(via Henry's phone - Tamara's Wedding Cake - that I decorated - the top two tiers are chocolate with raspberry filling, the bottom tier is toasted coconut with cream cheese icing -on top are glass hummingbirds -my gumpaste ones did NOT work out- the outside is buttercream not fondant - didn't I get that smooth? And those are NAVY flowers and ribbon with brown branches the bride requested)
I’d just finished the first wedding cake I’d ever decorated and was on flying on a mixture of buttercream and adrenaline. Being my first time it took me quite a while but I was surprised to look up and find it had actually been nine hours. The clock read 7:30 PM and I had to pick up Henry two towns away in Burlington. Bursting with pride I flew down the I-5. I had worried for days it would look homemade. I didn’t want the bride, Tamara, to be disappointed on her day. Pish-posh I thought. It looked amazing, even if she did want navy flowers. Looking for a job as always, I had answered a craigslist ad for a “very part-time cake decorator”. Without much hope of getting it I sent off a picture of Phoebe’s birthday cake and some of my Easter cookies and held my breath. To my surprise, Denise Ward called me and said she wanted to meet. “You see, I bought this business and well, I love to bake and I’m really good at baking, but I realized pretty quickly I don’t like to decorate and I’m not good at it either. To me it’s all about the taste.” She’d said. I’d told her I don’t even like cake, to me it’s all about how it looks and the icing. We seemed to go together like peas and carrots. We started small with some birthday cakes and I was supposed to observe this cake while the previous owner decorated. But she’d decided to go out of town for the holidays and I was up to bat.
I realized I was happy. The kind of happy deep inside where no matter what you know it’s going to be ok. Money of course has been a constant worry for just about everyone in the last few years, but it doesn’t define us. I’ve been thinking lately that if things don’t turn around some how, like if the honey doesn’t take off or Tom isn’t able to join me, I might have to sell the farm. Which is a hard thought to have, but as I zoomed past Lake Samish I thought – it’s just a house, we’ll make a home wherever we are.
I am going to a tradeshow in January and who knows, it could turn things around, but for now. I made a wedding cake and didn’t botch it.
In the morning, sipping coffee I was still basking in the afterglow of my wedding cake. I chatted with Awesomez who’d had to seek refuge at June’s house in the California storms. “You know, it hasn’t rained a drop since you left. It’s almost 50 degrees and blue skies here.” I said checking the thermometer on the porch.
“Are you bragging?” She queried.
“Uhhhh, yeah. I guess I am”. I snickered. She told me about the floods, the troubles maneuvering from Palm Springs where her dad lives to LAX, the canceled flights, the closed roads, broken windshield wipers, the heat in her dad’s car being on the fritz and the spare panties June had ready for wayward travelers.
“Nothing so dramatic going on here,” I said hanging up. Henry and I had to get the house picked up. The kitchen was a mess from me practicing navy blue royal icing flowers with yellow centers. I’d made hundreds of them. Just in case. I smiled to my self as I thought back on the day before. - I’d been so worried and my tummy had been bothering me. Henry had told me to lie down on the sofa while he made my practice icing. I was nervous and couldn’t relax so I came in the kitchen to check on him.
He looked over his shoulder when I came in the room hunched over in pain. “Look, I’m not asking you I’m telling you to go back in there and lie down.” I must have looked weak and vulnerable because he pounced on me like a camel on a bug. “I’ll be in in a minute now go.” I went. Laughing, it was like hearing my mother moving to the next generation through me and on to Henry. He came in and brought me a hot water bottle, some Advil™ a cup of tea and turned on “Amazing Wedding Cakes” - for educational purposes.
We finished cleaning the kitchen, vacuumed the hallway, I ordered a cushion for the sofa that had been ripped mysteriously and we headed to town to meet my boss, the other Denise.
“I’m not touching the cake, she might stab me in the face if I do anything wrong,” Henry told the other Denise, Denise Ward of Seamless Cakes. She laughed and Henry held the door open. The drive to the wedding was uneventful. We went slowly and Henry sat in the back monitoring any movement. We arrived at the Homestead House in Lynden and were shown the cake table. We placed the cake, took a few pictures and snuck out the door just in time to hear the bride exclaim, “There’s my cake! Let’s go look at it!” as she was ushered out of the room to finish taking pictures.
No sooner had Henry and the other Denise and me jumped in the car than my phone rang. I didn’t want to talk to anyone – I wanted to enjoy our moment, and I didn’t recognize the number so I almost put it back in my purse but it had the Deming/Acme/Mosquito Lake Road prefix so I answered it.
“Denise?” A frantic voice called out.
“Yes,” I answered trying to figure out who was calling me.
