An Excerpt from “He Comes to Feed the Horses”

Mary Terrier

Sometime in the murky months you were dying, horses moved into the small, unshaded lot on the corner and spent all day curling and uncurling their penises. Sweat growing under their skin the way ocean water reaches past the wave to wet the sand from below ground. The first time I noticed the horses they were running the small perimeter of the yard. They stopped together to piss. I was helping the weekend hospice nurse carry in your diapers, packaged into giant bricks.

Other people said, Dignified. They said, At peace with the inevitability of death. Meaning you didn’t beg, didn’t confess any fear or hesitation. You went quietly. When I asked you about being afraid, I think you pretended you couldn’t hear. I try to nod meaningfully when people say, I’m amazed, I’m moved. With what grace Henry passed. I know I can’t say, If he gave a shit for me, shouldn’t he have wanted to stay?

Shouldn’t you have wanted to stay?

I think of you trying to find the straw, pursing your lips in the air like a baby searching for the nipple. What symmetry: again the inability to eat or shit without assistance. Dying made a spectacle of you. I cut your hair in bed and lost big snips behind your back. The nurse found them when she turned you over during your bath. You smiled when she lifted your arm and brought her washcloth under your pit. I didn’t want to share your body with anyone. The doctor taking the purple mollusk of your dick from between your legs to put the catheter in.

At some point I became mechanical: adjusting pillows, calling the night nurse, crushing morphine and wetting it into a paste. Could you breathe with the thick pill fuzz spread across your tongue? Your tongue lifting and twisting in your open mouth when I touched your lip with my finger, a spoon, a straw. The catheter bag full of your piss that I measured in a Pyrex cup each day, turned from dark yellow to pink froth, like a melted snow cone. The doctor said to seek your comfort above all else. On the shelf above your bed, I kept the bright gathering of pill bottles. There was a series of steps to follow. I didn’t think about the fact that those steps were followed to deliver you, as well as we could, to that other place.

By the time I was desperate enough to call hospice, you were already pretty far gone. Eyes closed, you answered every woman’s voice with Yes, love, so the nurses and counselors believed all kinds of things.

Did you build this place, Mr. Sellers?

Have you had any family here visiting?

How are we feeling today? Any nausea or pain? You doing OK?

—Yes, love.

—All right, that’s good, Mr. Sellers.

The nurses joked that you must have always been a great husband. Was that his response to everything? I need to get me one like him! I said something about getting one who would last a little longer, a newer model with the glitches worked out, and Molly, the weekend nurse, didn’t laugh. Mid-June you stopped responding; it was July when I saw you last.

. . .

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