Gravy is the name of a one year old mule at our house. That doesn't sound like much, I know. She is only one year old, after all; a mere infant really. And yet she weighs about three times as much as I do. She is all of the joy of a toddler in their terrible two's, except with the strength of about ten men. What's worse is that she also happens to be stubborn as a...well, a mule. Gravy also happens to be my arch nemesis on the acreage. We have more disagreements than a seventy year old married couple and she almost always wins.
Through events that can only be described as miraculous, I managed to get a halter on Gravy. Me being not accustomed to mules, and really having no idea what I was doing, I believed that with the halter, the war had finally been won. I had proven to her that all of her efforts and strength were no match for my own human ingenuity. Higher intelligence and my opposable thumbs, I told her, would always come out on top eventually.
The trouble was that with a halter on her, she became even more difficult to catch. She knew that the halter made her vulnerable, so she simply stayed ever further away from me. I would go out with grain and all sorts of sweet smelling delectable treats. She would simply stand far off from the rest of the herd, swishing her tail and pretending to be disinterested. In short, she was mocking me.
Once again, however, my genius proved too much for her as I simply opened the gate to the corral and walked inside with a bucket of grain. Everyone followed me inside, and not desiring to be left out of what looked to be quite a party, she would follow. Pfffft. Mules are so stupid and predictable, I thought to myself as I ran round behind them all and closed the gate.
It got to be sort of a hassle driving the entire herd (I think there is nine of them) into the corral, then separating them, and fighting them all off over a bucket of grain long enough to make my escape and close a gate behind them though. So, I figured that I would just tie a really long lead rope to Gravy. So that's what I did. I tied me a long chunk of rope to her that dragged behind her on the ground. Then, I could just sort of pretend like I was walking by and reach down and grab the thing. It was a brilliant plan really.
The next day, I went out through the gate and walked by the horses and mules. I didn't look at any of them either. I whistled a happy tune and pretended to be just ambling by them, off to do one of the many busy and important things that people do out in hay fields that have absolutely nothing to do with mules. I went along thus until I came to the end of that rope and with catlike speed I reached down and swept the rope up off the ground. HA!
Trouble was really, is that Gravy didn't really know that she was caught yet. Oh, she knew that something was tugging on the other end of that rope, but she couldn't see who or what it was. Immediately, following her natural instinct to be difficult, she began to apply an equal and opposite force to whatever was pulling against her, but she still hadn't seen me. By the time that she cleared the rest of the herd, she was pulling a 300 pound fat man behind her who was screaming "WHOAAA!" This, I think, frightened her somewhat, because at that point she stopped pulling away and broke into a run.
Now, I worked construction all through my youth. I am a very strong and powerful man. Being so strong often has a lot of advantages like moving refrigerators with ease and impressing my friends and neighbors by carrying heavy things around and the like. However, in this one instance, being strong gave me the ability to hold on to that rope a lot longer than anyone ever should have. Now, I don't know if any of you have ever water skied before, but it was just like that. Yep. It was just exactly like water skiing, except without the boat...or the skies...or the water. Okay, it was nothing like water skiing really, but much like water skiing, I did manage to stay on my feet for about fifteen second before falling flat on my face.
Now, this is the point in time where a lesser man might have let go of that rope. But I knew that to let go of the rope would mean that she had won, and she would know it. No. This was a moment of man against beast, brains against brawn. This was my moment to establish the natural order of the universe in her mind...the same order that had allowed men to tame wild beasts for untold millennia. I held on through the mud and even managed to work my way back up to an almost standing position before jerked back down to the ground. I would have held on forever to, except for the sticker bushes ahead.
Now, here's an interesting fact for you; while you are being by dragged by a mule that rope doesn't hurt your hands at all. But when they jerk it out of your hand, or you are in the course of being dragged and decide to finally let go...you will get what us country folks refer to as "rope burns". Remember that next time you find yourself being dragged across a pasture by an unruly mule...it might just save your life...or at least your hands.
When my body finally rolled to a complete stop, I could only lay there with my eyes closed trying to think about rainbows or unicorns or anything pleasant to keep my body from going into shock. Like a wounded soldier on the battle ground I prayed for a medic to come rushing in and assess the situation. I imagined that he would light me a cigarette and tell me that I was going to "make it" even though we both knew that it wasn't true. He would see all of the flesh from my hands still attached to the chunk of rope that the mule was dragging behind her. Then he would look down at what was left of my hands and see how much blood had been lost. He had seen this sort of thing before, but nothing this awful. Then, he would give me some morphine and tell me to hang in there. I would tell him about the letter inside of my pocket. "Tell Lorri that I love her," I'd say, and then with a cough and a sputter, I'd die there on the battlefield.
