A Most Unwelcome Visitor

Late last night

I’d a terrible fight

With a Wild Gazite

With eyes of white

And he gave me a fright

When he gave me a bite

But I fixed him, all right–

I turned on the light.

–Shel Silverstein

Well.  I wish it had been some imaginary bogey-creature that vanished when the light went on, but it wasn’t.

What it was, (past tense), was an arachnid the size of my hand, give or take.  On the door.  The door by the refrigerator, the one I have to pass by in order to get to the overhead light switch.  

I was on my way over there to do just that: turn off the light.

That was when I saw….it.

It was frozen, probably with fear of me, halfway up the door, right at eye level.  I jumped back, spine tingling like mad.

I hate spiders.  Especially gigantic ones.  And most particularly, gigantic ones that invade my living space.

I have had conversations with them in the past, that go something like this:

“Spider.  I know that you have a job to do, and that you are, in truth, my servant.  You eat other creatures that I don’t want in my living space.  I appreciate that, and I encourage you to continue, as long as you do not invade my space, and most importantly, as long as I don’t see you.  Because, spider, if I see you, you will die.  Guaranteed.”

I think this approach works, somewhat, because I seem to see fewer spiders after such a speech.  I think that spiders are actually quite intelligent, and that they pay attention.  They have to, to make a living, and keep from being killed.

I live in a building that used to be my father’s pottery studio, until he became too disabled to work, and I cleaned the place out (sort of) and moved in.  It’s quite….rustic here (no plumbing except for one spigot), and pretty well closed in from the outside elements, but there is an established spider population, because before I moved in it was damp, cool, and dark: just what a spider loves.

The first thing I did before moving in was to thoroughly bomb the place with anti-spider poisonous gas.  It worked pretty well.  Looks like it might be time to do it again, eh?

So.  Back to last night’s arachnophobic encounter.

After I got myself together from the initial shock, I ran for the big orange can labeled “Spider Killer,” which I have to keep turned around so that I don’t see the horribly explicit picture of a huge spider on the front of the can.  I sneaked up on the monster from behind my clothes rack (shudder: what if it had….never mind).

There it was, still on the door, but having tiptoed a little to the left, trailing a thread of silk.  I felt kind of sorry for it, but not for long.  I aimed the nozzle of the Spider Killer at it, and fired!

The can kind of fizzled and got Spider Killer all over my hand.  Cursing softly, so as not to alarm my prey, I washed my hand thoroughly under the one spigot and returned to the fray, having made sure that the nozzle was now functioning properly.

I aimed again and fired, this time covering the arachnid with a thick coating of white Spider Killer.  She jumped (the huge ones are always female) and kind of drew in her legs a bit.  Good, I thought, now the poison will quickly kill her and I can think about something else.

But no.  She picked herself up, and letting out some more line, shuffled in a diagonal fashion across the door, leaving an image of herself where I had sprayed the white substance on her: a nice spider-shaped stencil on the door.

I had at her again with the Spider Killer.  I sprayed her until she was totally white, like a spider snowman.  She stopped moving and looked a little sick, but in no fashion dead.  In a state of low-grade panic, I cast about for something to fatally whack her with.

The studio is full of every kind of tool, including a mattock and a machete (I am SO glad that I forgot about my .22 Ruger pistol that I keep under the bed), but the only thing I could imagine that would actually murder a spider at a distance without causing damage to my living space was the broad side of the broom, followed up by whacks with the dust-pan if necessary.

And that is what I did.  I gave her a tremendous whack with the broom, one that I hoped would cause instant death, not caring whether I had to clean the aftermath off the door.

But no.  She was a very tough customer.  Although she did fall **plop** on the floor, she was neither squashed nor dead, and in fact picked herself up and groggily tried to make a getaway.  It took several more smacks with the broom and frantic whacks with the dust-pan to reduce her to a pile of spider debris, which I triumphantly swept into the dust-pan.  I grabbed the door handle, planning to throw her remains outside, but my hand just slipped and sloshed around, because the handle was covered with Spider Killer (indeed!).  Cursing out loud now (the spider being beyond hearing me), I rushed once again to the spigot to wash the Spider Killer off.  It didn’t kill the spider, but who knows what it would do to me???

Armed with paper towels, I wiped the door handle down, and also the door which now boasted two spider stencils.  And then, holding the dead spider in the dust-pan in my left hand, I opened the door with my right.

Only it didn’t open.  It was stuck.  It does that sometimes, from the humidity.  There are advantages and disadvantages from living on a cliff 500 feet above a Scenic River.  Humidity is a Disadvantage.

I put the pan with the spider down and wrestled with the door.  It took a pretty good whack to get it unstuck at the top, where it always sticks.  I really need new doors in this place.

At long last I stepped out onto the bridge that connects the studio to what used to be the kiln room, and dumped the crumpled corpse over the side.