“It’s Norton, he’s been attacked. I’m so sorry! I was out walking the dogs and Helix went after him and got him on the nose and I want to make this right and I’m so sorry!” She was almost hysterical. It took me a moment to figure out it was Amber my tenant who lives in the apartment over the shop where my dad, and Amy and Kristie all used to live. She’d moved in with her boyfriend. They’d had two dogs and a cat. But one day I noticed two additional dogs. And that’s a lot of dogs for that small place. I’d put in a dog door so they could go directly in the dog run attached to the shop, but I’d had my hesitations. Most of the dogs seemed nice, but I’d worried some about Helix. He chased chickens whenever he had the chance and didn’t really seem to obey. He was a Pitbull. And I’d turned down tenants for Pitbulls before. I worried about having a pack of Pitbull mixes and a Boxer on my property. They were all incredibly strong dogs, but they stayed in their pen and so I didn’t worry too much. Bowzer was a big baby submissive to Luther, Nala was sweet and wiggly and Emerson the Boxer was all kisses. They got a long fine with my dogs. Helix however was the wildcard.
“Are you sure he needs a doctor?” I said. “Pigs are pretty tough,”
“He definitely needs something. Stitches or something. I haven’t gotten a good look at the wound he’s walking around in the pasture, but where should I take him?” She broke down into tears.
“Amber, shhh ok take him to Kulshan Veterinary in Lynden. It’s on Badger and Benson. I have to go back to Ferndale and get my car then Henry and I will meet you there. Can you get him in the car?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.” She wept.
“Maybe I should come home. I’ll call Kulshan, maybe they can come to you.” I hung up and tried calling Kulshan, but I was getting nervous. I called my sister instead and relayed the information. She called Kulshan and I called Alexis. He said he wasn’t far away and would go home to get Norton in the car.
“I guess he has a cut on his nose and needs some stitches.” I told him.
“I finished at Dawn’s and I’m just at the Everbody’s Store and I can be home in about ten minutes.”
My sister called back. “They can take him at 4:00PM. I don’t know if she can get him there by then, but they’re at least expecting him.”
“Alexis is here she said and we’re trying to get him in the car. Denise, it’s really bad I can see bone.” Fear was starting to wash over me. Until now I’d thought it was just a laceration. No big deal. It wasn’t his throat or his abdomen after all. “I’ll let you talk to Alexis.”
“Hey, umm it’s pretty bad. I can see his skeleton,” He said quietly and matter-of-factly. I don’t know what else he said because I stopped listening. I was afraid he wasn’t going to get him in the car and take him to the vet at all. I was afraid he wasn’t going to give him a chance.
“Alexis! Get him in the car! Please! Get him to the vet!”
“I’ll get him in the car. I’ll get him in the car don’t worry.” He said.
I called my sister back and told her what they’d said. “Don’t necessarily believe them. I hear that all the time and it’s not nearly as serious as they think. Often times it’s tendon they see. Let’s just hope right now. Pigs bleed a lot.”
“I need you. Can you come?” I asked. She didn’t’ hesitate.
“We’re on our way.”
The other Denise dropped Henry and I back at the American Legion Hall where we do the cakes and wished us luck. It was cold and I considered stopping for a coffee on the way. But I was sick to my stomach and couldn’t think of coffee right now. We called Tom. He wasn’t in his office so we left a message and headed off to Kulshan.
Alexis, Amber and Norton were on their way, but hadn’t arrived. Henry and I sat down in the waiting room and before along a doctor came out to greet us.
“Are you here for Norton?” He asked introducing himself as Dr. Perry Stanfield.
“Yes, but he’s not here yet.”
“I know, I just thought maybe you could give me some information. And an estimate of about how long you think it’ll be before they get here.”
“Well, they were on the 9 at Mt. Baker Highway about 10 minutes ago. I really can’t even think right now, is that about 15 minutes?”
“I think that’s about right.”
“Norton’s an American Guinea Hog.”
“I’m not familiar with that breed.”
“He’s a heritage breed, black about 30 inches tall and weighs a couple hundred pounds, he’s healthy and strong and not yet a year old. He’s intact.” I said trying to stick to the facts.
“And he’s very sweet and loves his tummy rubbed,” Henry added. “He’s one of my best friends.”
“I’ve loved a lot of pigs,” Dr. Stanfield said to Henry very kindly. “I’m a small animal doctor, but I’ve worked on a lot of pigs. Actually, I’ve tried to shake the pig doctor reputation. Does he lead on a leash or harness? I’m just wondering how we’re going to corral him.” He said smiling.
I mentioned my sister was a veterinarian and that she was coming he nodded saying he knew Lisa. Having Lisa to talk shop is always a comfort. Doctors talk differently to doctors. I know too that Lisa could assure them that if there was a lot of care to be done that we could do whatever was necessary. Bandage changes, injectable antibiotics and any other wound maintenance. Lisa had said maybe Norton and Midge should move to her barn and stay in Cody’s stall for awhile so she could take care of him during his recovery. Cody her horse was somewhere else for the winter being used for riding lessons.
