I started the day by driving an iced corpse across the river.
Let me backtrack a bit. Id been working in Durham all the previous day and didnt get home until about 10 p.m. I rewarded the cats for having come in on their own; then I changed shoes, gathered the eggs, checked for possums, closed the coop, grabbed the flashlight, and headed out to the barn to lock the goats in for the night. By now theyre pretty much trained to return to the paddock on their own at sunset, so I usually just have to close the gate.
All seemed well as I moved through the herd of sleepy goats with Tobey, their guardian dog, moving along beside me. But then, just inside the gate, I saw Lula lying on her side and clearly dead.
Lula was one of our original two does. Shed consistently given birth to healthy twins and had proven to be an excellent mother. Shed been a curious and affectionate girl from the start; and had aged into an exceptionally patient and gentle retired granny. She was a good goat.
I spent a short time with Lula there in the dark, my hand on her motionless side as the other goats quietly went about their business of bedding down for the night. Animals can sometimes seem unsentimental. But Im certain theyd already said their goodbyes. Now they were moving on, living in the moment, and taking care of the tasks at hand which is exactly what I had to do.
For the past several years weve taken our deceased goats to a local taxidermist to have them skinned and their hides tanned. He also handles the disposal of the carcass saving me the task of digging a large hole in rocky soil. Angora goats are known for their lustrous fleece. And a properly tanned Angora hide can be a prized possession.
But time, as they say, is of the essence. As soon as an animal dies, its a bit of a race against both time and temperature.
Luckily it was a cool night and Lula seemed to have died fairly recently; since she was inside the paddock, I assumed it had been after sunset. Still, I didnt know how long skinning would remain a viable option. Even though it was late I phoned the taxidermist and, as expected, got his answering machine. I left a message. But I knew we were on our own until morning. In the meantime, something had to be done.
We rolled Lulas body onto a tarp and placed her in the bed of my truck. I then drove the 15 or so minutes to the nearest grocery store. The parking lot was practically deserted. Werent they open all night? I squinted at the sign on the door. Nope, only until midnight. But Id just made it in time.
I didnt appreciate the cashiers dubious attitude. What was so strange about an anxious middle-aged man rushing into an almost-empty grocery store just before closing on a Tuesday night to buy eight large bags of ice? He looked as if he expected some sort of an explanation, but I didnt offer one. Along with my receipt came an instant coupon for Butterball turkey meatballs. He read it aloud to me wasting my precious time and then inferred, You dont want it, do you?
Of course I do, I said. But I didnt. I didnt want it.
Back home in the garage, I packed the ice under, around, and over Lulas body and then covered her with a large blanket. It seemed both a comforting and a perverse gesture: covering her carefully with a blanket. I was essentially tucking her in for the night, but the blanket was to hold in the cold.
Derrick Ivey is an actor, director, designer, and gentleman farmer who lives in Chatham County.