Even a small horse farm has the propensity to wear you out. And a horse farm/zoo like ours isn't an ideal one-person operation.
Kimberly was gone on business for a few days and I was to "hold down the fort." During her absence I was also starting a new job: cooking. I was cooking professionally when Kimberly and I met, but hadn't stepped foot in a restaurant kitchen in more than five years.
Kimberly and I had recently resumed the conversation about opening our own restaurant someday, and I realized I missed it a little. As my copywriting and photography could be finished during my mornings and weekends, I had the time to cook a few evenings a week.
The night before my return to the kitchen, I lay on the couch with a numb leg, dull pain in my stomach and shooting pains in my left shoulder. I wondered if I wasn't too old to be taking on another job. Granted, these pains were not due to injuries sustained in the barn, a pasture or on the tractor--I was simply covered in animals.
Pepper was asleep on my leg, which was now also asleep. Little fat Jack was asleep on my stomach--a spot that can barely support his density. And purring with his claws digging into my shoulder was our latest addition to the family: Pickles, a two-month-old, mackerel-patterned, silver tabby.
Earlier in the week, Kimberly and I were driving into town when a kitten ran across the road well ahead of our car. He sat on the shoulder and watched us drive past.
"That kitten's a little small to be running across the road like that," I remarked.
"What kitten?" Kimberly asked. She hadn't seen it.
We were sitting at the stop sign at the end of our road with no traffic. I made a u-turn and pulled up near where the kitten sat. He had been joined by a few siblings and his mother. I started to speak when I realized Kimberly was already out of the car. All the cats ran from Kimberly, except Pickles. He walked up to Kimberly and rubbed against her leg.
"He's purring!" Kimberly exclaimed as she picked him up. Even over the sound of the car engine I could hear Pickles' purring as Kimberly leaned in the open car window.
It all happened so quickly, but I realized that we had just gotten ourselves another cat. Pickles purred all the way back to our house with the radio playing and the air conditioning blowing in his face.
We could have put him back, but would a cat this friendly survive long in the surrounding farmland? Were my actions compassionate and merciful, or just stupid? Don't answer that.
Pickles, like all of our animals we got for free, was not free. A vet visit confirmed this. At least he would be healthy after we eliminated the worms and ear mites.
I looked at him as we all lay on the couch. Pickles purred and kneaded my shoulder with his little fishhooks. Pickles will get "fixed," but we weren't sure about his claws. Kimberly and I hadn't decided if Pickles would be a barn cat or stay inside with Jack. The two had become best friends and Jack seemed to enjoy the company as well as their frequent wrestling bouts. Heaven knows Jack could use the exercise.
The next morning, Pepper and I headed to the barn. The horses had been in all night because of a series of summer thunderstorms. Though the morning sky was clearing, it was going to be too hot for the horses to go out. Today's heat index would hit 105 degrees.
I dropped their buckets and hay and mucked around them as they ate. When I got to Madison's stall, she met me at the door, chewing a mouthful of hay.
"Oh, good geez, Louise!" I exclaimed, wincing and taking a step back from her. "Madison, what did you do?"
(For the sake of the children, I am substituting "good geez, Louise" for what I actually said.)
Madison's lower eyelid was bright red and severely swollen, and a cut ran about a half inch from the outside corner of her eye. I checked her stall for a loosening nail or splintered wood, but everything was flush and smooth.
I am always amazed by how horses can injure themselves in even the safest of places. You could bubble wrap your horses and everything around them, and they would still find a way to get into trouble.
Madison's cut looked like the kind of "splits" that boxers get around their eyebrows from their opponents' hard punches.
"Madison, were you boxing?" I asked, still wincing at the sight of her eye (no pun intended). She just stared blankly at me. "What exactly did you do?" She shrugged her shoulders and grabbed more hay.
I wondered if Madison had her head near a wall or stuck out the v-front stall door when she suddenly spooked at a clap of thunder. Madison wasn't talking. Like Stonehenge and the Bermuda Triangle, some horse injuries are destined to remain a mystery.
Claudia and Jack had agreed to tend to the farm during the two nights that my cooking and Kimberly's trip overlapped. It was with a little guilt that I further imposed on them as I called to talk to them about Madison's injured eye.
Claudia came over to look at Madison's eye. Stitches were definitely needed.
Fortunately, Dr. Bob's colleague, Dr. Renee, had time to see to Madison later that afternoon, and Claudia was able to meet Dr. Renee at our place. Again, I don't know what we'd do without Jack and Claudia.
There was nothing to indicate that Madison's eye was seriously injured, but I was still hesitant to call Kimberly. The last time we had an eye problem while she was away Mandy had to have her right eye removed. I called Kimberly with the news about Madison and promised that Claudia and Dr. Renee would call her with any updates.
Later that night, when things slowed down at the restaurant I checked the messages on my cell phone. I had several messages from Claudia, Dr. Renee and Kimberly--all saying that Madison was stitched up and doing well.
When I arrived home about midnight, I checked on the horses. They were all out, happily eating grass, and the stalls had been mucked. Jack and Claudia had cleaned the stalls! I was so touched that I almost cried.
I called Kimberly to tell her "goodnight" before lying down on the couch. I was still wearing my chef's coat and pants, and I smelled like food but was too tired to care. The animals joined me on the couch. The living room was silent except for Pepper's snoring and Jack and Pickles' purring.
My leg fell asleep just before I did and a familiar pain returned to my stomach and shoulder. The last thing I remember is Pickles looking at my sleepy eyes with his sleepy eyes. None of us moved all night.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
Read Jeremy's other columns in EquiSearch.com's Humor section.