Just Before Dawn

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Just Before Dawn

By Joanna Lucas, Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary
May 2009

What passed between them transformed them both. Yet, even though it was communicated in close proximity, it grew and flourished in each other's absence. Their most dramatic encounters, the now famous Slow Speed Chases, were not the real exchanges and, for all of their spectacular pageantry, and despite our desire to dwell on them and relive their excitement, they weren't the real story either. The real story, the deepest work of their lives, the real work of transformation, began at a point when their lives and their stories seemed to end - in the last chapters of their lives, not in the action-packed, heroic days of their youth. Although those are the days we like to remember and retell.

We like to remember Agnes, a gorgeous, shimmering apparition gliding through the grasslands on legs that got shorter and shorter as her body got larger and larger until, one day, they disappeared so completely in the folds of her enormous body that she seemed to be swimming through fluid earth. A strangely amphibian presence floating slightly above the earth-bound prairie. A terrestrial white whale gliding through the gift she never ceased to be grateful for - another Day. And, all around her, rolling, bobbing, raising and falling like waves, ebbing and flowing, moving in unison with her, the rolling backs of the 9 other pigs in her sounder, the 9 siblings with whom she communicated incessantly, with that sound that was so uniquely her own - half song (a sound to self), and half call (a song to others), part expression of her soul, part an expression of her sounder - each note, a distinct, plaintive or joyful utterance that seemed to begin and end with an "we", and was understood, heeded and answered back in 9 voices.

There had never been a day in her life when she had not been connected with her community, and not just any community, the same community, and that communal way of being had entered her person - her posture, her gait, her voice, her gaze, her expectations, her view of the world (the way Petunia's lifelong isolation had entered hers) - it defined not only her own self but her family too, the 9 siblings who orbited her ample person and hung in her gravitational pull. She was in charge and in service to the sounder, connected with each of its members, dominant of them and completely subservient to their needs at the same time. She was the one who decided who could enter the pig village and who was not to be trusted around her family, which of the pig newcomers were friends, and could be trusted to join the family after a period of testing and coaching, like Lucas; which pigs were simply not a good fit for the group, like Oscar; and which pigs were foes whose presence would disrupt the group's peace, order and identity, and had to be chased away, like Petunia. And she enforced her decisions, often enlisting the help of other group members.

She was the Matriarch. Not merely Agnes, the individual, but Agnes, the family of 10 and its tragic early history, and its miraculous rescue, and its arrival at the nearest place to Heaven that a pig can find on this human-dominated Earth. She was the repository of her family's social knowledge and memory. She was We, Agnes.

We like to remember Petunia, big, bad, red, fire-breathing Petunia who, after spending most of her life alone, isolated from family, kin, and community, tossed from solitary breeding cell, to family farm, to abusive "rescuer", where companions, if they existed at all, were meteoric at best, had learned to enjoy her own company, and trust no one but her own sturdy, embattled self.

She strutted around, scorching the earth under her feet, with her chest puffed, her eyes steely, her jaw clenched, her skin thickened to armor, each step thumping the ground like a judge's mallet, calling the mutinous world to order, her tragic order. She moved through life like a battleship, Battleship Petunia, advancing in a cloud of preemptive fire, tar, piss, vinegar, gall, sulphur and damnation, rejecting all social contact, connections, entanglements, expectations and negotiations. She shoved smitten Lucas out of her way, she shooed subservient Oscar out of his mud holes, she knocked down the tripods and equipment of visiting TV crews (and one or two crewmen along the way), she took down tents, feed bins, water troughs and tool tables with one thrust of her hammer nose, she uprooted freshly cemented fence posts with one push of her steel-plated shoulders. She never tired of reaffirming her bigness, her badness, her invulnerability, and most of all, her complete and absolute independence from everyone and everything. She was anchored so exclusively in the space that her battered, embattled self occupied in the world, walking in such complete and exquisite solitude, that she made even the most teeming, bustling, densely populated place look and feel deserted. She was her own tribe, and her own self-sufficient, self-contained, independent, sovereign country: Petunia. Population 1.

