I am 19 and waiting for the vet. Yesterday was Melbourne Cup Day, my birthday. And today is killing day.
I am 19 and he is 34. At least, I think he is 34. He hasn’t enough teeth left to make it up. A few years ago, with some tracing paper and the Australian Harness Racing website I dated his birth year as 1972. So he is 34 and I am 19 and it is 2006 and 20 minutes ago a bulldozer arrived to scoop a hole out of the red earth.
He is 34 and his leg has stopped working. The joint pierced by a star-picket five years back has swollen too much, the ligaments have tightened, the pedal bone pulled up. One hoof slopes sharply where the rest flow smoothly, fetlock to ground. He can’t run anymore but sits in the yard, luxuriating in his old man status as he makes a nest in a pile of hay and lies there eating it, like Black Beauty narrating his memoirs.
I was 18 when I called the vet, two days ago. Eighteen and in charge. Making the mature, humane decision. And now I am 19 and the vet is here and he says, you’re right, it can’t be fixed. And he hides behind me and flares his nostrils and eyeballs the vet suspiciously because he is 34, he has seen this before.
We walk up the hill, the Prince and I, but he won’t go. He won’t walk into his own grave. And he snorts and stomps and rears up on the end of the line and I think: you bastard. You are 34 and too stiff to trot and your muzzle has turned to grey and now at the end you are rolling your eyes and looking like a colt?
The needles come out, one, two. Lurid green sticks of death. And the vet says, stand back, he’ll drop like a stone.
I am 11 and clutching terrified at the reins as he runs away from a tractor in the next paddock, and later I am fuming at my mother as she decides we will buy him because he ran, and because I managed to control him. And I hand over the $600 I earned planting my parents' vineyard as his old owners take turns running him at the float in the hope he won't notice it's there.
And now I am 12 and I thump into the sand beside the jump and he stands over me, sighing in exasperation. I am 13 and changing his bandage after he stuck his leg with a star picket, trying to jump the fence when left home alone. I am 15 and shouting abuse at him as he stands, quite calmly, at the foot of the ramp to the float where he has stood for the past three hours refusing to move. I am 17 and he shuffles close and lets me lean on him as I cry in the paddock at 3am because I will fail year 12 like I fail everything.
I am 19 and he drops like a stone.
And a horse starts screaming.