Old Friends

Rebecca Weil

He was there all night in his gray donkey self, standing beside the covered body of his friend while the snow fell. Coyotes yipped from the hills but stayed back. Deer came through, and shied away, leaving only their startle tracks in the snow. Each must have smelled the warmth of new death on the winter winds. 

In the morning, the still body of the horse was circled by snowflakes and small donkey hoofprints. With the earliest light, the donkey began to bray. He brayed throughout the morningturning the morning inside out with his callsand then he kept going as if he could never stop, building out the day with an aching sound. 

While the donkey and I wait for the old horse to be buried in a deep hole beside the apple tree, the donkey’s sound gives shape to what I am feeling; a long hollow shape that carries the resonance of loss on the wind. 

I cannot know what the donkey is truly feeling, but it would be my human failing to say that his braying has no emotion, no missing, no long friendship lost. I do not have a word for thiswhen an old donkey stands all night in the snow beside the dead body of his horse friendexcept perhaps to look to the origin of the word bray from the Old French of braire: “to cry.” Silent now, we stand shoulder to shoulder as the earth fills in the hole.

Rebecca Reynolds Weil is the author of the award-winning book Bring Me the Ocean, featured by NPR’s All Things Considered and USA Today, and translated into Japanese. Weil has returned to creative writing after working in public health research. Recent work has been published in River Teeth’s Beautiful Things and The Journal of Wild Culture. She draws on connections with the land, swamps, barns and more-than-human and family life of Upstate New York.

Artwork: “Wait It Out” by K.G. Ricci

Cut / paste paper collage

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