Discover more from Exploding Unicorn by James Breakwell
Leaves and Blood
There was a lot of guilt. And a lot of blood. Adulting is harder than it looks.
The weekend started off well enough. We went to a polo match Friday night. We’re obviously the sort of posh people who root for other posh people riding around even posher horses. Full disclosure, I had to Google “posh” to make sure it meant what I thought it did and wasn’t slang for something else. The last time I heard it used unironically was in reference to the Spice Girls. As you’ve already guessed, we’re not fancy at all. I couldn’t begin to tell you the rules of polo, even though we’ve been to a match four or five different times. We used to go because it was twenty dollars per vehicle and our clown car of a van can hold half a city. Plus you can bring your own food and drinks. It’s tailgating, but with pretty horses instead of dudes in tight pants piling on top of each other. Sign me up. We stopped going when they increased the price per carload to forty dollars. Our commitment to high society has its limits. This time, though, my wife’s work footed the bill. They even got us VIP passes, which meant we got to park in the good lot. It was literally a horse pasture, complete with horse poop, but it was closer than all the other parking spots, so I’m not complaining. I mean, I am, but not as much as usual. Her company also provided carryout dinner from Olive Garden. I had a couple of beers and entirely too much pasta while watching horses chase a ball. I think that’s what they were doing, anyway. I can’t be sure because the fettuccine alfredo demanded my full attention.
At halftime, a plane flew over and dropped bags of candy with parachutes. Our girls each secured a bag and even captured an extra one for the sister who was at a friend’s birthday dinner instead of hanging out with us. We’ve become the second best option for all of our children in nearly every circumstance. The night couldn’t possibly have gone better. I dropped my guard. I planned to dedicate the next day to yard work and pet grooming, but all of that could wait. I went to bed in such a good mood that I didn’t even set my alarm.
I awoke to yelling.
“The kids are supposed to be at cross country!” Lola shouted.
I knew that—at one point. They had to be at the school at 6:45 a.m. to catch the bus to their distant meet. Dropping them off had been item number one on my long list of things to do Saturday before it somehow disappeared from my mental schedule entirely. We had talked about it on the ride home from the polo match. It was why my eleven-year-old, Mae, had gone to a birthday dinner instead of a birthday sleepover. She had to be home so she could be up early to run. Being happy at the polo match made me forget to be constantly paranoid that I was neglecting to take someone somewhere, and I paid for it dearly. I didn’t set my alarm. Neither did Mae. Lola’s alarm went off at 5:00 a.m., but she shut it off because it was the weekend and she didn’t have to go to work. My thirteen-year-old, Betsy, heard her alarm but deactivated it without waking up like a pro. Nobody actually got out of bed until after the kids were supposed to be at the school. It was 6:55 a.m. We were already ten minutes late.
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Lola had her shoes on and was out our bedroom door before she’d even finished yelling. The cross country meet was a huge event that was over an hour away and would take up half the day. Naturally, Lola and I both planned to skip it. We were sure the girls could give us an adequate recap when they got back home. If we missed the bus, we’d have to take them to the meet ourselves and then stay the whole time to bring them back at the end. It was a fate worse than death. Lola sped across town at warp nine.
Meanwhile, I frantically called an adult. I helped coach the team a few years ago. I should put “coach” in quotation marks because my only job was to jog with the slow group and plead with them to actually run while making sure no one got run over or abducted. No one died or disappeared on my watch, so I guess I was successful. I quit after my first season, never to return. The one positive for my brief tenure was that I still had the other coaches’ phone numbers. I called one and begged him to hold the bus. Lola arrived to find a parking lot empty save for a bus full of kids staring out at her. Betsy and Mae did the walk of shame to the bus as Lola pulled away. The day was off to a great start, and no one was even bleeding yet. Things would get worse.
With the kids out of the house, I began my yard work in earnest. I don’t know what it says about me that I remembered the plants and forgot about the kids. Taming the bushes went well enough. Unlike everything else I had to trim that day, they didn’t fight back. I have rows of privets to provide our disaster of a backyard with some degree of privacy. You can’t look down on me for what you can’t see. That’s a lie. I’m sure our yard looks even worse in our neighbors’ imaginations. The bushes are thriving, mainly because the only thing you need to do to make them grow is occasionally try to kill them. The more you cut them down, the stronger they come back. On one side of the yard, the privets are close to twenty feet tall. I gave up on trimming the tops of those. If they want to touch the sky, I can’t stop them. It’s not like I own a ladder. Well, I do, but it’s all the way in the basement. Instead, I trimmed the sides by holding electric hedge clippers above my head with one arm as far as I could reach and swinging it back and forth. Apparently I was angling to write another newsletter from the hospital. Somehow, I managed to avoid maiming myself and got the bushes in decent shape. That gave the neighbors a better view of my unkempt pets. Taking care of them was stage two. Doing chores creates more chores. The only end is death, and even then, just for you. Somebody has to mow the cemetery.