Okay, I didn't actually die, but I probably could have based on the severity of my burns. Lorri, not being a doctor of any sort, completely misdiagnosed them without even looking, said I would "live," and that I would be "fine." Secretly, I wished that I would slump over dead in that very instant just to prove her wrong. Then she'd be sorry. Then maybe she would think twice before dolling out medical advice best left to professionals. Yeah. That would show her.
Gravy had won the battle, but she would never win the war. The next time I went out, I went with horsepower of my own. The next time I did not go as simply a man, but rather with the ingenuity of millions of years of human evolution on my side. That day, I brought with me...a golf cart. Yes, that's right, a golf cart. Pulling up silently alongside the herd, I parked the front tire on the end of Gravy's rope. Pffft. Stupid mule. She never even heard me coming. I smiled at her as she watched me tie the rope on to the bumper. I could see the fear in her eyes as I fired up the powerful engine and began to drive away from her across the pasture.
I looked behind me as she looked on in horror as the rope grew taught. She knew that she had been beaten. As I got to the end of the rope, she took a grudging step forward and then another. YES! She was giving in and learning to lead. I had done it. I had won! Turning away I lit a victory cigarette and pressed down on the gas. Then, I came to an abrupt halt, nearly forcing my head into the steering wheel. Gravy had planted her feet and brought the cart to a dead stop. Tires would spin, grass would fly, but nothing else. If I backed up, I could get a run for it and she would give then...but only for a step or two. But I wouldn't be outdone. She would get tired of pulling against my machine eventually.
About an house later, as the smoke of the overheated engine drifted out from under the machine, and after I had unwound the rope from the back tire and realized that a front tire had gone flat, I untied the rope. As I did, I retained a firm grasp. I would not let her know that she had won. If I was going to let her go, it was going to be on MY terms. I walked the rope up beside her and rubbed her head. She stood there momentarily and let me too. Then, as if she had just woken from a nap she bolted away, burning my already permanently damaged hands with the rope again.
I knew at that moment that it was either her or me. I knew that this war of wills would not end until one of was dead or broken. I glared at her while I devised my next plan of attack. Ruined hands and battered pride would not stop me. I was going to show her once and for all who was boss.
Once more, I led the entire herd into the corral. I went into the pasture through one gate, led them through another gate into the corral, exited another gate, re-entered a different gate behind them and locked them in. Next, I made my way through the the trapped herd and got my hands on the end of her rope. I passed it through an inner tube that I had secured to a sturdy post and pulled it through and secured it before letting the rest of the herd go again. I had her. With one end of the rope in hand, I pushed her using big scary gestures closer to the post while I pulled the rope tighter. I was reeling her in like a big fish and there was nothing that she could do about it.
Nearing the post, a melee ensued. There were moments where our bodies pushed against each other, moments where we locked eyes and fought until she had finally been beaten. With nowhere else to go, she relented and I tied the rope securely to the inner tube. She was caught. It was all finally over and I was victorious.
As I walked out of the corral I turned back to admire her. She had been a most worthy opponent, but I had beaten her. I leaned against the other side of the post and lit a cigarette, admiring her muscular body as she pulled in futility against the inner tube. I admired her shoulder muscles as they would pull and then relent against the rubber. She was a beautiful and magnificent beast. I admired her legs and as I inhaled on my victory smoke I looked down at her feet, planted in the ground as she tried to pull away.
There, driven about an inch into the hard packed ground beneath her feet I saw what looked to be something out of place in the natural world. I could see tiny little shining chunks of metal and tiny little black buttons with numbers on them. I puzzled at how a cell phone had come to buried in the corral. Still looking at it strangely, I reached into my pocket. It was empty. The pieces and parts that made up my cell phone lay before me on the battlefield, crushed deep into the hard ground by the stomping of a mule's hooves. I glared back up at her, and she stood there, smiling back at me. She had done it on purpose. I knew she had.
I walked away from her in disgust. Even in war there were rules of fairness, I thought. Even in war, you don't intentionally ruin someone's cell phone. That's just mean and wrong. I was sick of mules and tired of horses and their meanness and trickery. I turned my back on all of them and headed for the house. Let her stand there. Let them all just return to whatever place in Hades they had emerged from where it is okay to burn people's hands with impunity and ruin cell phones. I was through with all of them.
