I’m typing this with Bag Balm coated fingers because Jane the mule has scabs on her tits  from the horseflies. We’ve got some big, evil ones this year, whose mouthparts bore a hole the size of a fucking canvas needle. The first couple of them I saw could easily have been mistaken for hummingbirds, arriving early. Tomorrow I probably won’t remember why my hands feel soft  despite all the polyurethane glue-ups I’ve been doing the past couple of days.

Friday night we got caught by a twilight thunderstorm with the mules at the pond.You don’t wan’t to be among them in the dark and the rain, because they are functionally blind in the dark, and the rain makes them crazy when they are away from the shed. We figured they’d stay put, since we’ve got the place cordoned with a chest high electrical wire. They probably did stay put until  sunrise, when underslept and disoriented, I put on a T-shirt and trudged up to the pond to haul them back. They weren’t there, so I assumed they were in the neighbor’s field and returned to the house to get some pants. My neighbor has planted about 180 acres of deer corn in 10 to 12 acre plots, and the mules head there first when they get out. When Tammie and I resumed the hunt at about 6:30 AM we found the telltale spoor and one or two cornstalks pulled from the edge of the field, indicating a mule freakout, as opposed to a nice sit-down feast. Tammie, being in every sense the Indian of the group, picked up the tracks. After that, I helped track them about 3/4 of a mile to the edge of the neighbor’s property, where they stopped and had a communal shit.

Erroneously, I thought they had hurdled the aircraft cable gate and headed toward the McMansions on Hyco lake, where they would crush small dogs and children and render years of tedious work on rosebeds good for nothing, except a Sam Beckett poem.

You think the roses you planted

you planted them , you think they

you think they are in the space where you spread the cowshit

with your back hurting. You think.

But you really don’t know.

They are gone. Gone.

Asshole.

But Tammie picked up a reverse track back toward our own road frontage. We circled the field again, and lost the track.

At this point,  we needed some water, so we returned home and got a phone message from the folks at the oddly located rural funeral parlor to our North who said they’d just seen some mules heading up Virginia Line road into, yes, Virginia. This meant the mules were within walking distance of US 58, and achieving every mule’s secret dream of sacrificing themselves for a screaming thirty car pileup at the hour on a Saturday morning when people used to do the sensible thing and nurse their hangovers with Johnny Quest, or in the case of my local CBS affiliate, Greek horror movies with titties.

(I still don’t know how they worked that out without having to fire the amphetamine stoked guy in charge of morning programming, but I was a dedicated  Sunrise Theater fan. And Camera Three on Sundays, motherfuckers!)

Anyway, we jump in the car and head up to Virginia, where we ask strangers if they’ve seen mules. Hells yes! they say. Bout an hour ago. They all point toward HWY 58. My heart is in my shoes, as Tom Waits would say. Or as I would say “Jesus motherfucking Christ could you hand me a break and not kill a bunch of fucking people today? Christ!  HWY 58 is the motherfucking home of ‘ I can’t drive a grocery cart, but I’m in a fucking recreational vehicle, clearing the nation’s highways of  native fauna’

Why did you let me live, God! …God?”

My wife followed the track along the edge of the road AS WE DROVE. She’s always said she had Seminole heritage, but even that doesn’t account for it. They didn’t have right of ways back in the day. She also knows what I’m thinking, and more importantly, what I’m thinking about doing. Why, I think, didn’t the Indians just kill our asses when we first made landfall?  They pitied us?

She lost the track again at a muddy patch right at the state line marker. I decided to drive on up to 58 and work back, and left her trying to infer the mule’s intent. Having satisfied myself that the mules hadn’t made an end run and jumped to the four lane ahead of our oral history interlocutors, I drove back in a panic wondering whether any of our backwoods brethren were trying to abduct my wife so she could bring their  homeschoolers up to speed on the national tests.

She’d already mentioned a driveway, heavily gated, and fenced with high tensile electric wire, abundantly posted with KEEP OUT signs. She said to me “That’s where they probably are.”

“Whuh?” I said.

It  finally occurred to me, on my third drive past that spot, when I saw the Animal Control vehicle emerging from the driveway, that they might,  in fact , be there. I can’t tell you how eerie this shit is. Tammie and I drove up the forbidden driveway and saw them as the scrub pine opened onto a big vinyl house that had obviously replaced an older dwelling.

They were calmly grazing some taller grass at the edge of of a carefully tended lawn. They pretended they didn’t know us.

The walk back was fairly uneventful. The mules, accustomed to pulling, walked four abreast with me back down the state road (We’d grabbed Jane at the beginning of the storm the previous evening). The only thing that disturbed me in my two-mile walk back to the farm was a pumpkin headed ancient who shook his head at me as I walked the mules past his car. He must have been headed to the lake to berate his lawn crew .

I still don’t get this. It hasn’t even been car country that long. And it damn sure ain’t going to be much longer.

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