It was time to pin the pig. I previously tried all sorts of tricks and schemes to trim Gilly’s hooves without traumatizing her, including attempts that may or may not have involved alcohol for one or both of us. All of that led to naught. I was finally able to get a traveling professional mini pig hoof groomer to stop by last year as he made his rounds across the Midwest. I expected him to use preternatural pig whispering techniques to lull Gilly into a passive state of swine zen. Instead, he flipped her upside down and pinned her with his legs while she squealed like she was dying. She was in no actual pain at any point in the process. She’s just a whiner. There’s a lot of that going around in my house. When I realized the secret to successful hoof trimming was nothing but brute force, I decided to handle it myself from then on. That’s not true. I’d outsource it again in a second if the pig groomer responded to my messages, but he checks his inbox once every six months. Gilly’s hooves grow much faster than that. Now that the bushes had been beaten into submission, the neighbors could once again see that her feet were in a state of neglect. Our pigs are a local tourist attraction. People I’ve never seen before pull over their cars when I’m walking down the street to ask me if it’s okay if they toss vegetables to the pigs. I didn’t want anyone calling animal services. I pulled out my hoof shears and got to work.
I walked into the yard holding an apple and called Gilly’s name. Like a good pig, she came over, trusting me completely. Not really. To her, I’m nothing more than a mobile food dispenser. When she got close, I flipped her on her back and held her between my legs. She squealed like I was torturing her. I worked quickly to groom her hooves. I bought a forty-dollar pair I found by googling “sharpest hoof shears.” Surely the algorithm wouldn’t lie to me. The new shears cut through her hooves a little too easily. I nicked the quick on two different toes, leading to more than a few red droplets. Apparently the saying “bleeding like a stuck pig” is actually based on something. Now that I think about it, I hope that’s really a saying other people use. I grew up repeating the expression “slicker than a pig on ice” before I realized that it wasn’t so much a common colloquialism as my dad’s practical experience from raising hogs. In my defense, I wouldn’t have cut Gilly so many times if she wasn’t actively trying to kick my face off. Other than in those two spots, I didn’t cause her any actual pain. Not that any bystanders would know that. Usually, I trim her hooves indoors to shelter my neighbors from the sounds of her faking her own death. This time, I did it outside so I wouldn’t have to sweep up a bunch of tiny hoof bits. That was a mistake. It was the middle of the day, and people were out and about at local businesses. I’m sure at least a few called the police about a murder in progress. Thankfully, she was so loud that her sound echoed in all directions. It would have taken the fuzz hours to figure out our exact location. I finished as quickly as I could. When I let her go, my legs were shaking. I don’t need a gym membership after all. I can just groom her hooves once a week.
Next, it was the dog’s turn. I used to hire a groomer for him, too. Unfortunately, after the covid shutdowns and subsequent reopenings, appointments were booked out for six months. Niko’s fur would be out of control by then. Without a DNA test, you wouldn’t even be able to tell his species. My first guess would be tiny yak. I ended up buying a pair of clippers from Amazon and doing it myself. It’s a terrible process for me and the dog. He’s basically a sheep in tiny wolf clothing. He doesn’t shed, which means his fur stays on him until I physically cut it off. A few times a year, I shear him down to the skin, which makes him briefly hygienic again. It also makes him very cold, so I have to time it right. I need to give him his buzz cut so that his hair grows back by the coldest part of the year but doesn’t achieve maximum grossness until the start of spring. With the bushes trimmed, my unsightly dog was fully visible to the outside world. He needed an emergency haircut. I stuck him in a harness on a card table in the yard and got to work. I sheared him for a solid hour. That’s a daunting number when you consider he only has two square feet of surface area and weighs all of twelve pounds. He just has a lot of nooks and crannies. He also resisted every step of the way. It was like trying to give a haircut to a very furry fish. On top of that, he also has weird warts hidden in his hair that I have to trim around. I nicked a few. Unfortunately, they also contain approximately all of his blood. Afterwards, we both needed a bath. I’d say he needed a transfusion, too, but the wounds were superficial, and he was perfectly fine. Besides, he’s now partially blind, partially deaf, and fully apathetic. The more times he pees in my house, the more convinced I am that he’s going to live forever. Whatever. He can be the next owner’s problem. My last will and testament will specify that he goes with the house.
It was a great weekend with a rough start and a gory middle, but the blood washed off and the animals and bushes look great. Betsy and Mae made it home, too, even if I picked them up from the school a little late.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Catch you next time.