I study it, now that it is too late, the dark jewel of an eye, huge and liquid and gleaming. There are furrows in the grass where his sharp hooves tore the earth a moment ago when he fell.
He is a giant, five times my size, with power to launch himself over obstacles and return gracefully to earth, often wagging his head as if to say, is there nothing higher? His shining coat glows red in the sun and his thundering hoofbeats send vibrations through the dirt.
He knows his strength and my weakness. He knows me to carry treats in my pocket and when I don’t deliver, he merrily knocks me backward with a flick of his massive head. He could easily destroy me, and yet I put my daughter on his back. We are safe because he chooses for us to be safe.
But things have gone badly for Danny. Two weeks ago, he began kicking at his side and twisting his head to see what was biting him there. We brought doctors and medicine, and for a few days he seemed to be himself again, but the blood test said cancer. On Thursday morning, I found him in agony, his coat sodden with sweat and grime, trotting desperately around the pasture, trying to outrun his cruel and invisible enemy.
We called the vet and trudged into the pasture, carried his halter this one last time. Even now, in his misery, he is careful of us, careful not to step on us or knock us down as we clumsily try to corral him, and he urgently tries to escape.
We took a job at the barn, my daughter and I, when we bought Danny. We feed and water the horses, lead them from their pastures to their stalls. I knew little about horses when we began, but I always admired them. If they had been winged horses, they would have seemed only slightly more mythical to me.
How have such creatures come to exist, so graceful and immense, so fearsome when they choose to fight, yet who set aside their great strength to obey us? And how is it that we find ourselves in such a world as this, so richly carpeted in green, extravagant in air and light, filled with beings more diverse and majestic than we could imagine? If you say this is all a happy accident, I will wonder if you’re paying attention because we spend our lives trying to make good things and we know it is hard. Luck does not make horseshoes, let alone horses, let alone verdant worlds.
Well, Grace has somehow gotten in front of Danny and, rather than trample her, he jerks to a stop and she quickly slips on the halter. We lead him to a quiet place. She wraps her arms around his head and talks to him as the vet pulls something from his pocket.
A few minutes later, Danny is gone and I am looking at the furrows in the grass where he fell and the great jewel of an eye that has gone dull. Grace spreads herself over his still body and weeps and I try to understand why I feel I have lost a friend.
Only a horse. Only an animal that flew without wings, on whose back Grace flew, too, the wind whipping through her hair, knowing he would use his strength to bring her safely home. Only a horse, but I would give much to look in his eye again.