The Eden Pain of Understanding


he said as he poured the drink he didn’t notice.

The sun was yellow, flat to the sill and pouring light across the kitchen table as Bay Barrell laid a black jack on a red queen and thought she’d better get the horses fed before people started to show up for this do. She stared into the sun through glass as safely grimed as smoked lens and wondered what the hell she’d gotten herself into.
“Bay, a real party, think about it! Just like the old days, music all over the house, out in the yard, out…”
“Not in the barn they’re not! Nobody goes near the stable and not into the pasture, either.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll make some signs, that’s easy. But what d’ you think, good idea?”
“Nobody goes near the horses.”
“For sure. Nobody goes near the horses. So, what d’ you think?”
“Oh, Jesus, Bay, everybody wants a party, it’s been so long. You’ve got the town and half the county with their tongues hanging out for an excuse.
Bay had shaken her great head and snorted derision, “Who the hell are you talking about for music?”
“Oh. Everybody, Carl, Willie, Joey, if he’s not too far from the wagon, Ronnie, if he’s around and she lets him. They’re all begging to come. And these great guys who played the Slip and Slop last week… Unbelievable guitar! You’ll love him, absolutely ace, wiry little guy walks his bass like… You’ll love him. And the porkchop doing vocals, Bay… oh, unh, you’ll want him. Kinda rasta, but just style, hair’s actually clean and everything matches. Listen, I’ll come out and do a clean-up…”
Bay lurched to her feet with a shove on the chair and an open-palm rest on the round rim of the table; her leg cables trembled with tension, straining up at a big silver belt buckle as her weight came to bear and subsided to balance of a kind. She eyed the patience deck, only one housed, and left it lie. The columned cards, red, black, red, looked like an incantation to order in the rubble of the room.
Shuffling across a narrow path on the gritty floorboards, through sixty years of joyful acquisitiveness that considered very few things disposable, she plucked a grubby blue flannel shirt from a heap on the back of a chair that hadn’t seen light for…? Well, somebody must have sat there once, surely. You couldn’t get at the other two chairs (she thought there should be two) hidden under and behind papers and clothes, bottles and boxes, hardware and harness, sacks of dogfood, sacks of catfood, sacks of sacks, a sack of socks and a stack of cider in cans. She reached four carrots from a bag at her feet, poked them into a pocket of her khaki shorts, flailed into the flannel, hauled up a sock on a sandaled foot, cast an eye about the room, naming cobwebs as she looked, and shuffled for the door, “Clean up? My ass!”
Jerking out the old work glove that wedged the door to the jamb, she passed through to the summer kitchen, catching the door again with a practiced flip of the glove and a tug on the rusted-out knob. A pair of shepherds, the dog huge and handsome, his bitch of a sister worried and wolfish, attended underfoot by a bologna roll of a grizzled old basset, all wagged, muttered, arfed and bowed, happy to see her under any circumstances.
Her hand half down a paper sack of milk bones, Bay changed her mind and rummaged instead into the warming shelf of a dead cook stove, pulling from behind a ratty black squirrel mounted on a stick, a butcher’s package of over-ripe pig feet and handed them round. The dogs carried the high, rank smell of rotting hocks out to the yard and Bay tossed the the styrofoam tray onto a fly-blown stack atop the kennel boxes and headed out the dog-yard gate. The basset, a border collie on his mother’s side, managed to double his stake when the big shepherd looked up to watch the woman cross to the horsebarn.
Standing straight, Bay could be six three, so the horse-sized doors appeared in scale as she drew the bolt and turned the patent handle latch. The buckskin backstepped, lips whickering, head tossing his pleasure back to his mother out in the muck yard. Missy raised her head from a study of yesterday’s hay and nodded hello. A small, tidy cat wove her affection back and forth between George’s nervous forelegs, keeping an eye on Bay who ran a hand down the gelding’s nose and an eye over his thoroughbred sealskin hide.
Bay Barrell was named for her mother’s favourite steeds; big ginger horse flesh and, of course, her father, a man her mother always said she’d married for his last name because it sounded like a ranch.
Bay’s father had much prefered boats, so she was taught to do for herself on the lake at the summerhouse.
But her father didn’t come back from the war, so, with her mother she rode, she jumped and she hunted to hounds.

We handed her round on New Year’s Eve, each of us held her for a little while, hefted her and admired her weight. There were three of us, two had known her in life, the other held her for the first time and fell in love with her story. She did so love a good listener.