Then I had a whisky while I waited for my meds to take effect, tranquil in the aftermath of battle.

The Bed Bug Chronicles Parte The Seconde

…in which we continue our woeful tale of The War of the Bed Bugs.bed-bugs

The Big Shot Professional exterminator made off with my infested camping cot and 200 shekels (approximately 65 US Dollars), leaving me with a completely empty apartment…or was it?  I strongly suspected that in folding up said cot, he had dumped some unwanted guests onto the quarry stone floor.  There were deep gaps between the quarries, which could harbor anything.

So I got out the bleach.  In Israel we don’t have wimpy 1% sodium hypochlorite bleach like we do in America.  We have 5%, which burns through rubber gloves, shreds clothing, and makes your eyes water as soon as you open the bottle.

I dumped enough into a bucket of water to kill anything, or so I thought, and swilled it around the stone floor, letting it fill the cracks between the stones.  Then I turned on the fan and got out of there.

After a severe coughing spell that threatened to activate my stress incontinence, I ambled over to my favorite coffee den in the Shuk to think things over and decide what my best course of action was.  Actually, my choices were few and none.  I couldn’t go back to Ron’s, seeing that he was also infested; and I really couldn’t visit myself on any of my other friends because of the risk of contagion: the little beasts conveniently travel in the seams of your clothes, the soles of your shoes–not to mention your luggage.  Damn, I was stuck.

I hit upon one good idea: the apartment came with a flat tarred roof that extended over three buildings.  I had access to it via an Arab-built wooden ladder that my landlord, a contractor, had doubtless saved from one of his many construction projects.  In Israel, the construction industry is almost exclusively run by Arabs. Instead of scaffolding they often use purpose-built ladders, which are abandoned, in many instances, after they are no longer needed.  They are sturdily built, reminding me of the ladders that the Pueblo Indians use for getting up and down the levels of their dwellings.  Mine was perfect for getting up to the roof.

There are two things that reliably kill bed bugs: dry heat above 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and prolonged freezing temperatures.  So after my coffee I went next door to the variety store and bought a bunch of black plastic bags, the better to cook bugs in.  I went home and loaded my clothes and anything else that could take high heat into these bags and hauled them up to the roof.  Also my luggage and my dog’s doggie travel carrier.  I must have made 25 trips up and down that damn ladder.  Let’s not forget that I was still suffering from the concussion I got from taking one on the chin, and it was becoming apparent that I had “done something” to my right shoulder in the same wreck, so I had to be extra careful on my excursions up and down the ladder.

Did I mention that the ambient temperatures were hovering around 40 Centigrade/104 Fahrenheit?  Well, they were.  Good for killing bedbugs, bad for people on Lithium.  I was feeling it.

Finally everything I owned was either on the roof baking or in the freezer freezing.  I wondered if my external hard drive would survive freezing, but since it certainly would not live through broiling I thought the freezer was the better risk.

As I stood there wheezing in the bleach fumes, it occurred to me that I no longer had a bed.  My Israeli mattress, a 3 inch thick strip of hard foam, was on the roof baking.  The Professional Expert Exterminator had pronounced that to be unnecessary, but I was taking no chances.

Under normal circumstances, I would have simply tossed the mattress on the floor until I could get some semblance of a bedstead; but Jerusalem quarry stones are not only very hard, but uneven and pointy in many places.  Not only that, but the proximity to my bleach job might melt the foam, and kill me via asphyxiation.

Then came one of those “lightbulb moments.”  Indeed, I did have a bedstead!

Three years ago, I was forced by family circumstances to give up my long-term lease on a beautiful house in the same neighborhood.  A very sweet couple moved in, and I had left them my bed; but they had their own, and they were storing mine–for when I returned to Jerusalem for good.

I called them, and within the hour had my old bed back.  Tears of gratitude welled in my eyes–or was it just from the bleach?

Nightfall, and I hauled myself back up the ladder for the last time that day, to fetch my mattress down.  Something nagged at me, paranoia perhaps, that I should run down to Davidka Square and buy myself a brand new mattress wrapped in plastic, but then again I had had the cover off of this one and inspected all the seams for signs of bed bug poo, and eggs, and all of the signs and symptoms of infestation, and found none.  I told myself firmly to have confidence in my own expertise, and plunked the mattress on my good old bedstead.

This wasn’t just any bedstead.  I had bought it in 1989, just after my ex-husband moved out and took every stick of furniture in the apartment with him (he was moving into an unfurnished apartment, you see), including the bed.  So I invested in this wonderfully simple bedstead made of hardwood slats, that came apart and went together in a few minutes’ time, perfect for the young upwardly mobile professional lifestyle.

