Bunker is Dead
One of the most unfortunate side-effects of having many animals is you tend not to go too long without one dying on you, while one of the most unfortunate side-effects of my parents going on holiday (and leaving me to keep an eye on my grandmother) was that one of these many animals was always fated to die, and not just die, but die in a spectacular, awkward, or extremely costly fashion. (I would like to note the exception of my cat, Rum Tum Tugger, who must have been buried five times, and would always miraculously reappear when I came home, but Rum is destined for a story all her own). With all of this having been said, it should have been no surprise that Bunker died when I had flown down to mind the ‘homestead.’
From the moment I walked outside that sweltering July morning, hot air hitting me like a sonic blast at seven o’clock in the morning, I knew something was amiss. Perhaps it was the dogs, noses up sniffing the air in excitement, or maybe it was the vultures I spotted when my eyes looked in the direction their twitching noses were pointing, but something was dead. Looking back, I can feel the air putrefying around me, and I can almost smell the rotting corpse. Maybe that’s how it really was, or maybe it’s just my imagination embellishing the moment, but either way, as it turns out, Bunker was dead.
I can remember exactly how old Bunker was because his birth certificate had the same numbers typed in the same order as mine. 1 9 7 6. When I was much younger, I used to look at all of the horses’ papers, coming up with similarities between myself and them, something to give any of us a close bond. Bunker, having chosen to enter the world just a few months ahead of me, was nominated to have an even closer bond with me than my own horse, Thunder (Bless Thunder, I loved him dearly, but he was not the sharpest crayon in the box of Crayola).
Bunker and I were both bicentennial babies—well, me a human baby, whilst Bunker was a foal. I was twenty-two at the time of his passing, home from my first job after I graduated from university, feeling all adult and responsible—and braced for the inevitable calamity which would be launched upon me while my parents were watching humpback whales.
I put the dogs away and moved through the thick, humid air towards the circling vultures. And there he was, poor Bunker, lying in the pasture, already starting to swell in the heat. It will be alright, I told myself. I will not get hysterical, and I will handle this. Now, who buried our other horses when they died? Keith, oh no, he is out of town. The Camps? They might have a backhoe. Unfortunately, the Camps were out of town too, as was the horse vet, so I rang the small animal vet and asked his advice.
“You will have to ring the sheriff’s department. They will handle it.” I might add, he answered with some glee, which I am assuming was down to the fact that he would not have to deal with the drama that surrounded the death of any of our animals.
So, ring them I did and was assured by a perky, drawling receptionist (who I am fairly certain managed to fit honey, sweetie, dear, and darlin’ all in one sentence) they would be with me as soon as they were free. I did not ponder too long on exactly who they might be, but instead patted myself on the back for my great adulting skills and went to tell my grandmother the bad news.
Thirty minutes later (and what felt like 20 degrees hotter), the patrol car pulled up. I guided him around to the back of the house and he stopped, opened his door and heaved himself out.
Twenty years later and he is still filed in my memory with the other two most famous sheriffs from the south: the first being the sheriff from one of my favourite James Bond’s, Live and Let Die. (Though I would like to clarify that Sean Connery is my favourite Bond I, however, found myself drawn in by the voodoo and the 7 Up man) and the second being a very similar stereotype from Smokey and the Bandit. Well, as it turns out, either they were not a stereotype, or they were both based on the man who now stood before me. I took him in as I walked towards him, hand extended. Sweat dripped out from under his wide-brimmed hat. He pulled out a red bandana and wiped the back of his neck before offering me his ample, sweaty paw to shake. He left on his large aviator glasses, and I am fairly certain this is just an embellishment of my overactive imagination, that he had a piece of straw hanging out of his mouth, which he chewed on like a cow chews on cud.
“Hello,” I said. “I am Kathryn. Thank you so much for coming out. We have friends who usually do this for us…”
He cut me off. “The backhoe’ll be here soon. Now I’ll need the death certificate.” (For those of you not from the South, that is pronounced, ‘Sir- Tif- Kit.’ Most Southern words tend to get drawn out, but this is one of those rare exceptions.)
“Well,” I responded, “I can assure you he’s dead. I did not hire the vultures.” I pointed in the direction of poor Bunker’s corpse, sad that he died, but still cursing him for dying on the hottest day ever registered in Mississippi.
The Sheriff considered me for a few minutes, then crossed his arms, leaned on his squad car, spit out of the right side of his mouth, then said, “Well, I gotta have me a death certificate, fore we can bury him.”
My nostrils flared as I witnessed bureaucracy in action. Then I remembered, you win more flies with honey, and I shrank into myself a bit, batted my lashes and switched on my native tongue, “Can’t I just get it to you when our horse vet is back? It’s sooo hot—and it is just me here.” I almost got carried away and said little ole me, but caught myself just in time. Maybe that would have actually helped because, much to my surprise, he was immune to my charms, or he had already sussed that I was not the helpless little lady I was pretending to be.
“Well, ma’am, I sure am sorry—but that’s the law. What kinda PO-lice would I be if I went around bending the rules for every pretty little thing that I met?”
My nostrils flared again (this time accompanied by my left eyebrow cocking itself in dismay). I was about to try and plead my case again when we were interrupted by the backhoe noisily making its way up the gravelled driveway. Bubba (I named him that) pulled up and stopped, assessing the situation—before slowly lowering his sweaty mass from the backhoe. He came and stood beside the sheriff, leaning on the patrol car next to his buddy and assuming the exact same stance.
I put out my hand and he ignored it. The sheriff broke the silence, “This little lady needs a horse buried and she ain’t got no death certificate.”
Bubba shrugged and looked at me as if I had just shot his wife (or his dog, whichever he liked more). I really could not blame him, I would not like to have driven that contraption, with no air-conditioning, down roads that could melt a layer of skin off bare feet.
I racked my brain for a solution—knowing I had to think quickly before they both left. Then I had it, I would call the dog vet back and plead—and if that did not work, I would call the vet’s wife. She would listen. So, I told them to give me a few minutes and I would be back with a death certificate. I ran to the house, praying I could get the dog vet to help me. I rang, and he answered. I explained the situation and he said he would sort it… he just needed my fax number. So, there I stood, awaiting the fax, which I grabbed and practically forced from the machine, running outside, waving it at the Sheriff in triumph. He looked at it, mulled it over while he chewed on his piece of straw, looked at ‘Bubba’ and relented, “Go on. Bury him.”
He handed the piece of paper back to me and I smiled triumphantly before I remembered my manners and offered to make them both a nice tall glass of iced tea. I turned towards the house and was halfway there when I looked at the piece of paper in my hand. There was no letterhead, no signature, just scrawled, in the messy writing indicative of all medical professionals, the words, Bunker is dead.