We delight in remembering shy, retiring Iris, the shrinking violet of the family, the pig with the personality of a swan and the body of a rhino, a large, unwieldy sow with the delicate heart and yearnings of a bird forced to fulfill the joys of a bird's soul in a wingless, flightless, four-legged body.

Given the chance, she probably would have chosen the company of birds over the company of her fellow pigs, and she probably would have moved into he bird barn to live out her days surrounded by wings and feathers, like Oscar, but her fear of leaving the pig village and its secure boundaries and its certain terrain and its predictable rhythms anchored her in place with such force that she rarely dared go out on her own even for a short stroll - and, oh, how enviable solitary, self-sufficient Petunia, the nation of one, must have seemed to her. So she stayed with the pigs and tried to be a good pig and live up to pigly expectations and, on rare occasions, she actually acted as fully and powerfully pigly as magnificent Agnes herself and, perhaps, even experienced herself as such. Those were the times when she "helped" Agnes chase Petunia away, and when she broke out of all of her comfortable prisons - her cozy barn, her protected yard, her secure world, her own comfortable self - and, for a short while, became a different person, perhaps not so much the person she truly wished to be, but the person she wished to be seen as: Iris, the Spitfire.

But, most of all, we remember their now legendary Slow Speed Chases (that get more legendary with each retelling) that started when Petunia uncharacteristically approached the sounder she had dissed at all other times, and humbly requested acceptance only to be rejected in spectacular, exemplary displays of Matriarch power and authority that branded her an Outcast and banished her not just to the edge of the pig village, but farther, to the very edge of the known world, the Sanctuary.

You felt it long before you saw it. It started as a slight stir under your feet, a tremor that got stronger and stronger as the distant rumbling got closer and closer and gathered the force of thunder. You saw the cavalcade approaching as a tumbling storm cloud. None of them uttered a sound as they charged past you - Petunia, leading the way, her whole body one gesture, aimed at the space in front of her, cutting the air like a red-hoofed comet with two stars caught in her train: Agnes, heaving and huffing in hot pursuit, honed on Petunia like a shuddering, sputtering 10 ton Tzar cannon, and Iris, trailing behind both, trudging and wobbling wildly, like a gigantic jello sumo wrestler about to spin off its axis. All you heard was the huffing of their breath and the thundering of their hooves, and you felt the sheer force of three massively huge bodies moving the air, shaking the earth, creating their own weather and riot in their wake.

To anyone watching, the Chase looked like the romp of three rowdy giants running in the open field. But there was nothing fun or friendly about it. The force that drove Agnes and Petunia together was closer to fury, fear, and loathing but also a deep, vague longing, a hunger, for something that each lacked and the other possessed in such obvious abundance that even we could see it.

Agnes chased Petunia away like a thief, like an illness, like a bad dream. There was something about Petunia, something in the way she carried herself, a turbulence in her inner weather, a wounded, hunted, haunted something, that reeked of the fate Agnes and her family had escaped narrowly.

The nightmare Petunia had endured until her rescue had entered her person, her voice, her gaze, her gait, it followed her around like a tar cloud, it flowed, issued forth from her every move - the way she hung her head, the way she heaved in her sleep, the way she breathed with the halted breath of the hunted, the way she expected good things to vanish and bad things to flourish, the way she trusted in the solid reality of strife and never trusted anything good, kind, tender, but pathetically searched for it anyway, the way she carried the cross of her anguished life, her rootlessness, her exile from everything she had ever loved and needed, into the inviolate space of Agnes' Home.

And Petunia returned to haunt Agnes, again and again, just like a bad dream. Showing up out of nowhere, a black cloud materializing out of the blue of Agnes' sunny life, blackening the sun of her peaceful existence, threatening everything she loved, nurtured, and protected, and demanding the immediate action of a Chase to restore the world to the order she had grown to know and expect.

