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Goodbye, Joe Black

By
It was a magnificent afternoon in August. A warm breeze filtered into the cabin by way of the make-shift windows, and through Emily’s almond-colored hair. Birds of various kinds could be heard chirping gleefully in nearby trees.
These gifts of nature, although precious to some, had become simply a part of everyday life for Emily. She had stayed at her family’s cabin for weeks at a time during the summer, resulting in her becoming accustomed to the surrounding wildlife. Every once in a while, Emily would come across something as novel as a bear cub in the blossoming apple tree or a peacock wandering through the lower meadow, but regardless of how many times she visited this place, one thing absolutely never changed. She was always left without a companion.
Emily’s dad was the one who brought her to the cabin every visit. But while she would stay alone on the mountainside property, her dad would fix the washed-out road that led up to it. He would wake up every morning at 5:30, drive ten miles to the “Rock Pile” where he got the materials necessary for fixing the road, and not return to the cabin until eight o’clock at night.
While her dad was gone, Emily would lie on the couch and watch reruns of her favorite television show, Charmed, for the majority of the day. Every so often she would wander into the kitchen and prepare herself a basic meal, or venture partway down the cabin trail to see if her dad had decided to come back early. Overall, Emily’s stays were very lackluster. She sometimes even preferred school to staying at the cabin.
Just like every other day, Emily had been watching Charmed and lounging on the couch. The episode had just ended, but Emily didn’t bother changing to the next one. Instead, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to fall into a half-sleep. After what seemed to be only five minutes, Emily jumped at the sound of a honking car horn.
Who could that be? she wondered to herself. No one, save her family, knew where the cabin was located. Emily was worried about finding out who was outside, but was put at ease when she discovered that it was her dad who had pulled up in his beige jeep.
Emily slipped her shoes on and ran outside, not even caring that she was kicking up mounds of dirt as she made her way to her dad. The fact that it was only the afternoon and that he had already returned to the cabin made Emily ecstatic. The first thing she asked her dad when she finally reached him was whether or not he wanted to play their favorite game, Monopoly.
“I’m sorry, honey,” he replied. “I still need to fix the road. I just came back to check on you.” After seeing how heartbroken Emily had become upon hearing this, he continued, “But you’re welcome to go with me to the Rock Pile.”
Emily’s face began to radiate with joy. An invitation to join her dad was a dream come true. Emily immediately re-entered the cabin and got ready for the day’s adventure.
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Emily jumped into the passenger seat of the jeep and began to buckle the seatbelt. She patiently waited for her dad to drive off, but instead of doing so, he turned to her and said, “Before we go to the Rock Pile, I need to visit Roger. He’s been having a ‘little problem’ lately.”
Roger McLaine was a man who lived at the base of the mountain on which the cabin was located. Because of his location, the nearby property owners had asked Roger to oversee the condition of their private estates while they were gone visiting family or on vacation. Although Emily had never personally met Roger before, she felt as if she had known him for quite some time due to what her dad had always told her about him.
Curious as to what Roger’s “little problem” may have been, Emily questioned her dad. His sole response was that she would find out relatively soon.
After trekking down the rutted trail for twenty minutes or so, the jeep finally reached Roger’s driveway. Emily was about to get out, but her dad stuck his arm in front of her to keep her from doing so. She looked questioningly at her dad, wondering why he had done this.
“You have to be careful around here,” he said, as if he knew exactly what Emily had been thinking. “The bull might charge at you. Heaven knows how many times he’s come after me.”
Emily’s mouth fell open. “Bull?” she asked. “What in the world is a bull doing here?”
“Well,” Emily’s dad began. “Up here, ranchers aren’t required to fence in their cattle. This allows them to roam around wherever they please. I guess the bull just somehow wandered into the mountains and ended up here.”
Emily hastily looked around in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the foreign creature. “Where is he now?” she asked, frustrated by her futile search.
“Over there,” Emily’s dad pointed out the open window toward a circle of pine trees. Underneath the massive branches stood a stocky, pitch-black bull eating the bark off of the tree trunks.