The first night was blissfully bugless.  I awoke, anxious, and checked myself over for new bites; and finding none, rejoiced.  Even my dog was scratching less.  She is allergic to everything, and, as I found out later, bed bugs feed on anything with blood in it, including warm-blooded animals.   I took her food out of the freezer, and took myself out for Israeli Breakfast to celebrate.  If you haven’t had Israeli Breakfast, you haven’t had breakfast.  I will tell you all about Israeli Breakfast another time.

It is with great sadness that I must inform you that the third morning dawned with a peppering of itchy welts.  I freaked out.

I called Sammy.

Sammy showed up the next morning with a backpack sprayer and a respirator mask.  Now, I thought with satisfaction, we’ll get something done about this.  I stood guard over his van, which he had left in a tow-away zone, while he did his thing.  He came running out of the apartment followed by a noxious white cloud, coughing through his mask.  Jesus, I thought, what the hell did he spray in there?  I didn’t care, as long as it killed the damn bugs.

I was told to abandon the place for three hours, and then wash the floors very well.  VERY well, he said, looking significantly at Noga, my dog.  Sammy raises champion Pekingese, and knows what dogs can handle and what they can’t.

I left the apartment to air out for eight hours instead of three, just for good measure; then I went after the floors with a vengeance.  I washed them VERY well.  But I did NOT wash the bedstead.  I wanted anything lurking in there to be DEAD.  And so it was that as I was inspecting the bed, a very sick bed bug tottered out of one of the joints of the headboard.  It looked like its shell was melting.  Ugh, and GOOD.  Death to you!  Death!  And then another one, fat with my blood, dragged itself out from beneath one of the legs.  Oh. My. God.  Even now the hair stands up on the back of my neck to think of….what it…..had certainly done….

To be continued……

The Bed Bug Chronicles

Five years ago, if anyone had asked me what I knew about bed bugs, I would have shrugged my shoulders and stared at them blankly.  Now, unfortunately, that is not the case.  I’ve had much more experience with bed bugs than I can stand.  I know that others have had, and unfortunately are still having, far worse experiences than mine; but you have to understand that mental illness makes it much harder to deal with the anxiety and downright horror an infestation of these nasties can cause.  And there is plenty of reason to believe that if you don’t have a mental illness before you get bed bugs, you may very well acquire one.  There are numerous articles in the psychology and psychiatry journals speculating whether latent mental illness can be triggered by the severe stress and distress that bed bugs cause.

In fact, I just read a case study from the National Institutes of Health documenting the suicide of a woman with mental illness for whom a prolonged bed bug infestation was just the last straw.

Any of you who have had to deal with these disgusting creatures will agree: in the “gross!” department, it doesn’t get much grosser.  They bite you in the middle of the night, when you are asleep and defenseless.  You can’t even feel them biting, because first they inject you with a dose of local anesthetic so you won’t feel their proboscis piercing your skin.  Try to starve them by going on extended vacation; they laugh!  They can live up to a year without feeding.

I asked my rabbi who was responsible for the creation of bed bugs, anyway.  His response?

Hell.”

 

bed-bugs

Oh man, do I agree with him.

My first bed bug experience was four years ago.  I was a patient at an Ayurvedic hospital in South India.  I was extremely ill with a digestive malady that turned out to be a rare form of Cystic Fibrosis.  I had lost 20 lbs because all of the food I ingested came right out the other end (sorry), and I was literally starving.  Regular medicine had decided that I was some kind of crank, so I was getting no care from that quarter.

The Ayurvedic hospital was heaven on earth.  Located high in the mountains of Tamil Nadu, the hospital itself was situated in the middle of a vast tea plantation. Did you know that tea comes from a Camellia bush, Camelia Sinensis?  Well, let me tell you, when hundreds of thousands of Camellia bushes are all in flower, the night smells just like the fragrance the angels smell when they come out to sing in the morning.

But let’s get back to the subject at hand.

One morning I woke up with itchy bumps on my neck.  They looked like this:

My First Bed Bug Bites

My First Bed Bug Bites

 

Note the peculiar proximity to my jugular vein.  My first thought was, Damn, they have accurate mosquitos here.  Then I thought, Hmmm, it said in the brochure that they don’t have mosquitos here.  That’s why you don’t have to worry about malaria like you do everywhere else in India.

The following morning, my neck looked as if someone had taken a pastry wheel (the kind with sharp spokes, for poking holes in pie crusts) and run it up and down my neck a few times–and horrors! my pillow was covered in splats of blood, to match the holes in my neck!!!  OMG.

I ran down to the dining room to see if anybody there could tell me what this was.  A woman from New York gave me a knowing look and pulled some pictures up on the communal computer: yup, no question.  Those were bed bug bites.

I roared into my doctor’s office, panting, and blubbered out my story, spewing tears and snot.  He patted me on the hand and told me it was OK.  It was NOT OK.  I dragged him up the hill to my cottage and showed him the hideous pillow.  He yelled for the servants to come and give me a new mattress.  I barked orders to also clean the bed frame very well, very well.  The staff did not speak English, so I implored Doctor-ji to please, please explain to them.  I think he did, for they grudgingly took their pails full of water and crude eucalyptus oil (I was later to discover why they used eucalyptus oil) and swabbed down the bed frame.

