people when they open the paper. They exert some strong pull on certain readers--gratitude, perhaps, or schadenfreude, or proof that indeed life can describe a fully comprehensible arc, when laid out in 10-point type and finished off (if invisibly) with the words "The End."

I myself was never drawn to read them. It always felt like I was reading a review of a show that had already closed: what if I realized, too late, that I wanted to go?

Something has changed now (yeah, it's that view of My Obituary Time in the distant circle of the spyglass). So I find myself scanning them now with a certain mathematical interest. I calculate the average from the ages of demise on any given day: 82, 78, 85. I can't help it; it just happens, and . . . Whew. I still have a decade or two! As if the newspaper is a prognostigatory tool. As if it's all about me.

The other day, though, an obituary caught my eye and held it: "Parasailing donkey dies of heart trouble." The lede read, "Moscow.--The Russian donkey whose brays of terror while parasailing won her worldwide sympathy has died."

I'm afraid I didn't have the heart to look for the YouTube clip that got her such sympathy; I spent many years when I was younger and stronger--and apparently hopeful enough to believe that knowledge was the power behind change--looking at pictures and reading academic papers on the endemic torture of animals that seems to be a human birthright. I am too brittle now. Just reading those words, brays of terror, started a sickening loop in the auditory imagination.

The other day an image flashed on the inward screen, and it coincided with (or was precipitated by) a week in which I found myself thinking, longing, again for the touch of a horse. It's been a long time. Horses are nothing that you can break the addiction to that easily; the nicotine of the animal world.

That's when I suddenly saw myself looking once more out the bedroom window of the old house--a place I do not think much about anymore, being a resolutely forward kind of person, ha, except when I yearn for the kind of expansive summertime yard party for several dozen of kids and wine-happied parents I used to be able to have--to the tumbledown barn out back. This was to be fixed up, risen from the dead, to become itself again. It was the place to which my hopes flew like swallows. Someday, I knew, I would complete that view with some horses and donkeys. It would remain largely a view, for I would only feed them, and brush them, and spend secret moments, muzzle to muzzle, breathing sweetness from their nostrils. The rest of the time they would lead their own lives--that which was taken from them before. For they would be ex-circus, ex - carriage horse, ex-racehorse, ex - kill pen. We would grow old together, nothing ever placed on our backs again.

Just a few. Just a few of the many, the too many, who had expelled their own brays of terror, or silent prayers for surcease. A few, given some good time to help wash away the memory of what had happened before. I believe they would have forgotten easily, out there in the pasture beyond my window. Because they, like all of us, naturally face forward too.

This is because, as I have found, all heartache passes. Except for a vague residue barely felt, weightless, almost. After a time, you barely remember what caused it, or why.

The obit mentions that near the end, Anapka the donkey spent her final months on a farm outside Moscow "in luxury." She deserved it, and more, though the heart trouble she was made to suffer proved more durable than most experienced in the usual course of life. Then came the blessing that is finally offered to us all, but only, it is hoped, after uncounted mouthfuls of green grass ripped fresh from the ground.

The End.