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BTW: The photo art and prose included in any given post are separate creations having nothing to do with each other. Duality and such …
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He thought of the preacher who rode his circuit on an ass because, he said, ‘it worked for Jesus’. He’d soon changed that to ‘it reminds people of Jesus’ since it wasn’t working at all as a reliable mode of transportation. But it clearly reminded somebody that Jesus rode it into the city where he would be crucified because, at a particularly infamous stage of one particular journey, he was robbed, beaten, and murdered for the $13.69 he’d collected at the last town. Thought of him, not that he’d actually known him. So far as he knew, no one did; it was just a story told by traveling preachers to remind each other not to get too sanctimonious. Thought of him now, he guessed, because he was leading his lame horse into his next town.
He’d been assigned six churches in six towns by the Synod. Each town was somewhere between three and six days ride if he stayed to a set route, plus he always stayed over a day to meet parishioners, perform weddings or funerals, and generally have a breather. The entire circuit at that rate took a little over three weeks, so each church got services on whichever day of the week he happened to get there. In this case he was getting to town late Monday evening, so services would be Tuesday morning, 9 a.m. sharp.
He’d been riding his mare into four years. He got her young, but meek. She was always meek, so she was always easy to ride; never fast, but always easy. And she was on the small side, some even called her fragile. But he figured he wasn’t riding her hard anyway, and he liked her gentleness. “At least,” one other preacher told him when he got her, “You’re not riding an ass.”
Indeed, he’d found her to be a wonderful traveling companion; never got spooked, even in thunderstorms, and seemed to bond to him quickly. Light brown in color with lots of white bands, including one down her nose, and he called her Penelope. He liked to sing hymns to himself as he traveled alone and she actually seemed to enjoy that; actually seemed to step a little higher and a little livelier, though he suspected it was his imagination. But also indeed, that fragility meant she tired on longer rides, and she often began favoring a leg, as though one or more of her fetlocks were terribly sore. He carried with him an ointment an old cowboy told him about, and every night he would wrap each fetlock with a dab of it and that seemed to help. If she seemed particularly worn down, he’d stop early; give her a chance to rest. Sometimes he even took an extra day. Lately, though, that seemed to be the case more often, and that little over three weeks to make the circuit had grown to right at five. That, he was pretty sure, would annoy the churches and eventually the Synod but nobody had said anything yet. On this day he knew he should stop, but he was so close to town. Maybe just another hour would see him there, so he kept going. Just a quarter mile or so outside town, Penelope whinnied loudly and stopped using her right front hoof. He quick jumped off, let her rest a few minutes, then led her the rest of the way on foot, each step clearly painful. When they reached the stable there at the edge of town the stableman took one look at her and said, “Well, shit.”
They spent time looking her over and wrapped each fetlock, the right front in particular, and the stableman said he’d look after her and try to get her healed up. Nothing else he could do, the Preacher took his saddlebags which contained his few clothes, his bible, his notebook in which he scribbled sermons, and his sketchpads and pencils, and headed off to the Widow Roxanne’s boarding house where he always stayed. He passed the jail on the way, noticed the inmate inside watching him, heard carpenters building something behind it. Oh, please not a scaffold, he thought. He tried to remember if there’d been a trial or something last time he’d been through but was too upset over Penelope to think. On the one hand, he hated hangings and hoped to be out of town before then. But on the other hand, hangings always brought more people to town which swelled the folks he could preach to, which also filled the collection plate.
“Get me out of this, preacher?” the inmate called to him.
He called back after a couple beats, “Trust in the Lord, my son.” It was a cliché response but was the best he come up with as preoccupied as he was.
Another few beats and the inmate called, “He ain’t done me no damn good and I ain’t your damn son you worthless damn son of a bitch.”
Seemed to fit his mood.
The Widow Roxanne saw him coming up the street and met him on the porch; he always wired the next town when he left the last, so she knew he was coming. “I saved you a room, but t’weren’t easy,” she said. “Hanging tomorrow”.
He put his saddlebags down, smiled warmly and said, “I so appreciate that, ma’am, I sure do. Been lots happening, I guess”.
She said, “That Kyle kid was always horse thiefin’; shot a man and got caught this time. Open and shut case, sentence passed. Hanging Noon tomorrow”.
He nodded. “Can we still do services tomorrow.”
“Word’s been spread,” she said, “9 a.m. sharp. C’mon inside and rest yourself; supper in a couple hours.”
It was a good pot roast when it came and he shared it with six other women and men staying that night there at the boarding house, but he found he wasn’t all that hungry. He brought out his sketchpad and made portraits of some of the other guests, delighting each of them. He never charged anything when he sketched, but he’d found it usually came back to him through the collection plate, which he knew would be bursting the next day. He tossed and turned most of the night, as he often did sleeping indoors. He’d thought it because he was so accustomed to sleeping outside, but as he lay there it dawned on him it was because he missed being close to Penelope. He rose and dressed before the sun was much above the horizon, didn’t wait for breakfast, went straight for the stables. True to his word, the stableman seemed to have spent the night there, was gently rubbing Penelope’s sore fetlock, but when he looked up and saw the Preacher his expression was sorrowful and grim.
“Well,” he said, “Have a look.”
He went around and into the stall and saw Penelope holding her right front hoof off the ground and the fetlock swollen and inflamed.
Stableman said, “I think you knew when you brought her in.”
Preacher nodded. “I knew when it happened. It’d been coming on, I guess, I just didn’t want to think about it.”
“Yeah”, stableman said, “She’s a sweet little thing, I can see why you wouldn’t.”
They were quiet a moment, Penelope watching him forlornly with her deep, brown eyes.
Stableman said, “I guess you know what has to happen.”
Preacher said. “Yep.
Stableman said, “Want me to take care of it for you? You can go on off to the church, get ready for services.”
Preacher said, “I don’t carry the instrument, so I guess you’ll have to. But no, I don’t want her to be alone.”
Stableman nodded like he knew exactly. “We’ll lead her out back, away from the other animals. I’ll be right back.”
He went off to get what he needed, and the Preacher affectionately stroked his Penelope’s nose. He put his forehead against her, closed his eyes. He felt himself building agendas of all the little logistical items that would have to be done next, and he felt himself building them up like sandbags holding back a flood. Extra chairs would have to be had. Were there enough songbooks? He had to tell somebody this and he had to tell somebody that and, mostly, he had to figure out a sermon.
He tightened his agenda as he heard the stableman shuffling towards him, carrying the instrument, a round clicking into its chamber, a flood on the other side.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.