I always travel with my own goose down pillows, because I have two fused vertebrae in my neck, and I have to have the right pillow in order to not be in agony.  So I stuffed my poor pillows into the washing machine (“for the convenience of the guests”) and set it on 90 degrees Celsius, which is just short of boiling.  I won’t bore you with the details of trying to get the pillows dry again, because “for the convenience of the guests” the hospital did not have a dryer, and it was monsoon season, freezing cold and raining most of the time.  Previously, I had thought it entertaining to watch the staff hanging the sheets out on the topiaries to dry, only to snatch them back inside the next moment because it had begun to rain again.  Needless to say, I no longer found that entertaining, now that I was doing it myself.

I fought the bed bug battle for weeks.  Changing the mattress changed nothing.  I moved to a new cottage.  They were there too.  Eventually I learned that  the locally made (and very crude) essential oil of eucalyptus repelled the little bastards, and by soaking the bed and covers every night before retiring, I could get a night’s sleep without worrying about waking up bitten bloody.  Reeking, perhaps, but intact.

Fast forward to August, 2013.  I have just arrived to Jerusalem after a two-month absence.  In June I had rented a tiny apartment, built entirely of Jerusalem limestone quarries, quaint but suitable for my needs. I come and go often, and really just need a place to land when I’m there.

The place came unfurnished except for a large wardrobe, so I brought a large and sturdy camping cot with me from America, to stand in for a bed.  It fit nicely into a golf bag that I used to have for the purpose of flying with odd size objects.

I stayed a few days with a good friend of mine who lives half a block from my new apartment, very convenient, and got everything set up before I moved into my digs.  I’ve stayed with him countless times in the past.  He’s a dear friend whose chief failing is that he is incapable of saying “no.”

And so it was that his good friend, we’ll call him Bob, arrived from a large East Coast city with FOUR enormous duffel bags packed with STUFF.  OK, I get it that he was moving back to Israel permanently, but he was also planning to stay with my friend who can’t say no, and there was simply no room for his stuff and mine.  So I pulled my belongings out from under the pile of his bags, and packed myself off with my few possessions to my little apartment down the street.

Two days later, my friend calls me and says, quite sanguinely, “Guess what?  A big fat bed bug crawled out from under my pillow this morning, full of my blood.  I squashed the sucker.”

I broke out in a cold sweat.  I mean literally, I was suddenly drenched in sweat.  My heart was racing.  I could hear the blood pounding in my ears.  I was having a Bed Bug PTSD flashback!  No, don’t laugh, I mean it!  I couldn’t swallow.  I felt like I was going to faint, or have a seizure, or a heart attack, or die.

“Fuck, Ron,” I managed to squeeze out.  “We didn’t used to have bed bugs at your place.”

“Yeah, I know.  I’m thinking Bob.  He lived in this fleabag room full of roaches and God knows what else.”

“Well, what are you going to do?”

“Uh, what was the name of that exterminator you had over to get rid of the fleas?”   My apartment had been full of fleas when I moved in, so I got Sammy the Exterminator and he took care of it.  I gave Sammy’s details to Ron and closed my phone, still shaking.

Shit, all my stuff had been lying at the bottom of the luggage pile, literally, with Bob’s fleabag flophouse stuff on top of it.  Well, all I could do was wait and hope.

I didn’t have to wait long.  A couple of days later I woke up with bites.  Not only that, but my little dog Noga was furiously scratching.  God, I was hoping it was just the fleas again.

But it wasn’t the fleas.  The next day I found a big old bed bug dead between the camping mattress and the cot.  I picked it up in a tissue and put it in the freezer for evidence.

I didn’t call Sammy.  I didn’t like how he had handled the extermination job at Ron’s.  I’m not going to go into the technicalities of bed bug extermination, but it’s a big, long, involved, labor intensive process, and Sammy hadn’t done any of that.  So I called a big extermination company that’s supposed to be the only outfit in Israel that really knows their bed bug business.

The guy showed up in a company uniform, very official.  He took one look at my stone cave of an apartment, and said, “You can’t have bed bugs here.”

“Why not?” I said.

“Because you can’t.  I’m a professional, and I say you can’t have bed bugs here.”

I showed him my bites.  I went to the freezer and got my frozen bed bug specimen out, but when I opened the tissue it fell apart.

“That is not a bed bug,” he stated triumphantly.

“Look at all the cracks between the stones!  Look at that old wardrobe!  Look, I found that bed bug (he snorted a snort of contempt) in my bed!”

He tore the covers off my cot and announced, once again, that I could not possibly have bed bugs there because he was a bed bug expert.  Then he took his little flash light and looked into the sleeve where the tube of the cot goes through the fabric.

