It was Kimberly's and my first night in the new house, and I couldn't sleep. I could hear music outside somewhere, but that wasn't what was keeping me awake. The house was ours, and I couldn't quite get my head around that. Also, our vet had had to postpone his previously scheduled visit, so we still didn't know if Ellie was officially pregnant. He was due to arrive in just over seven hours.
It was about 3 a.m. when I quietly left the bed, walked from the bedroom and stepped out onto the front porch. The early July days were topping out in the upper 90s, but the nights were cool. Macy was on the porch when I stepped outside. We'd brought the cats over a few days earlier so they could get used to the new place. We'd just let them outside before bedtime. I was concentrating on petting Macy when I heard the front door open behind me. I almost came out of my skin.
"Ho-lee cow," I said, exhaling deeply and clutching my chest. "Don't you ever knock?"
"Sorry, old man," Kimberly said with a chuckle.
"Couldn't sleep either?" I asked, still a little shaky.
"I'd say it's 50 percent excitement about the new house, 50 percent excitement about Ellie's baby, and 40 percent unfamiliar sounds in the dark," I said. Kimberly laughed.
Our closest neighbors rent a trailer about 300 yards away, on the other side of a thick grove of pine trees and across the road. Country music drifted through the trees from their place. Above the music was a man's voice, singing flatly into what sounded like a karaoke microphone. The man sang loudly, slurring his way through a few lines before trailing off for a verse or two. It sounded like he was several beverages into his performance. Before we went back inside, the music ended and well-amplified snoring could be heard. Back in bed, we laughed ourselves to sleep.
We had a couch in the living room and a mattress on the bedroom floor, but everything else was still in boxes. We awoke early and ate a quick breakfast, using two small boxes and one large box as our table and chairs. Kit, used to sleeping under the kitchen table while we ate, didn't care for the new set-up. She was glad, however, to get out into her new yard. Vander and Ellie were waiting for us in the barn in their newly constructed stalls.
Earlier in the week, I had spent several hours digging holes in the barn's dirt floor, setting posts and securing them via braces nailed into the ceiling beams. Kimberly's father came over, and we measured, sawed and nailed together a couple of sturdy and safe stalls that were each about 11 feet square. We smoothed the ground, dragged in the stall mats and covered them with shavings. We finished by securing the bucket hooks and doors. I was covered in sweat and dirt, but filled with a great sense of accomplishment. It's a bit of a shame that horses will never understand how much work it takes to build a stall. Some rewards of horse ownership are strictly intrinsic. In this impatient, individual-oriented world, some obligatory selflessness is probably healthy.
Kimberly and I stood admiring the barn. Vander and Ellie had apparently finished admiring it and wanted only to be fed. We dropped their buckets and continued admiring the stalls, the tack room and the wash stall. I couldn't stop thinking, "These are not rented; they are ours." The cuts on the 2-by-10s that comprised the over-engineered walls were nearly all even. The floor in the aging tack room was only a little bowed. The concrete slab installed by the previous owner for the wash stall was bigger than we asked for and encroached on the space we'd allotted for the third and fourth stalls, but only slightly. Imperfections aside, this barn was ours, for our horses, when and how we pleased. We couldn't get over the fact that we owned it. And, frankly, there isn't any good reason to get over it either, ever. After renting from a crazed landlady, I hope I'm awestruck by our ownership every day we're here.
Kimberly and I double-checked the new tape fencing that enclosed about two acres beside the barn and behind the house. We hung a gate near the barn, finished the connections on the fence charger and filled the water trough. We turned Vander and Ellie out. It was still cool enough for them to spend a few hours eating grass.
Kimberly and I tried admiring the fencing. The tape was even and tight. However, the huge, creosote posts we'd dropped in the ground looked, well, just like we'd dropped them in the ground. I hadn't noticed the posts leaning to and fro before. Granted, we'd used a tractor to auger the holes and then set the posts in blazing, 95-degree heat and humidity. All the post were eight feet long, and the wider ones for the corners weighed more than 100 pounds each. I was exhausted before we were even half-finished. My eyes were filled with sweat and dust and all I could think of was escaping the searing sun before it killed me. I suppose such weather-induced duress does little for quality control. At least we had found a quick and easy way to fix the problem. When we leaned sideways toward the house, the posts looked almost straight.
Kimberly and I were both leaning sideways when our vet, Dr. Bob, arrived. Our Aussie-mix, outside dog Hazel barked proudly as she escorted his truck down the path to the barn. Fortunately we had time to straighten up before he parked and got out. Kimberly brought Ellie in, and I walked her about halfway into her stall, with only her hind end sticking out into the aisle. Dr. Bob was setting up his ultrasound equipment while I tried to remember if we had any more cheap cigars for celebrating the pregnancy, and which moving box they might be in. I had begun mentally designing our birth announcements when I noticed the examination was already underway. Dr. Bob was squinting at the ultrasound display. I couldn't see much of what he was doing, but his movements and the squinting had me concerned. Ellie craned her neck around to have a look, too.
"You're squinting," I said. "Is that bad?"
"Hmmm," he responded, clearly preoccupied with his work. I wasn't sure, but squinting combined with a "hmmm" didn't seem particularly encouraging. "The embryo isn't..." he trailed off before looking at the screen, then added, "It didn't take."
As experienced with equine reproduction as Dr. Bob is, we had no need to question his conclusion. Ellie was 23, and there were never any guarantees. There were, however, plenty of hopes, wishes, desires--and now, disappointment. I stood, slightly stunned holding Ellie's lead line when I realized she was looking at me.
"It's all good, baby," I said, rubbing her neck. "We had to try--you were our first choice. Nothing's changed. We still love you." Dr. Bob had started packing up the machine. "How about some more grass and fresh air?" I asked Ellie. I led her back out to the pasture, let her go and she jogged over to Vander. She seemed okay. I believe things go the way they're supposed to go, even if we don't immediately understand why.
Kimberly stood by the fence watching Ellie and Vander.
"Okay, then," I said. "What's plan B?"
"I don't know."
As part of a back-up plan, we'd already looked at a lot of available, affordable mares in the area. But I was depressed by the thought of spending more money to lease or buy a mare after spending a considerable amount of money on sperm. Come to think of it, I never imagined I'd ever be buying sperm. Buy a house? Yes. Furniture? Yeah. Sperm? It just never occurred to me. It's funny what seemingly strange things we do for our horsey lifestyle. Maybe it's actually sad that some people will go their entire lives without buying sperm. I guess I feel a little sorry for those people.
I know I said there were no guarantees when we tried to breed Ellie. I was being abstract. There was actually one guarantee, that of a live foal. If not for that, we'd be made broke by our second attempt. We had a few options for possible mares and about a month left in the breeding season.
When I got back to the house, Kimberly had the computer set up on the floor and was touring websites looking at mares. Kit and our tuxedo cat, Jack, were asleep in a spot of sunlight. I examined the contents of the refrigerator and unpacked a box of pots and pans, thinking I might make us a real lunch.
I stopped, looked around and smiled. For the first time, Kimberly, Vander, Ellie, Kit, Hazel, Jack, Macy, Sascha and I were finally home.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
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