Why the Donkey Never Runs (Part 3)

The hill at the north end of Butterberry Farm was a long, steady ascent right up to ancient wire fence, behind which trees and shrubs grew wild. The ground was uneven and overgrown in parts, so far proving unfruitful for crops. At night, small rodents darted through the grass; hares would sometimes sneak in under the north fence. The hill appealed to only two farm animals: the nanny goat, who felt at home in the rough terrain; and a disenchanted young goose who found the solitude suitable to his recent, self-imposed exile.

Samson stood munching grass while Mr McGinley dug a row of holes in which to plant orange tree saplings. A panicked squeak pried Samson’s attention from his afternoon snack, and he turned to look down the hill. A small, curly tail attached to a squat, shiny rump, poked above the long grass. It zoomed one way, stopped, and then zoomed back. Zoom, stop. Zoom, stop. Around in a circle, then it disappeared below the grass. As it did, two floppy ears and a wet snout popped up in its place. Henry looked about and saw Samson up the hill. The piglet shone a smile and ran up. “Samson!” he said, before pausing to catch his breath. “Samson, I saw a mouse! It’s in the grass down there.”

“I’m sure there are lots of mice hiding there,” said Samson.

Henry noticed Mr McGinley working nearby. “Is Mr McGinley making trees?”

“The trees are already made,” said Samson. “Mr McGinley is giving them a place to live.”

“Huh.”

“This is a nice surprise, Henry. You don’t usually visit me in the afternoon.”

“I have a question for you.”

Samson and Henry looked at each other in silence. “Henry?” said Samson.

“Yes?”

“Are you going to ask me your question?”

“Oh, yes! Do you ever run?”

Samson froze. He blinked hard. “Run?”

“Yes. The cattle dog says you never run. Why don’t you run?”

Samson stared blankly at Henry, then lowered his head. He looked up again, down toward the dam. He shifted his feet. “Well, Henry… the cattle dog is right. I never run.” He paused, unsure what else to say.

“The horses run,” said Henry. “You’re like a horse—I’m sure you could run too.”

“It’s not as simple as that,” said Samson. “But thank you for the encouragement.”

“I’ll show you how I run,” said Henry, and he sprinted off through the grass, his head turned back over his shoulder to see if Samson was watching. He made it about ten metres before he tripped and flipped head over heels. After shaking himself off he trotted back to the donkey. “I fell over,” he said.

“Yes, I saw that. I understand how running works, but I just… can’t do it. Not since… You see, Henry, when I was young—about your age—something very bad happened.” Henry sat with his mouth open, staring up at the donkey. “I was down at the dam,” continued Samson, “splashing my hooves in the shallow water. My mother always told me not to play in the dam, but I didn’t listen. Anyway, I stepped further and further out, and the water came higher and higher up my legs, until… the ground disappeared, and I fell in.”

“Oh no!”

“I didn’t realise how dangerous the dam is—you must keep away from there, Henry. My mother was up by the farmhouse, just finished with the day’s work. She heard the splash. I yelled and struggled, and managed to hook one of my hooves into the mud behind me and drag myself back. I strained so hard I thought I would burst. When I turned myself around, I saw my mother galloping down the hill to save me, but… she fell.”

“I fall over a lot,” said Henry. “Was your mother all right?”

Samson bowed his head. “No. She wasn’t. You see, sometimes when tall animals fall over… they hurt themselves.”

“What happened?”

“She broke her leg. She was in a lot of pain. Mr McGinley… got Mr Farrow to come.”

“Mr Farrow?”

“Oh, uh, you know the man with the beard who visits the farm sometimes? He has the blue truck.”

“Blue truck… Hmm… Ah! Yes, I know,” said Henry. “He was here when the foal was born.”

“That’s right. But he doesn’t come here only when animals are born. Sometimes he comes here…” Samson stared at the ground.

“Samson?”

“He brought his stick.”

“Stick?”

“That long, awful stick. He touched it to my mother’s head… then that deafening noise.” The two friends stood in silence for a moment.

“I like sticks,” said Henry.

Samson gave a half-smile. “That’s good, Henry. But listen—” the donkey knelt and lowered his head to look Henry at eye level “—if you ever see Mr Farrow take out a long stick from his truck—you run away as fast as you can.” Henry shivered and stepped back. “Do you understand?” said Samson. Henry nodded.

 

© 2020 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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