After each chase, the world was indeed restored to the order that each of them had grown to expect and understand as order. Their social expectations were confirmed: Agnes, the Matriarch, Petunia, the Outcast. Their place in the world was reaffirmed. Agnes emerged further empowered and increased, her power and plurality, affirmed and expanded, the boundaries of her world redefined and reinforced; and Petunia emerged further rooted in herself, the fortress of her solitary self, strengthened, its boundaries made even more impenetrable, her isolation, her place among the world's exiles, reaffirmed: I, Petunia.

And they walked around displaying their identities like badges, like blazons, like coats of armor. Agnes, standing her ground, not taking another step further, enforcing the law of the land, her land, by gaze and posture alone. Petunia, stomping away in a red fury, fuming like a battleship after a battle. And Iris, frozen in mid-field, as though suddenly realizing where she was - alone in the middle of the open prairie, far, far away from her secure yard - would tense up and give a few low whimpers before gathering her shoulders in a protective shrug and teetering back to the pig village, back to the old shoe of her shy, bird-gentle self. And sometimes, on very rare occasions, she would stop by the bird barn and rested there with the birds, in the deep straw and the gentle fluttering of wings, and the soothing music of coos and clucks and chirps, as though she belonged there.

So, when we talk about them, this is what we generally like to remember - their young, vibrant days, the "doing" in their lives, the heroic, purpose-driven actions, the vibrant, healthy, able bodies and the life force that quickens them.

When they grow old and they fall ill, and their bodies shrink, and their life force diminishes, we consider their stories done, finished. If we mention that part of their lives at all, we usually contain it in one short paragraph. Often, we don't mention it at all. Yet this is when the richest part of their stories is often just beginning to ripen, when their most important work of living is done, and when their deepest transformations often happen.

So this is where this story truly begins.

***

Agnes began to falter in the Spring. At first, she was late for breakfast, trailing behind everyone else in the morning. Then there were the mornings when she didn't come out at all. Soon, the mornings extended into full days, and the days stretched into nights. Sometimes, several days would pass before she managed to get herself up for a stroll in the yard, but they were short strolls, she never made it very far because her joints could no longer support the weight of a body that had been genetically forced to grow so morbidly large, and they'd give, and she'd get stuck in the mud, and stay there, helpless as bug with crushed legs, until a team of people could be gathered to help her up.

For the past 6 months, she had grown progressively crippled. After a summer of failed attempts at normalcy, when moving about became increasingly difficult, when she often ended up sleeping under the open sky, or in the least spot in the pig house rather than risk being trampled by 9 clumsy giants in their rush to get to breakfast, when she'd lost, one by one, every thing that had sustained her throughout her life - her place, her health, her youth, her purpose - she finally mustered enough strength one day to get up, teeter past the open gate, and leave her world, her family, her known life for good. She wobbled past several empty barns and took shelter in a secluded, pigless barn, Melvin's barn, a cool, quiet, cloistered place, where she collapsed in the deep straw, exhausted after her long trek. She stretched herself safely (for the first time in weeks), comfortably (also for the first time in weeks) on her right side, and never returned to her sounder, her world, her purpose, her post, her duty, again. It was the closest thing to suicide - complete loss - anyone could experience. But it was her choice, and it was where, and how, she started a new chapter in her life, the last - alone for the first time in her life, in self-imposed exile from her kin, in a pigless barn, where Melvin, the turkey, was mourning the loss of his last friend, Shylo, and where often, during busy summer days, they were the only two souls inside the empty space.