“He doesn’t really like to be led, but I don’t know what state he’s in now.” I said wanly.
“Well, let me tell you, it’s hard to kill a pig. So please have hope. They can endure more than you think. I’m going to take my next patient, but have them let me know when he arrives and I’ll come out to the parking lot and do an initial evaluation so he doesn’t have to move.” I shook his hand and thanked him for his kindness. After that we sat and waited watching the other people come and go with their happy healthy dogs. There was a very happy Chocolate lab with stitches, a German shepherd with a limp and a Husky who’d needed shots. I grabbed a cup of luke warm coffee from the thermos on the table.
Lisa and Quinn walked in the waiting room just before Alexis called with Amber from the parking lot. I notified the receptionist and we all walked out to the car. Amber was dressed in nothing but a navy sweatshirt and jeans. She looked frozen her face streaked with tears. Alexis was in his farm boots wearing jeans and a jacket standing next the car looking very somber. Henry, Quinn and I hung back waiting for them to assess him. We could hear him snort hello. That was our snuggly Snortin’ Norton.
As we stood there I could see Lisa’s smiling face fade as she became the doctor. They were gesturing and talking. As I watched her I wondered where she’d gotten that fabulous new jacket she was wearing. I figured she must have been Christmas shopping and I went on to guess it was TJ Maxx. She nodded me to come over so I walked to the back of the car. She motioned again for me to stay to her right to shield me from the wound, only it was too late for that. I was horrified almost to the point of being sick. I couldn’t have imagined the unyielding viciousness of the attack. His face had been chewed off. His skeleton was protruding his nose was gone and there was blood and flaps of skin. It was most brutal thing I’ve ever seen. And with his nose completely gone, I wondered how could he still snort?
“Dr. Perry and I are trying to decide what to do.” Lisa said to me and to Henry.
“I’m having my colleagues assess him too so we consider all the options. There's over 150 years of experience her.” Dr. Perry Stanfield said.
“You see,” Lisa said, “If we do surgery and reconstruct he can’t get anesthesia through a mask, and then we have to use injectables which is much harder to manage, and if he makes it through the surgery then there is the problem that his lower jaw will protrude and we wonder if he’ll have a hard time eating,” she said.
“Then we wonder about his temperament. Norton is a loving kind pig, but will he continue to be?” Dr. Stanfield wondered.
“And if we get him through all of this how will we keep him from ripping everything out? He’s not a dog and we can’t put an Elizabethan collar on him because of the shape of his neck.”
“So are you saying, he wont’ make it?” I asked rubbing his tummy with Lisa and Henry as we talked.
“No, I haven’t given up on him,” Dr. Stanfield said. “Not yet anyway. His vitals are strong, we’re just not sure yet.” I nodded and walked away unable to control my sobbing.
Norton wasn’t a farm animal he was a farm-dog – so smart and sweet. Henry was standing with Quinn silent staring into space at one point and the next moment he was sobbing uncontrollably while Quinn comforted him.
Poor Amber stood by weeping, the weight of the world on her shoulders. I felt so sorry for her. I seemed to disassociate. It was as if I wasn’t really part of the scene at for a moment, but watching from afar. Amber had Norton’s blood smeared on her white sneakers. Alexis rubbed her shoulder every once in a while and intermittently everyone would huddle together for warmth. We could hear Norton breathing as he lay in the back of Amber’s car and every once in a while there was an occasional snort. I knew in my heart this was not going to end well as five salt & peppered doctors consulted. But we stood around waiting while the doctors discussed Norton’s injuries and his prognosis. We hoped and huddled together for warmth discussing trivial things as people do in these situations.
“You know my mom got that coat at TJ Maxx,” Quinn said.
“I knew it! It’s really cute.” I felt triumphant at my powers of deduction. I still had it.
“What you don’t know is it was a Christmas present for you and she loved it so much she kept it.” Quinn outed her. Alexis, Amber and Henry began to chat and my mind began to wander.
It was up to me to make The Decision. The doctors including my sister were telling me without telling me. I know many people don’t want their animals to suffer, but that wasn’t my main concern. Life is full of suffering. Irish had suffered through his recovery, but it had been worth it. As my sister has said many times “Dogs are born with three legs and a spare.” Irish had a wonderful happy life. He enjoys snuggling,“Dancing With the Stars” and chasing an occasional cougar. Sure he limps off and on, but he’s not unhappy.