“You have bed bugs,” he announced officiously.

“Where?  Where?  Show me!”

He pointed his flash light into the sleeve.  I peered.  There was a whole colony of bugs in there, big ones, little ones, cast-off molted skins….I felt both triumphant and sickened at once.

We had a quick huddle about what to do, and concluded that he would take the cot away and “recycle it,” whatever that means, because if we put it in the dumpster it’s certain that someone would take it home with them, even if we marked it “bed bugs,” because that’s how it is there.  So he folded the thing up, in spite of my fears that he would dump bugs and eggs and everything into the cracks between the stones of my floor, and took it outside, announcing that it would be 200 shekels for the house call.  I shelled out 200 shek.  He stuffed it in his pocket and stumped away with my former bed.

To be continued…..

 

Riding For My Life: Part One

I just turned sixty.  Can you believe it?  Neither can I.

I look in the mirror.  My face hasn’t changed much, except for a few creases in the jowl line that I’d rather do without, but hell, since I only look in the mirror to check whether I’ve brushed my hair today, I’m not bothered by it.

On the other hand, my skin has gone all weird.  In some places it’s loose and jiggly, and in others it’s tight and thin and fragile.  If I scratch an itch on my forearm, for example, I’m rewarded by a big red-purple splotch that takes weeks to go away.  If I bang myself there, which happens all the time because I still crash through the world as if I were sixteen, my skin sometimes also rips and then I have a dreadful mess that requires bandages and ointments for a couple of weeks, and then I have a scar to remember it by.   Yech.

And then there’s the skeleton.  I’ve trashed most of my joints through overexertion, as I will explain below; and those that managed to survive my athletic excesses are slowly being eaten up by the arthritis that runs in my family, on both sides.  Couldn’t dodge that bullet.

So even though my weight is exactly the same as it has been since 1985 when I had my first and only baby–well, I mean after I lost all I was going to lose afterwards, not WHEN I had him, because in the days preceding his birth I looked like a small house–my body looks just like you would expect a body to look if no one took care of it.

Before I launch into a maudlin description of why my body is in such deplorable shape at the moment, let me tell you some of the back story.

I have always been bipolar.  Unlike many, who discover their bipolarity in their teens or young adult years, I have always had symptoms of depression and passive suicidality on the one hand, and racing thoughts, extreme restlessness, and a feeling of being out of my body on the other.

I managed to funnel my depressive gloom into poetry and art.  Since I came from a family of depressed artists I just thought it was the “artist’s temperament” and considered it normal.  So I did get a lot of good art done, and a lot of bad poetry and maudlin writings.  

I am a rapid cycler.  Even as a child, I would find myself catapulted from states of near-suidical melancholy into a state of restlessness that shot through my body like an electric current, demanding physical and mental activity, the more rigorous the better.

My first and only love was for the equine race.  My parents would not buy me a pony, citing countless reasons: mainly that we never had a permanent home and moved 19 times by the time I left home at age 16. This, coupled with the abject poverty that we lived in.  But I never felt that we were poor, because, well, that was how I grew up.  In fact, I thought that most other people lived lives of shameful excess.

So wherever we moved, it was always somewhere rural because that was what my father liked, and we could always have a garden to feed us.  And for me that was fine, because there was always a neglected pony somewhere in the vicinity: one who had been bought as a Christmas present for the children who enjoyed it for a few months or a year and then ignored it after the shine wore off and all that remained was the constant work of upkeep.

I was thrilled to muck out stalls and sheds, clean and polish tack, clean and polish and feed the pony, doctor its thrushy hooves, and do whatever would convince the owners to let me ride it as much as I wanted.

Pony after pony, wherever we moved, I poured my roaring excess energy into making it spiffy again, spending hours untangling matted manes and tails, getting bitten and kicked in the process.  I didn’t care.

In my depressions I would go and bury my face in the current pony’s neck, inhaling the comforting fragrance of eau d’equine, which is still the most intoxicating smell to me, to this day.  My tears would make a wet place in the unclipped winter coat, and for reasons unknown, the pony wound stand still, snorting but unmoving, and let me embrace its neck, absorbing my sobs.

We moved again when I was 12.

I was beginning to develop then, got my period, and started getting chubby.  Despite the fact that everyone in our entire family on both sides had been chubby at puberty, my mother began a campaign to get me to lose weight by means of verbal abuse.

“Fat-ass” became my nickname.  I was a silent, isolated child then, having no friends since we had just moved, and I had no where to go except into the woods behind our house, to lie in the mossy glades and cry.

Then I discovered, not a pony, but a horse, about a mile away.  His owner had gone off to college and left him in his stall.  A hired man cleaned his stall and fed him, but otherwise no one paid any attention to him.

