When the wild-eyed white palomino died, the one that ran free among the Yaupon Holly, little Anne placed a magnolia, the largest she could pluck, on his mane.
After a summer, Anne returned to his bones, wearing her palmetto angel wings and ivory. dress from the Christmas pageant the winter. before. She collected the last of his spine, and placed it on the pinecone alter of the abandoned church that had existed on this barrier island full of salt marshes for as long as she had played here.
A synsacrum from a golden hawk of two summers past laid nearby. And just next to it, on the dusty seat of the misericord, was the paper mache donkey’s head she made in crafts. class.
The light came through the stain glass windows. red and bloody, exaggerating every feature of Christ’s last walk—his wounds, thorny crown, his every tear, shined sanguine rivulets. The faithful on the mount dined on bleeding bread and raw fish guts that seemed suspended in the crepuscular dim. Inside all this, the sunshine became cardinal moonlight.
From the missing door, Anne heard a monstrous braying, a demonic parody of her every screaming nightmare. From the fog outside, a Sicilian donkey, mangy, muddy, covered in briars, his ears twitching like errant wings thrust himself into her brimstone light.
He stumbled haltingly, but not out of lameness. It was as if an ancient crooked will was coming to the fore, as if he was trying to dance on a thin wire suspended above the earth.
Anne remembered the mainland stories she heard. A circus had gone bankrupt and instead of selling the animals to a zoo they abandoned all their flock to this small, but still adequate island, allowing them the chance to run and live wild and free.
Anne never remembered, in all her visits, ever seeing any large bones or hearing any sounds that resembled roaring lions, trumpeting elephants, gibbering monkeys or even whinnying zebras- not even a black and white flash prancing through the thickening forest green.
Maybe, she, thought this circus was not one of wild beast? Maybe it was a big top full of once simple beautiful, domesticated beasts? Beast in pleasant childhood dreams? Maybe this braying, hurting, lonely donkey was the last of them?
The donkey reared and then charged Anne. He knocked her down, hurting her left shoulder, shaking off her wings.
He charged her again, hard with his head. Anne felt herself bruise. She heard her back crack a little. It was as if the creature was trying to ram every bit of misery and anger into her brain.
She began to worry, lose hope a little bit. Then, she remembered the inland stories. And suddenly knew his truth.
“Don’t worry, my friend. I understand”, she gently said to the beast.
He seemed surprised at the sound of her voice. He knew it from long ago. The words of a kind master.
The donkey slowly moved toward her. Its ears still shaking with fury.
Wincing, Anne got up and faced the beast.
He shuffled back and forth, his hoofs stomping, trying to root himself in the ground for another charge.
Anne stumbled back, falling down, striking the misericord, the paper mache donkey head falling into her lap.
She stood up, faced the beast again, this time holding the mache donkey head in both her hands.
The donkey did not charge. He was looking at the donkey head, the palmetto wings, now completely disassembled— all the scattered palmetto fronds over the dusty church floor in front of him.
He knew the meaning of this blessing planted over two thousand years ago, in the very soul of his breed- when the gates of Jerusalem swung open and the people shouted Hallelujahs to him and the gentle, loving man he carried on his back.
He felt no choice but to kneel. Like the man, the weight and joy of her were enough for him to bear.
Anne climbed onto his back, held his mane tight, and they trodded slowly back to the shore and her boat swaying gently in the ebb tide.
“You’ve done well, my faithful friend,” she called to him as she paddled away.
For twenty summers she would come back alone, just to visit. On the 21st summer she came back with a baby carriage and her blessing wrapped inside. All three would spend the day sitting under the shade of Yaupon Hollys taking in the joyous sun.