I felt tremendous guilt I’d allowed this to happen. But in truth although Helix had chased chickens I’d never dreamt of this possibility. He’d been around the pigs, goats, sheep dozens of time and I’d never had an inkling of this kind of evil. I could have handled it better if it had been a coyote attack. Then it would have been about survival and food. Sure I would have been upset the llama wasn’t here, but it wouldn’t have been the same thing. Death they say is death. But that’s not true. I’ve seen death. There is illness and accident and then there is murder. Murder is a completely different thing. When something or someone decides to kill and purposely takes a life it’s a different death.
Norton I was pretty sure would never ever be happy again. I knew too I’d do anything including spend the money on this innocent to do a heroic surgery. I’d take care of him and keep him in the laundry room if necessary, but what I did not want to do was put him through all of this if in the end he would not be happy in any way. The prospect made me was so deeply sad. I felt guilty. My precious animal was just having a nice sunny piggy day out by the pond munching on grass and sipping from the stream and then this Pitbull which I had allowed to be on my property had ravaged him. The thought of the fear and the unbelievable pain he must have felt drained my strength. I walked over to Lisa and Dr. Stanfield. “If he were your friend, would you let him go?” I asked directly reaching over and rubbing Norton’s tummy again.
“I really hate to give up on him, but I think so.” He said. Lisa was still rubbing his tummy and Norton lifted his leg up so she could get his good spot. “I’m just afraid, that if we do everything we can, we might be in this exact position in three weeks.”
“I can’t put Norton through that. Or Henry.” I said deciding. I nodded to Quinn and Henry to come over to say good-bye. Quinn hadn’t wanted to but now that this was the end she came over and rubbed his tummy. He’d ridden home from Portland on her lap. Tears rolled down her face; she was crying so hard she was shaking.
“Can’t we save him?” She begged. “Really?”
“No honey, it’s time to say good-bye.” I said and then Lisa began explaining the medical stuff again. I walked away and called Tom while Alexis and Amber said their good-byes.
Dr. Stanfield sedated Norton first. Lisa never stopped rubbing his tummy and telling him he was a good pig. I told him how much he was loved.
“Norton you really are some pig. You know how much we love you. You really are some pig”. I cooed. After he slipped into unconsciousness we stood there in the cold clear night air waiting for him to pass. The moon was bright and the clouds were remarkably dramatic. Alexis kept insisting that we go inside and get warm, but none of us could leave Norton’s side. We could hear him breathing until the end. It was decided to take him home for burial because it would cost hundreds of dollars to dispose of the body.
“You’ll have to use the backhoe,” Dr. Stanfield insisted. “The body has to be deep because anything that feeds on him will die.” I nodded as did Alexis.
“We can do it,” Alexis said giving me a hug. We discussed getting Norton’s body out of the car and where to put when we got home until we could bury him.
“He’s gone,” Lisa announced almost in a whisper. And just then in the distance we could hear the bells of a church begin to chime.
“Listen! Can you hear the bells?” Quinn asked. “They’re chiming.”
My thoughts turned to Midge. She was all alone and still outside.
“Mom? What about Frank and the other animals? I’m worried their not in the barn yet and it’s night.” Henry asked with fear in his eyes. Alexis promised to handle everything and told me to just go in the house when I got home. I was in no mood to argue and I knew there were no words that could convey my gratitude so I simply thanked him.
As we were about to leave Quinn suggested we stay and have some family time. “We should go get something to eat and just be together for awhile.” I really didn’t want to go home so we readily agreed. As we sat down at Asian One I told everyone I’d informed Awesomez.
“How’d she take it?” Quinn asked.
“Well, she was devastated. I think she’s taken aback at how much she truly loved that big pig. She was talking about his floppy ears and thinking of him running. She said he put the bar pretty high.You know he used to sit on her feet and lean on her so she’d pet him. She was crying and is just so angry like Tom. And he’s beyond furious and wants that dog gone tonight.”
“I don’t blame him.” Quinn agreed putting her napkin in her lap.
“The vet and I told Amber the dog should be destroyed. I hate to say it, but you don’t know what it could attack next.” I said sipping my mug of hot water. I was worried about Henry. He just sat at the table motionless, not crying and not saying a word. He was shutting down. I reached over and squeezed his hand. The phone rang as we were dipping in to our hot tom yum gai. It was Alexis, he’d called Lisa’s phone. “Oh! She is. How badly?....” Paralyzed with fear we all sat still our eyes boring into Lisa waiting for her to tell us the extent of Midge’s injuries.
“She’s not too bad, Alexis is going to clean her up. She has bites on the back of her neck and ears and she’s limping. She’ll need antibiotics.”
“Helix got her first, and Norton saved her.” I said.
“Yeah, it looks that way,” Lisa agreed.
“Just like Lloyd. He sacrificed himself.” Henry said tears rolling down his face again. “I just can’t believe that pig is gone. Remember when he chased me around the van for my Nutella and peanut butter sandwich? You know I loved him so so much.” We all sat silently glad to be together.