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Sport 40: 2012

Now is the season of stone fruit

page 418

Now is the season of stone fruit

for Christine

Westie died in the season of stone fruit, when apricots and peaches
are so sweet it makes your mouth water, when strawberries are
five dollars for two chips and everyone is hoping it won’t rain
before the hay is cut and baled and stored in the barn.

Westie died on a tuesday, perhaps not knowing he was loved, though
we stood beside his big body, counting his last shallow breaths and
shielding his eyes and his slowly departing soul from the pitiless sun
while Stella and Smooch stood next to the vet’s ute, licking the shiny
blue paint on bonnet and roof.

Westie’s coat was darker in winter, lighter in summer and the birds
liked to sit on his back, feeling the nonchalant sway of his hips
as he wandered in search of green archipelagos of sweeter grass
or up the hill to catch the breeze.

Every day I watched him wake and stretch—his downward dog
the envy of any yoga class. I marvelled at the way he could reach
forward and scratch his ear with his hind leg, could kick sideways
so fast I never saw it coming—the pain in my thigh so intense
I crumpled to the ground. Yet he was so gentle—he’ll no longer
rest his head in my arms or blow softly into my hair.

Westie died aged 18 years, good friend and paddock mate to Stella
and Smooch but no longer able to match her effortless gallop,
his sliding stops and aerial acrobatics. No longer startled by the
high-pitched whine of a motorbike or Steve shooting a rabbit
in the paddock next door.

page 419

Like all of us he didn’t ask to be here, nor did he ask to leave,
crashing slowly to the ground like a tree finding the forest floor.
Like all of us he couldn’t have predicted this event, his back leg
as stiff and sore as a branch, his stomach empty and growling
after a day of not eating. He stood still beside the trough
and the other horses seemed not to notice.

Westie died on a night so warm the feather-light weight of the
darkness was all that separated him from the high-resolution stars.
It was so still you could hear the morepork calling out in the
neighbour’s yard, the cat catching a mouse in the grass.

They say horses live in the present, keeping their backs to the rain
when a squall bolts in from the west. They say horses never forget
and so it pays to be kind. If you want them to like you, you should
walk up to them humming a song—something about cowboys and horses and
how great it is to be alive.

When the digger arrived to bury him the other horses started to run
—a mad ragged dash as if a calamity had befallen them, which it had.
For days they looked for him—their irascible friend who sometimes
bit, the boss of the herd who liked to stand for hours, watching the
small imperceptible movements of life on the planet.

Down in the paddock where it levels out beside the trough is a low
mound of bare earth where the horses like to roll when occasionally
it rains. There’s a pale circle on the ground where the horses like
to sleep, resting a hind foot, tails swishing from side to side, heads
sinking low. Perhaps they know he’s there—a phantom member of
the herd resting quietly on his side beneath the sunbaked soil.