The owners of the horse had a daughter my age, who weighed about 200 lbs, didn’t care who knew it, and menaced anyone who gave her any crap about it.  She kept a pair of parakeets and derived sexual pleasure out of watching them mate, and from surreptitiously watching her big sister and her boyfriend “doing it” on the couch.  She was not interested in the horse.  I was not interested in the parakeets or the boyfriend, but I courted Caroline until she introduced me to her mother, at which point with bated breath I asked her if I could take care of the horse in return for riding him.

She was ecstatic and immediately called the hired man (did I mention that this was a huge estate that encompassed an entire small mountain?) and ordered him to show me around the barn.  I had my first real horse to care for.

That horse became my passion, my savior.   The moment I got off the school bus I would race upstairs and change into barn clothes, jump on my bike and roar off to meet my paramour.  After turning him out into the paddock, I cleaned his stall down to the floor, fluffed it up with new straw, then brushed him out thoroughly, combed his mane and tail, picked out his shod hooves, and swabbed his entire body down with citronella-smelling fly repellant that I can still smell to this day.

I would tack him up with his flat English saddle and double-rein bridle–this I have to give my parents, that they had started me in English riding lessons since I was six, on tall Thoroughbreds, so tall that I resolved that since I must instantly be killed if I fell off, then I would never fall off.  And I didn’t.

And off we would go, down the dappled lanes through the New England woods, all acrid with leaf mold.  The estate covered acres and acres, and I had no restrictions, so we criss-crossed the property for hours every day.

One day we were ambling along one of the many areas of bare granite, scraped clean by some glacier, when he pulled up lame.  I jumped off, wondering how I was going to get back on, since at 4’11” I required a mounting block or at least a fence in order to mount the tall Thoroughbred.  But he needed help, so off I hopped.

He was holding his left front foot as if it hurt him, and when I picked it up I saw that one of the many oval granite stones that populated the area had lodged in his foot, so I dug my hoof pick out of my jeans pocket and went to work.

The stone was wedged in between the two sides of his shoe, so I had to lever it out.

Now, normally a person who is working on a hoof stands with their back to the horse’s head and the hoof securely held between their knees; but the last time I had done that I had been dumped upon my head, so I stood to the side facing the horse’s shoulder and held the hoof in my left hand, working on the wedged stone with my right.

Finally the stone flew out with a “pop,” but it must have hurt the horse because he snorted and stomped his foot down hard on the rock we were standing on.  But my foot was between his iron-shod hoof and the rock, and first I heard CRUNCH and then I felt my tall riding boot start to fill with something warm.  I knew what that was.

Luckily it was my right big toe that had been crushed, because I needed my left foot to mount with and I don’t know what I would have done if it had been my left. Horses get used to being mounted from one side, usually the left, and they are skittish about the other side, and I had enough problems already.

I found a stump to mount from, and had no little trouble getting him to move alongside it and stand still; but I finally got on and back to the barn, untacked him, rubbed him down, and rode my bicycle home.

Then I tried to get my foot out of the boot.  It had swollen so that it filled the inside of the boot and was stuck.  I had to cut the boot off, shedding many tears, because I knew it was unlikely that I would come by another pair.  They are very expensive.

I was relieved to see, after gingerly and painfully soaking the foot in the bathtub, that the source of the bleeding was that my toenail had come off; but there were no bones sticking out. I thought that it would be better not to tell anyone, because that might result in my being forbidden to ride.   So I wore roomy sneakers for a couple of months, and it healed without incident.

To be continued……..

The Most Unconventional Love: DP Challenge

How convenient.  I was looking for an excuse to tell this story, and WP must have felt the vibe and fed me the question at just the right moment.

I have been hard at work writing the life story of Mighty Mouth, the Most Unconventional Kitten.  He was a real kitten, born on my horse farm, and he was born to a life of adventure.  He announced his entry into the world the moment his black-and-white head emerged, toothless pink mouth open and yowling, even before the rest of his body was born.  His ear-splitting howls brought the farm hands running to the empty box stall his mother had wisely chosen as her labor-and-delivery room.

Mouthie had what to say about everything and anything, and kept up a continuous editorial regarding his opinions of barn life.  Wherever you were in the barn, you could hear his conversational meow-ings and yowings.  I don’t know why his mother did not eat him out of desperation.  I do believe he got the best of her teats, though, because he became quite portly, certainly a maternal effort to shut him up.

May lengthened into August and hay season was ending, and the kittens had grown out of their box stall nursery and were up to every kind of mischief in the barn.  One got run over by the manure spreader, and its eye popped out and the driver of the manure spreader had to throw up.   Another got squashed between two fifty-pound bales of hay, and just barely survived after we heard a muffled frantic mewing issuing from the hay mow.

And then there was Mouthie.  One early morning my son rushed in from doing his barn chores:  “Mom, mom!  Mouthie’s been stepped on!”  And he threw up in the bin.  He was an easy thrower-upper, in those days.