And, with her departure, the sounder was left without a leader, Iris stopped leaving the pig village at all - without the cloak and diversion of an explosive, dramatic exit alongside Agnes, she felt too vulnerable, so she made it only as far as the open gate where she stuck out her head, looked left and right, sniffed the air, and turned around to the safety of her fenced yard - and the Slow Speed Chases that had quickened the sanctuary landscape stopped as suddenly as they had begun, while Petunia, Agnes' nemesis, was still at large, still roaming the fields with no one to oppose her, free to join the sounder if she so desired, but, as it turns out, she never did so desire. What she did do, now that Agnes wasn't there to chase her away, was walk into the pig yard, go all the way to the barn, and stand there silently in front of the open door, watching the ageing sounder sleep, and snore, and grunt soft, reassuring things to each other, and hum in their sleep, and inch towards one another the better to dream together.

Sometimes, if one of the pigs got up and lumbered towards her, Petunia walked away and hid behind the corner of the barn from where she continued to watch quietly, as though in the thrall of a good dream. Maybe this is all she ever wanted. Maybe it was never about acceptance in the sounder but simply about being allowed to get close enough to watch the improbable sight of a pig family growing old together.

As for Agnes, she was alone for the first time in her life, and without the skill to be solitary. She was alone, unguided and unmoored in an alien world. Yet, despite her burdens, she embarked on doing the work of living required by the last part of her life without hesitation, without delay. She rushed into the work of her new life the way she always had, as if each day was a great gift. And she learned, one by one, the treasures of her restricted world - the pleasures of the soul, the pleasures of the mind at rest, the lavish absence of desire. If happiness is a state of being, not of doing, she could learn to be happy.

When she was healthy, and it felt good to be in her body, when its own functioning was pleasure - the running, the chasing, the digging, the searching and foraging, the wrestling, the sprawling, the sunning, the mudbathing with its cooling, crackling skin of drying mud - she desired everything and savored everything she desired with unbridled passion. She threw herself in life with all its lavish, luscious, lustful sensory abundance and loved it all. But, now that her body ailed and its pleasures had become painful, they were replaced by the pleasures of the body at rest - the bliss of not moving at all, of lying there in a miraculous bubble of peace from pain, savoring it, never wanting to leave it. She learned to savor the lavish absence of desire and the massive power of being helpless and secure at the same time. Hours of quietude, solitude, obscurity, spent in the absence of jarring stimulation, the absence of painful movement, the absence of failure to obtain what she desired - just the calm of lying on a bed of straw, with the sounds of life chiming safely, seductively in the distance, with the breeze carrying the scents of life happening, struggling, suffering elsewhere, the hum and tremendum of life no longer intruding with either its beauty or its destruction.

Often, she daydreamed, floating between dream and awareness - a hermit deep in prayer - escaping into the vast, free, happening world within, retreating into the world of her own mind. She drifted into reveries, eyes open, breath even, body relaxed until a sudden sound or movement would startle her out of her trance-like state and bring her back into the burdensome reality of her body. She was daydreaming of whatever she was daydreaming of - memories or intense imaginings, a mixture of things felt at the moment, things she remembered, things she fancied, all held together by the fluid logic of dreams: chasing Petunia, digging to the molten jelly core of the earth, mudbathing, searching, searching feverishly for a way out or a way in, escaping at the last minute from some vague, terrible danger, tasting the incomparable taste of peanut butter growing on flowers, endless fields of peanut butter and jelly, to eat, sleep and and wallow in forever, clouds bursting, water spurting out of hoses, cooling hands on her back, running on willing legs, running, running so fast if felt like flying.

More and more, she started to stay awake late into the night when the world moved at her pace, when she was in harmony with the gentled breath of the world. There was a time when she greeted mornings with enthusiasm and great anticipation. Now the nights were her time, and she lay awake longer than most everyone else. You could often see her lying there with her eyes wide open, the moon glinting in their glistening mirrors, humming gently to herself, enjoying the bliss of having her stilled body be in harmony with the stilled world, the comfort of not having the world demand more than she could give, the pleasure of giving as much as the world asked of her - sleep, stillness - a synergy of sorts, a freedom. Moving at the midnight world's dreamy pace, feeling included, adequate and in sync again, humming to herself as many pigs do, a thin, steady stream of sound that flowed forth like a sigh, like a musical breath, like a lullaby. And, more and more often, on more and more nights, we started to see Petunia parked outside Agnes' closed door, listening to Agnes' haunting song, transfixed, as if absorbing what the matriarch was transmitting through song, and recording it all, understanding, preserving it all before it was gone, before it vanished - the history of a life she had not been allowed to have.