As I undressed for a shower, I wondered if there were really people out there in the world who took the time to create a back-up account for their cell phone numbers. I wondered if that day would be the day when some literary agent would finally call me, or someone wanting to schedule a book signing. It's funny the things that you think about when you have lost your cell phone I guess.
Before I got into the shower, I walked over to the toilet to pee. There, I peaked out the back window just to glare at her. I knew she would still be standing there too. She was. As I stood there laughing quietly at her, I looked at the rest of the herd and admired them. There really were some beautiful animals among them. Their coats really shined in the sun too as they grazed on the fresh green grass in the back yard. They were, all of them, standing in the back yard. They had gotten out!
At this point in the story, it is probably pretty important that I share with you the fact that we live on a highway. We have nightmares about horse car accidents where people and animals alike are injured and killed. We have lesser nightmares where horses require thousand dollar vet bills, vehicles require ten thousand dollar repairs, and people with neck injuries make millions of dollars that we haven't even earned yet.
I threw my pants on and ran for the door. They were out, but they were all still in the back yard. It wasn't too late. As I ran outside, a particularly ornery horse named Dugan looked up at me. He knew he wasn't supposed to be out. He also knew that I was coming to put them back in. But he also knew that he didn't want to go back in. even before the door had closed behind me, Dugan bolted and, in the worst case scenario, made a run for the highway of all things. Others followed.
He might have hit the road and kept going too, if a motorist hadn't seen him and slowed to a stop. He honked his horn at him and opened the door yelling at him where he stood alongside the road. Frightened, Dugan turned and ran back toward the gate. Realizing that flailing my arms and yelling orders wasn't going to cut it, I calmly walked inside of the garage and filled a bucket with grain amidst a virtual sea of animals that filled the back yard, fanning out in every direction and grazing.
As I filled the bucket, I thought about where I would go if one of them got hit by a car. I wasn't for certain which direction I would drive, only that I would quietly and calmly get into my car and drive away from the acreage until I ran out of gas. The perhaps, I would hop into a passing freight train, and maybe then upon a cargo vessel set sail for the orient. I would go, I concluded, somewhere ...anywhere... where she could never ever find me again. Maybe I could live under an assumed name in some tiny village in China, carving little water buffalo figurines for the tourists or the like.
Fortunately though, my plan worked. I walked into the pasture with my bucket overflowing with grain and yummy, sticky horse feed. To those who were gracious enough to follow me, I offered up a buffet of the likes of which few of them had ever seen before. And one by one, they followed and gorged themselves full of goodies.
Finally, I could breathe again and release a sigh of relief. In the spirit of the moment, I even untied Gravy to join them. Mostly, I did it because I concluded at that moment that I was never going with a thousand yards of mules or horses ever again, but I told Gravy it was because I was feeling generous nonetheless.
That night I told Lorri the story. I told her about how they must have been systematically checking the gates and fences for signs of weaknesses like the raptors in that Jurassic Park movie. I explained to her how they were getting smarter and ever more devious, and how they must have picked the gate open somehow. I told her how only my quick thinking and heroic actions had saved the day. Then I sat back and waited for my praise. It never came. She even accused ME of leaving a gate open. As if.
"Horses," she said matter-of-factly, "do not open gates by themselves."
I wanted to explain to her how normal horses and mules probably don't open gates by themselves. I wanted to tell her that normal horses and mules probably don't steal people's cell phones and smash them just for fun either! I wanted to tell her that her animals are not normal. They are far from it. They are, each of them, evil geniuses, capable of unleashing horrors into this world unlike anything that she has ever known...is what I wanted to tell her, but I didn't.
Nope. I never said a word. If she didn't want to acknowledge my heroic actions I figured that I would just bide my time. She'll see one of these days. One day, it will be her cell phone they steal and smash into a thousand little pieces and then she'll be sorry. One day, she will be the one who is home when they decide to make their next break for it. I hope that I'm home that day too. I hope I'm there when she comes running inside begging me to come and save the day for her. Then she'll be sorry. Oh, don’t get me wrong...I will help her of course. That's what we heroes do...we help people…but only after I receive my apologies. Yes. That will be quite a day.
Until then, I am keeping my distance from them. I see them still, when I go out to weed eat or smoke on the back porch; Gravy and Dugan and the gang. I can feel them watching me too. I know they're out their plotting something and I watch them out of the corner of my eye. They are evil geniuses; every single one of them an evil genius. She'll find out one of these days too. She'll learn the hard way just like I did. I only hope I'm there to see to it too. I only hope I'm there to save her.