After I got him cleaned up, I sat him down at the kitchen table.

“What do you mean, Mouthie’s been stepped on?”

“I went into Airhead the Thoroughbred’s stall, and there he was lying on the floor, with a hoof-print on his hind leg, and it’s broken!”

“Oh dear!  What did you do about it?”

“Well, I know you shouldn’t move an injured person, and an animal might bite you (here my heart swells with pride at my son who remembers what his emergency physician mother has taught him), so I caught Airhead’s halter and tied her up so she can’t step on him again.”

“What great thinking!  I am so proud of you.”  Big hug, even if he does still smell like throw-up.

We tromp back out to the barn to assess the damages.  Airhead, tied to the ring at her grain bin, shows us the whites of her eyes as she tries to shy but can’t because she’s tied up.  I smirk privately.  I only tolerate that horse because she is a paying guest, one of our 32 equine boarders.

At the opposite side of the 12-foot box stall, Mouthie makes a pitiful sight lying squashed in the sawdust bedding, alternately muttering a stream of sad commentary and giving forth heartbreaking yowls of pain.  We approach carefully, talking to him reassuringly, thus:

“Hi, Mouthie, it’s just us, it’s OK, we’re here now, you’ll be all right,” and so on.  Mouthie looked tragic and kept up his end of the conversation while I gingerly examined him.

His leg was badly broken, but I could find no evidence of lethal injury, so with the help of my son I slid him onto a board, secured him with a light wrapping of sack cloth, loaded him gently onto the back seat of the Suburban with my son next to him, so he would have someone to talk to, and drove 50 miles to the nearest vet.

The X-ray showed a bad spiral fracture of the femur, very unstable.  It would never heal on its own.  Needed surgery:  steel plates, pins, that sort of thing.  Estimated cost $1200.  I have to think about this.  Twelve hundred dollars to fix a barn kitten that might get run over by the manure spreader as soon as it was up and about again…this was sticker shock.

But it wasn’t just any old barn kitten; it was our Mighty Mouth, the Mouth that Roared, and did we want to make an executive decision to extinguish his bright little life just because it cost a gazillion dollars?  No, we didn’t.  But there would be compromise.

“OK, fix it,” I told the vet firmly. “And while he’s under, just declaw him, and neuter him too.  He’s going to be our indoor house cat, and he’s never going outside again.”  The vet heartily agreed, and we left, to return for our Mouthie in two days, all fixed and new.

Mouthie never forgave me for that.  His paws were sore for weeks, and he licked his missing testicles until I had to take him back to the vet to do something about the resulting infection.  He gave me so many reproachful looks and yowling lectures that I wondered if I had made the right decision.  At last I pulled myself out from under the black cloud of guilt and said, “Listen, guy, if it hadn’t been for me you would have died a slow and painful death on the barn floor.  Now what do you think of that?”   Mouthie subsided.

Not long after these adventures, it came time to move to the American Southwest.  Decisions had to be made regarding which of our menagerie would come with us, and which would stay on the farm with its new owners, and which would go to new homes.   Of course Mouthie came with us.  There was never any question about that.  He rode in the Suburban, talking on the CB radio the whole way.

Our new house had a pleasant patio out back, and a fenced yard, and behind that, a two-acre paddock with a nice small barn for the four horses we had brought with us.  Mouthie stationed himself at the glass slider that looked out on this idyllic scene, and muttered and yowled about how I had ruined his life by forcing him into a role he was not meant for, i.e., house cat, and he would rather have died on the barn floor, etc., etc.; eventually I lost my resolve and opened the sliding door.  He waltzed out victorious and hopped up into the patio chair he had been eyeing, and curled up on the seat for a nap.

I shrugged and went back to making lunch.  The next thing, the kids came running in yelling “Mouthie’s outside!  He’s up in the apricot tree!”  Outside, yes.  Tree??  I ran out into the back yard and followed their pointing fingers.  Good grief, there he was, curled up in the crotch of the tree!  How did he get there without claws?  Over the next months he was to show us that, apart from the joys of destroying furniture, cats can do very well without their claws.

And then one day Mouthie disappeared.  I let him out in the morning and watched him rolling around on the warm patio stones, having a nice back scratch, and I went to work.  When I got home that night he was not there, nor did he appear on any of the subsequent days.  Oh well, I thought; coyotes one, cats zero.  I was sad; the kids were sadder; but we were all philosophical about the hazards of life on this planet, and soon stopped thinking about Mouthie.

Months later I was riding Joe Crow, my Peruvian Paso, up in the old abandoned orchard that was an easy ride from our back yard.  We rode there several times a week, and knew every inch of the place.  There was a fox’s den on the southern border of the orchard.  I never saw any sign of activity around it, and assumed it was abandoned like the orchard.