When she was younger, Emily’s great-grandparents had owned a ranch, so naturally she had seen a copious amount of domestic cows. However, she had never come across a wild bull before.
Overall, he looked just like any other bull. He had an enormous head with an equally colossal body. His nose was moist with mucus -- a disgusting, but notoriously common characteristic in all cattle. Emily giggled at the sight of the bull’s ears, which were furrier than a cuddly kitten.
There was something about him though, something about his expression that made him almost human-like. He deserves a name, Emily thought to herself. So she took the liberty of deeming him Joe Black for his jet-black coat and his handsome features, which she though were comparable to Brad Pitt’s.
Emily became startled when her dad broke the silence. “I think it’s safe for us to get out,” he said. “If the bull hasn’t already tried charging at us, he probably won’t now.”
Emily continued to watch the bull intently as she and her dad walked toward Roger’s house. Her dad had been correct -- the bull had simply continued to eat when he saw them.
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The instant Roger opened his front door, a huge smile spread across his face. “Paul!” he exclaimed. “How’ve you been? I was wondering when you would be up here again.” Roger took Emily’s dad’s hand in his and shook it heartily.
“I’ve come to help you with your ‘little problem,’” Emily’s dad replied. “Just like you asked me to.”
Roger gave out a deep laugh. “Thank goodness you did,” he began. “That scoundrel has been tearing up my yard for seven months!”
Emily, confused as to what Roger and her dad were actually talking about, asked, “If there’s something ruining your yard, why doesn’t the bull just take care of the problem? He could be like a watch-dog.”
Roger chuckled again. “Honey, the bull is the problem.”
Although she had been completely embarrassed by this misunderstanding, Emily continued to ask Roger about his solution to his predicament.
“That’s nothing you should be worrying your pretty little head over,” replied Roger. “Now why don’t you go on down and see the bull. He’s become pretty tame over the past few months; I’m sure you’ll be able to pet him.”
With that, Emily left the two men and walked over to where Joe Black had been previously. Just like before, he was consuming the bark off of the circling trees and giving her no notice.
Although Roger seemed to be a trustworthy man, Emily wasn’t convinced that the bull was tame enough to approach. So, with the instinct of self-preservation guiding her, Emily stood behind a nearby tree and watched the creature curiously.
During the next half hour or so, Joe Black moved from one trunk to the other, finally making his way to the tree which Emily was standing behind. Before he began to eat, the bull sniffed the air intensely, obviously aware that there was someone nearby. However, he ignored the fact and returned to his meal.
A few minutes later, Joe Black stopped eating the bark and walked around the tree. He stopped merely inches from Emily, just close enough for her to dare to reach out her hand and pet his head. This was her chance; now was her opportunity to test his trust.
Emily slowly raised her hand and moved it toward the bull. She knew it was necessary to let him smell her if she wanted to succeed in this undertaking. If Joe Black knew Emily’s scent, he’d be able to recognize it the next time she came to visit him.
The bull curiously lifted his head, thus allowing Emily to stroke his stiff coat. She smiled with success. Emily began to move closer, but Joe Black reared his head in alarm. Fearing that he would hurt her, Emily sprinted back to the front porch. Luckily, the bull hadn’t followed.
A few seconds later, Emily’s dad came out of Roger’s house. He took Emily’s hand in his and gestured toward the Jeep. “It’s time we go,” he said.
As the two of them walked toward the driveway, Emily looked back to check on Joe Black, but he was no longer there.
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After ten minutes of driving on the deserted highway, Emily and her dad finally reached the secluded “Rock Pile.” As Emily’s dad got the shovels and buckets, Emily took the ice chest out of the trunk. Her dad immediately started working, but Emily stalled with the hope of starting a long-awaited conversation.
“Joe Black is a pretty cool pet, don’t you think?” she said casually.
“Who’s Joe Black?” her dad asked in reply.
“Roger’s bull,” Emily answered. “I named him.”
Emily’s dad stopped working and looked at her. “‘Joe Black’ isn’t a pet,” he said. “He’s going to be slaughtered.”