Agnes transformed under our very eyes. Her richly connected, communal life was now happening within. She had settled into the rhythms of her new life and had learned to navigate its terrain. She was no longer adrift in uncharted waters, she was home again. Her new home. Her new life. It wasn't perfect, it wasn't even good at times, but it was predictable, it was under her control, it was hers. And it was priceless.

And then the fire struck. It started with one stray spark and it turned her ordered world to chaos again. It took 6 men and a tractor to pull her out of the burning barn, flailing and crying, and leave her stranded in the middle of the frozen field, terrified, hunched over, with nothing but the paper-thin shelter of a yellow blanket over her head, a strangely sunny spot in the desolate, arctic blue of her life. Her flesh-engulfed right eye, half buried in the flattened skin of her lid, was too blind to see ashes of her world, but her left eye was open in wild bewilderment. Once again, she had lost everything that had sustained her. She was left with nothing but the immense sky above her and the illuminated life within her. And, once again, she embarked on the work of living without delay, without hesitation, still hopelessly in love with life even though it ebbed, and dimmed and dwindled. More so because it ebbed and dimmed and dwindled.

After a week spent in a makeshift shelter, she returned to her barn and her life's rhythms, and her daydreaming, and her night wakes, and her strange communions with Petunia. But she also returned to the increasing pain in her body, that responded to medication less and less and left her trembling more and more frequently, until she lay trembling most of the time.

Her one remaining pleasure was breakfast with Chris. It circulated a current of life and lightness in her dying world. He brought her muffins, and sweet feed, and red apples and fresh water trapped in big gulps of soggy bread, and she greeted him with a wag of her chopped tail, and a twitch in her feet, like a dog dreaming of running, and a pointing of her ears to catch every sound of him, and a widening of her nostrils to catch every scent, and a shimmering in her body, trying to get up but only flailing around until he laid his palm on her ribs and she relaxed, opening her mouth and letting out a small sigh that can only be described as a smile, an audible smile, a smile from the core of her being, a smile whose sound waves flowed throughout her body, unfurling the tenseness in her muscles, steadying her heartbeat, deepening her breathing. She consumed the nourishment of her breakfasts with Chris through all five senses.

But soon she stopped eating and drinking. The pain worsened. She was in intractable pain all the time. There was no cure and there was no relief left.

She greeted us in her usual way that morning, with the faint wagging and dim twitching and smile in her body, not because she was eager for breakfast - she refused all food and water now - but because she was happy for the visit, anticipating the rush of soul it would bring. But we weren't bringing breakfast or tidings of joy that morning. Instead, we ushered in the vet who was going to kill her. We prefer to call it "euthanasia", or "mercy killing" because that's what it was to us, but that's not what it was to her. As anguished as her life had become, she didn't want to leave it. She still wanted to stay awake and aware in the thick of her painful life. She still wanted to live her life to the last bitter breath.