On this day, as Joe and I approached the fox den, I blinked, rubbed my eyes, and blinked again.  There were two animal figures sitting in the opening of the fox den.  One of them was a red fox.  The other was Mouthie.  I thought perhaps some of the mind-bending drugs I had soaked my brain with in the ’60’s were coming back around for another whack at the old squash.

I “whoah’d” Joe to a stop and watched his face for clues.  If I was tripping, then the horse would not react to my hallucination.  But Joe pricked his ears, extended his neck and whinnied to his old buddy.  Mouthie responded with a friendly yowl.  His foxy friend turned, and giving us a wink over his shoulder, strolled side by side with Mouthie into the den.

If that had been the sole sighting of this odd couple, I would have chalked it up to Southwestern magic, or a waking dream, or somehow explained it away.   But I saw them twice more, sitting together in the arch of the fox den, surrounded by an air of a serene love: the love of two ancient souls reunited, having somehow found each other against unimaginable odds.  Time, distance, and form itself had not succeeded in keeping these soul mates from finding each other.

I cried.  How many hardships do souls have to pass through, how many agonies and ministering angels, before they finally find their resting place?  The aura of content surrounding these two unlikely lovers filled the orchard like the heart-breakingly sweet fragrance of apple blossoms.

I never saw them again.

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Losing It

Dr. Dina watched with dull interest as the repossessors hauled off her car and her RV and her luxurious horse trailer with the full living quarters.  She watched out the window of the house trailer she had rented after the bank took the real house.

She told herself it wasn’t her fault that she had lost her medical practice, her pride and joy and the pinnacle of her career and of her whole life.  But she knew that it really had been her own fault.  She had stopped taking her medications because in that small town there was no such thing as confidentiality, and she didn’t want her family  doctor telling her colleagues about how Dr. Dina was taking lithium and a whole alphabet’s worth of antianxiety, antidepressant, and antiepileptic drugs, to treat her bipolar disorder.

When she had moved to East Bumfuck, as she now preferred to call it grimly in her mind, she had intended to get a psychiatrist in the nearest city.  But things got busy quickly, and the only time she thought about it was in the middle of the night when she was wide-awake because of hypomania.  She always planned to do it the next day; but the next day was just as busy, and she forgot again.

Soon she found herself crying for no reason; and during office hours she sometimes had to slip into her private office to cry between patients.  Her office nurse would knock on the door to see if she was all right, but Dr. Dina did not answer, or snuffled through her tears that she was on a phone call.

She thought maybe a lover might help.  But how was one to acquire a lover in East Bumfuck?

In the Appalachian county where she had set up her practice, there was a lively music scene, and Dr. Dina happened to be a banjo player. Although she felt uncomfortable around people in general, she forced herself to go to jam sessions and dances and found herself welcome in the community of old-time musicians.

One of them, a guitarist, took interest in her.  He was married, to Dr. Dina’s disappointment.  But she found herself intensely attracted to him.  His guitar style thrilled her to the bones and planted a smoldering fire in her innards.  She loved his ready wit, and found his bulging overall-ed belly endearing.

It was a known fact that his marriage was on the rocks.  Soon he began inventing reasons to do things with Dr. Dina, “just the two of us,” and before long he had filed for divorce and they were sharing a bed.

As a musical duo, they were hot.  Fancy resorts had them on their regular entertainment lists. They used the money for expensive hotel rooms and champaign. Their lovemaking was so hot it threatened to burn up the beds. They fell into hysterics over the image of the hotel manager staring at the charred and smoking bed the next day,

They lived with a furious intensity.  During the high times, it was martinis and champaign, and Dr. Dina would dance naked in the kitchen while Mr. Man played Django on the guitar with joyous ferocity.  But when one or both was bottomed out, they lived together inside the firebox of the inner furnace of hell.

They stayed together because of the ups, and because they genuinely loved each other.  He was a carpenter by profession. She had some experience with wood.  So they built a bed together, a marriage bed.  It was a dream they had, to build the bed that would hold and surround their love, an impenetrable cocoon to protect them from the world. But something in the building of it went wrong: what should have been a warm and loving creation turned out raspy with bickering and stony silences.  It got into the bed.

After a few years of roller-coaster elation and devastation fueled by alcohol-saturated mutual bipolar illness, Dr. Dina threw Mr. Man out.  The night he left, she dragged the  chainsaw into the bedroom and hacked the bed into pieces.

She dragged the ragged chunks out into the driveway and stacked the remnants up teepee-style.  She drenched the thing with kerosene and threw in a match.  WHOOF!  The fire roared into the night sky.  Dr. Dina shivered in the cold, wracked with sobs, watching their bed go shooting up in flames and showers of sparks. She fed the hardwood fire with dry pine boughs until all that was left was a pile of charred remnants of their former love nest.  The next day when it was cool Dr. Dina took the shovel and buried the ashes, and spread new gravel over the scorched earth of their love.