Emily instantly broke out into tears. “You can’t kill him!” she screamed. “He’s all alone! He has no one to love him but me!” Emily threw herself onto the ice chest and continued to sob.
Emily’s dad ran over to his trembling daughter and held her in his arms. “It’s alright,” he whispered gently. “He’s just a cow.”
Emily’s eyes met her dad’s. “He might be just a cow,” she began, “but he’s my friend as well.” Letting out another cry, she buried her face in her dad’s shirt.
It took Emily about half an hour to stop crying, making her utterly useless to her dad. She was about to begin helping with the rocks, but her dad stopped her and said that it was time to leave.
With an air of guilt, for fear of disappointing her dad, Emily crawled into the jeep and didn’t say a word the entire way back to the cabin.
Once they pulled into the driveway, Emily began to make her way inside, but her dad called out to her. “I’m going to drop this load of rocks on the road,” he said. “Then I’m going to help Roger with the bull.”
Emily turned around without even answering and went inside.
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Between the countless fits of crying, Emily searched for a flat piece of wood with which to make a grave-marker for Joe Black. She had never known her dad to kill animals, regardless if they were raised to be butchered or not. As a result, Emily found it hard to believe that he would end the life of her only friend on the mountainside.
Once the grave-marker was complete, Emily made her way outside and over to the colossal pine tree in front of the kitchen window. There were countless other areas where Emily could have put this memento of Joe Black, but she felt that placing it near his favorite treat would please him very much.
Emily grabbed a stick from the ground and dragged it through the dirt, creating a ditch just big enough to stick the grave-marker in. She may not have been able to be with Joe Black in his last moments of life, but Emily vowed that she would do everything possible to make sure he would live forever in memory.
For the next few hours, Emily sat underneath the tree outside of the kitchen, waiting for her dad to return from Roger’s house. However, when she heard the roar of the Jeep’s engine coming up the road, she didn’t even bother greeting her dad. Emily simply remained motionless.
“Well,” Emily’s dad began. “I did it. He’s dead.”
Emily kept her eyes fixed forward. She couldn’t believe how indifferently her dad had said these words. “Well, I did it,” was something a cold, heartless murderer would say. It was definitely not something Emily could have imagined emanating from her dad’s lips.
“I know you’re angry,” Emily’s dad said, attempting to show some compassion. “I know you thought he was your only friend, but that’s not true . . .”
“How would you know?” Emily interrupted. “You’re always fixing the road or going to the Rock Pile! I’m always alone when we’re at the cabin.” Emily had become so inundated with emotion that a continuous flow of tears erupted from her eyes.
Emily’s dad kneeled onto the ground and took Emily in his arms. Between “shushes” he whispered, “Honey, I know. I know.”
“If you knew that, then why did you kill Joe Black?” Emily asked, struggling to release herself from her dad’s grip.
Not daring to let go of his daughter, Emily’s dad said, “I didn’t want to. You of all people should know I don’t like hunting. But I promised I would help Roger.”
Emily turned her head and gazed into her dad’s eyes. “You would keep a promise, even if meant doing something you hated?” she asked, unable to comprehend why anyone would do such a thing.
“That’s a part of life’s mystery,” Emily’s dad replied, not even sure himself why he had agreed to help Roger kill such an innocent and defenseless animal.
Emily’s dad shifted himself onto the ground beside Joe Black’s grave-marker, attempting to keep his hold on Emily. He then placed his chin on top of Emily’s head and continued to hug her ever so tightly. After a few seconds, Emily could feel her hair start to dampen. Her dad had begun to cry.
Emily pulled her head out from under her dad’s chin and fixed her hold on him. “It’s alright, Papa,” she said, gently patting his back. “I forgive you.”
Emily’s dad’s tear-stained face cracked into a smile upon hearing this.
Then Emily continued, “Even though you may not always be nearby for me, I’ll always be here for you because you’re my best friend, and no one can ever take you away from me.”

In Memory of Joe Bull
(a.k.a. Joe Black)





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