And she fought and scraped to stay alive even as the needle found her heart, crushing muscle and cartilage in its way, even as the drug entered her blood stream, promising no more pain, but no more life either, rest but also oblivion, not something better than what she had, but nothingness. She wanted to live, and we forced her out of her life, erased her out of her precious existence kicking and screaming and flailing to her last breath. There is no remedy for that. No way to erase the memory of her last moments on earth, or to ease the reality that WE, whose mercy she had trusted, and whose presence she had greeted with joy as we ushered in her killer, are responsible. Only the grim consolation of sorrow as you continue to hold her body - hold it as the life ebbs away from it, hold it so that life can ebb away - and you behold her in all her earthly beauty, one last time and you can't imagine anything more beautiful than her wrinkles, and warts and sags, her clouding eyes, the curve of her neck, the rough texture of her cheek, the flesh-engulfed eye, the suffering foam gathering in the corner of her mouth, the stubbornly asymmetrical turn of her nose, the legs tapered in the fork of her hooves, trembling fainter and fainter. You see, one last time, the pure and radiant beauty of the self-aware life within, still glittering with conscious awareness. You see it in her moles and her warts and lumps and lesions, and in the roughness and anguish of her being, in the choppiness of her breath, and in the incomprehensible (to us) language that issued forth from her throat, like strange music, one last time.

And you tell her how beautiful she is, and how loved, as if the very expression of love will ease her passing. And, finally, you say Good bye, dearest friend. What you don't say is Forgive us... Not because you don't want forgiveness, but because you know that, even as you will never forgive yourself, she, unbearably, undeservedly, already has.

Outside the barn, Petunia stood trembling lightly, shivering in the heat of the Spring day as if cold from within, shuffling her feet, stepping and swaying in place as if postponing the beginning of a journey, and sniffing the air intently, as if trying to identify a strange scent. Or remember it.

***

After Agnes' death, Petunia declined rapidly, as if a sustaining force was suddenly sucked from her being. Today, 14 months later, Petunia is a different person. She moves differently, she acts differently, she looks differently - thin, frail, brittle, pale, nothing like the red haired, red eyed, red toothed, red hoofed force she used to be. She has a different expression, gentler, sadder, bent to the earth, her skin hanging on her weakened frame, creasing and folding onto itself, thinned to paper.

She has moved into Agnes' old hospice room where, on most days, she seems content to just rest in the deep straw and the quiet shade. But there are also days when, after she gets up with Chris' help, she teeters all over the sanctuary till 3 in the morning, moving with a new flutter in her body and a new joy in her voice, and greeting everyone she sees with the soft, tender, ecstatic "Wha! Ahwa! Ack!" sound that used to be reserved for Chris alone - mouth open wide in an alligator smile, the better to let out the soul change - and she does this with such sweetness, such benevolence, such generosity that it's hard to believe she is the same Petunia who sneered and scowled and spat at everyone she met.

Wha! Ahwa! Ack! Aaah Aah, Aaah Aah, Aah Ack, she says at the rowdy goats, even though they rush past her.

Aaah Aah, Aaah Aah, Ack at Beetle Bailey, the young pot bellied pig who follows her around like a satellite and who would have been rejected as a nuisance not too long ago.

Aaah Aah, Aaah Aah, Wha! Ahwa! Ack! Aah Aaaah at Juliette who barely acknowledges her presence.

Aaah Aah, Aaah Aah, Aah Wha! Ahwa! Ack! Aaaah at the slumbering pigs, as she boldly staggers straight into the middle of their house and stands there on rickety legs, swaying unsteadily from side to side like a bridge about to collapse.

Wha! Ahwa! Ack! Aaah Aah, Aaah Aah, Aah Aaaah even at her former rival, Iris, who gets up and walks towards her. But Petunia doesn't scurry away any more. She stands there and they touch noses and then they simply, amazingly, start tottering around the barn together, shoulder to shoulder, as Petunia caresses one and all with the benediction of her greeting - Aaah Aah, Aaah Aah, Aah Aaaah. And they walk together, tentatively, Iris, stepping gingerly in her shrunken frame, Petunia, advancing with short, sharp shrugs as if rearranging her skeleton with each new step. If there is any animosity left between them, it doesn't enter their movements. At least, not today. Today, they walk together, shoulder to shoulder, almost leaning on each other, like sisters, like old friends.

