It was a clear night. The dusty track of the milky way swept across the sky, making me grateful for the quiet that comes from living deep in a national park. The stars never fail to make me believe in magic. They glittered, entrancing me to such a degree that I didn’t care that I was sitting on the cold stone slabs that pave the path by the vegetable garden. My camera taunted me. Could I remember how to take pictures in the dark?
Eventually I walked back to my bedroom, climbed between the sheets and fell asleep.
In the morning, after a breakfast of coffee and toast, I asked Grand-père for the morning’s agenda. He wanted to work a little on his cello, and so suggested, to my joy, that I could tend to the animals. It delights me every morning when I take the little electric car out, load it with the animals’ breakfast and drive out through the fields to have them gallop towards me with an enthusiasm that’s rarely matched in human kind.
Yet, not all rural farm life is so idyllic. Grand-père didn’t look up at me when he mentioned we’d also need to collect her body. He knew I was apprehensive.
He said, if I wanted, he would do that, because he knew I didn’t want to.
“I’ll go,” I said, not knowing where the sudden determination to be the one to bring her home to be buried came from.
He repeated that I didn’t have to. I said nothing.
Sheep, are fragile creatures; lambs especially so. We’d moved her two days before to a quiet, sheltered spot to die when Grand-père had said the end was inevitable.
I didn’t go to her straight away. Instead, first I filled my buckets and ventured out to the herd. The sheep were their usual crazy selves, focused only on the grain, seemingly oblivious of our loss. As usual, I shouted and pushed in order not to have my toes crushed by their stiletto like hooves. The smaller sheep scattered over the trough, whilst fearless others launched themselves at my knees. The donkeys watched on wearily as they always do. The goats had wandered off and I had to search through the woodland and grassland and rocky caves. I found them ravaging a sapling.
Then I drove the little electric car back up the driveway, and across into the field beyond.
“Fear of death is fear of what we might experience. Nothing at all, or something quite new.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Translated by Gregory Hays)
She lay on her side with the eye that faced up to me half open. I wanted to close it, but I didn’t want to touch her face. I took my time, first to gaze upon her, second to touch my hand to her curly wool and feel the residual warmth within her, and then to wrap my hands around her legs, rigid and cold, and haul her up into the air.
She was much heavier than I’d expected, and her head hit against the car as I struggled to lift her inside.