When she said, make sure you get these when I’m gone, stepping from her jeans, showing the flannel lining, and there’s another pair never out of the bag somewhere in that heap at the end of the bed, it was certain then, no denial, and so gently given I didn’t even stall for breath as I went to make us tea.
When she raised an arm over the bedrail at the picture on the wall, and said, that has to go, I nodded, suggested and hung next day two cowpokes with horses, and stood the offender back of some hospital flowers she was tolerating for the occasion.
When she raised a finger to the window and said those have to go, I said the valances certainly and I’ll hunt up something plainer for drapes, and we grinned to have it in our plans, and not to have to do it.
When she raised her chin to dismiss her shopping catalogues, I must have paled with fear for one more joy shut out, until she smiled and said, not on this much morphine.
When she mounted and rode, I’d stepped out for duty and missed her final fence, but she hadn’t yet shied in the length and we shared a faith in grace and breeding, the dam, the sire and courage would tell at the jump, and then she was over, and the chase was done.
When Science wouldn’t take her, too tall they said, her last best joke, couldn’t go to university, wouldn’t fit the drawer, we got the bones. Well, not bones, but ash, so she rode home in a cardboard box and had to sit on the couch for a couple of days for she wouldn’t fit the red porphyry jar, the brass-bound box, or the silver jug, but a dig down a midden of glazed polyesters and moused wool unearthed her mother’s writing desk and under the lid she went.
We handed her round on New Year’s Eve, each of us held her a while, hefted her and admired her weight. There were three of us, two had known her in life, the other held her for the first time and fell in love with her story. She gave him a drink, settled back and said, “Did I ever tell you…”



“Well it’s time,” she said, no drama, no punctuation, “call the vet.”
The vet’d been by the week before to see to the safety of bridles, to the length of the passage, to the width of doors and the height of the sill, to room for the truck in the yard, and he came to see the help. The help heard what was important and they shook hands on that. “Call me when she’s ready. If you have to.”
“I will. I’ll have to. Not much time left. She thinks it best they go before she does. Mare’s old, and he’s too big and spoiled. Even so.” Just men, they nodded and waved in the lane.
When she said it, he called, and the vet said, “Well then. Thursday morning. You’ll put them in.”
“I’ll feed them in overnight. It’s cold enough she doesn’t mind. He’ll follow.”
“Right then.”
“In the morning.”
In the morning he set her up with her cold tea and water, morphine and a tonic in place of the gin that climbed too high on the oxygen, sweetened her teeth under the tap, offered yoghurt within reach, and took coffee and a piece of the paper out to the rocker in a spike of cold sun for a cigarette.
The dogs greeted the car as any car, shied from the black leather bag, and were shut in the yard while the vet stepped in for a final say. There wasn’t a word on the way to the barn.
A whicker of joy for oats in the morning, and a jab in the neck once the bridles were on, and the way was clear from the box to the hay-soft floor. There was no time to stumble. They came with muttered encouragement to stand wobble-footed for the punch that would thunder them down like walls collapsing. Iscariot is no saint, sorrow and shame overwhelmed the sacrifice, and only shared grace maintained the men through a second act that laid back to back, mane to mane, crupper to crupper, mother and son, buckskins in October light, soft spotted light, cedar honey and maple orange.
He made fresh coffee then. The vet took a cup to sit with her till the truck should come. He took his out to find the dogs had slipped the gate and had a smell. Without a word they returned to the yard in lonesome file. He sat on the sill by the high round rumps, the fallen tails, and watched a fly walk withers. No flinch of the mottled satin, no twitch of the long black silk as the fly strolled a new estate, and the childish pain, the eden pain of understanding flooded into tears.
The truck came, winches wound and three faces set against indignity watched the drag. Nods of acceptance sealed the ritual and the truck went. The vet went, with a word and a hand, “She might think it’s enough. Might leave the dogs.”
“Might. I’m holdin’ out.”
“Well, you know where I am.”
“Thanks, Doc. Thankyou.”
He went in to her then. Hands clasped, elbows on her knees she said, “It’s done then.”
“Yah.” He bent to her and they held together in a deep breath.
‘It’s hard.”
“It’s hard.”
“Here then,” she said, “take this,” And from her bag downside the chair she plucked a thousand dollar bill, “go buy a new tv for my bedroom, nineteen inch, remote. A good remote. The Breeders’ Cup runs Saturday.”


‘We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire,’ T.S. Eliot

We must be consumed either by the anger of the storm god or by the love of the living God. There is no way around life and its sufferings. Our only choice is whether we will be consumed by the fire of our own heedless fears and passions or allow God to refine us in his fire and to shape us into a fitting instrument for his revelation…
We need not fear God as we fear all other suffering, which burns and maims and kills. For God’s fire, though it will perfect us, will not destroy, for “the bush was not consumed.” Cahill pg 164.

The above is from Robert Thompson’s notes (Bert to us)


~ by Rocky Green on October 16, 2007.

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