Round and round the barn they go, two old rivals strolling together with a mixture of pleasure at the gift of a beautiful day, and frustration at the creaks and complaints of their crumbling bodies, while young Beetle Bailey, who followed Petunia into the yard, wreaks havoc in the pig bran, running all over the hills of their sleeping bodies, jumping from peak to peak, rolling down the valleys, throwing himself at life with squeals of great delight.

Aaah Aah, Aaah Aah, Aah Aaaah, Wha! Ahwa! Ack! Aaah Aah, prophesies Petunia as she dodders out of the pig yard and back into the big world, teetering from beautiful boy to beautiful boy - Tolstoy the goat, Rowdy the sheep, Bumper the calf, even Lucas the wunderpig, who is now middle aged and softened in his ways, and fuller of sleep than adventure. Aaah Aah, Aaah Aah, Aah Aah, she rattles gently, throatily at them, almost like laughter.

Aah Aah, Wha! Ahwa! Ack! Aaah Aah, Aaah Aah at Misha the llama, and Hillary the ewe, and Clarence the turkey who cocks his head as if trying to remember a strangely familiar sound. Then she takes her prophesy farther, all the way to the compost hill where Justice the steer suns himself, and she kills herself trying to climb all the way to the top only to breathe the music of her benediction directly into his ear: Aaah Aah, Aaah Aah, Aah Aaaah, aaahh aah aah, mouth open in an utterance of love let loose, grinning ear to ear.

Aah Aah, Aah Aah Wha! Ahwa! Ack! Aaah Aah, Aaah Aah, Aah Ack Aah Aah to anyone who happens to be there, fluttering in their fur or skin or feathers, even Goosifer who is still voicing his unending protests, threats and ultimatums against imaginary trespassers.

Wha! Ahwa! Ack! Aaah Aah, Aaah Aah, she sings at everyone with a soul - a breathy, open-mouthed whisper issued forth straight from the core of her being, deeper, from the bottom of the world's soul, like a sigh, like a sob of delight at the astonishing world in its every glistening detail. There is such benevolence, such generosity in her greeting, and she exhausts herself to deliver it directly to the face of each and every living soul, even though she expects absolutely no response, acknowledgment or reward.

There is a quietness about her these days, a joy, an equanimity. She seems to hover just above her physical self, above the strife and the struggle of her body's laboring systems - the heaving heart, the enfeebled muscles, the frail bones, the dimming vision, the muffled hearing, the vanishing appetite - walking around with her hanging skin so loose around her diminished body that she seems to be carrying it around like an old garment about to be shed and release the new life within.

At the end of the day, she comes banging on the door, asking for Chris to come out. It's 3 in the morning and she waits patiently between knocks, sitting on her haunches like a dog. Finally, he gets up and almost sleepwalks out the door where she greets him with her Ack, ack ecstatic sound. He answers back in the best imitation he can muster, and she accepts it gladly, graciously, with a shimmer in her person that starts at the tip of her ears, flows down her back, tingles in her hooves, and electrifies her into moving. They both know it's time to go back to the barn and they walk together, Petunia clanking and creaking like a quaking metal shed, Chris stepping sleepily next to her, hand on her back to let her know he's still there. It takes them forever to cover the short distance between the house and the barn but they eventually get there and he helps her lie down which she does with difficulty, heaving under the burden of age.

As she quiets down and drifts off, her Wha! Ahwa! Ack! Aaah Aah, Aaah Aah, Aah Ack greeting gradually trails into a soft, steady hum that is so eerily reminiscent of Agnes' lullaby, that it stops your heart. Not because, in Petunia's song, you hear Agnes' voice through time. Not because, in it, you hear Petunia's own soul gushing its grace to the beings of all others, even her tormentors' kin. But because, in its music, you faintly, finally, hear your own silenced voice. Not the word-studded voice that covers the ocean of their souls with the straw of language, but the heartbeat of your own forgotten humanity that hears all sentient voices as equal, and knows beyond reason not only what Petunia's "inarticulate" uttering means - I am so many! - but what it dictates: Let live.

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