Married with Horses: A Country Soundtrack

Home from work, Jeremy unwinds as he listens to the soundtrack of the country--a mixture of farm life and animals.

| Illustration by Andy Myer

The soundtrack of my life is greatly varied. Since becoming a sous chef at a top North Carolina restaurant, I’ve grown accustomed to the music of a professional kitchen: pots and pans clanging on the cook top, the rumble of high-powered ventilation hoods, screeching ticket printers, knives against cutting boards, and the chef’s voice calling orders against a background of intertwined dinner conversations.

When I return home to the farm, it takes a few hours before I stop hearing the kitchen. It’s like the ocean’s echo in a conch shell, or the strange feeling of wearing shoes after hours of roller skating. (Yes, I’m old enough to remember many a junior high date at the local roller rink, as well as the rink’s “referee” with the feathered hair and a whistle around his neck.)

After a shower, I crawl into bed beside Kimberly. Pepper is asleep on the floor beside the bed–her dog tags jingle and she sighs in her sleep. It’s 2 a.m. and silent. For a long time I strain to hear anything other than the bed sheets rustling as I get comfortable.

Then, slowly, the country soundtrack surfaces. I can hear the hum of the fan in the wood stove. Our cats Pickles and Jack usually sleep in front of the stove. In fact, Jack is happiest when he’s almost too hot to pet.

Pickles can’t stay put for too long. Soon he’s up, batting around a rubber ball. It makes a low rumble across the wooden living room floor, then falls silent as he picks up the ball and carries it upstairs. A moment later there is a series of hollow knocks as the ball bounces down the stairs and ricochets around the living room before the bouncing–and Pickle’s footsteps–fade off to the other end of the house. Pepper sighs again.

Then comes a deep rumbling–so deep I can feel it before it’s even audible. A train’s horns call out into the night, and Hazel answers back from the front yard. Her barking continues after the train is long gone. I get out of bed and go to the window. I pull back the curtains and see Hazel jogging across the yard in the moonlight.

She disappears from view. It’s quiet again as I return to bed. Kimberly shifts in her sleep. Pepper sighs. I’d never heard a dog sigh before I met Pepper. It’s as strange and hilarious as when she crunches on a crispy cracker or corn chip. I smile and fall asleep.

In the morning, I’m awakened by Kimberly loading the wood stove. The ash drawer scrapes as it’s opened, as does the heavy louver. Then the stove’s front door creaks open and large chunks of oak and sweet gum thump against one another as Kimberly stacks them together. The door creaks shut, the louver and drawer scrape, and the fire roars as the fresh wood cracks and pops.

I hear dog kibble land in Pepper’s bowl; Jack and Pickles meow like they’ve never been fed. Cat kibble lands in their bowl. A few moments later the house is silent. I get up as our mailman’s truck quietly pauses at our mailbox before moving down the road. I could be wrong, but what landed in the mailbox sounded like bills and junk mail.

I get dressed and step outside. It’s a sunny and breezy 55-degree day. I hear our 29.5 horsepower tractor working behind the barn. We hired a part-time helper to knock out my ever-growing “honey do” list. Today the manure pile is being distributed among the farm’s many trees and bushes. Joe sees me and waves before dumping a bucket load at the base of a large oak tree.

As I approach the barn I can hear the horses knocking their empty feed buckets against the stall walls as they lick at the last few bites of grain and beet pulp. Brownie and Madison lean on their stall doors as I enter the barn. The large chains clang against the iron and wooden doors; above us our cat Sascha jumps down from a stack of hay bales and lands on the loft’s plywood flooring.

Vander glances at me before grabbing a mouthful of hay. The hay rustles as he chews, then splashes as Vander dunks it in his water bucket. I can’t see Macy in the tack room, but I recognize the sound of her footsteps and her leap to the shelf that holds the cat feeder. The kibble rustles as she paws at it to find the freshest pieces.

Kimberly’s boots crunch in the gravel drive to the barn. Pepper jumps, barks and runs along Justin’s fence line. Justin whinnies and bucks. The two chase each other up and down the fence, matching each other’s vocalizations and gymnastics. In her pasture, Mandy snorts and shakes her head before returning to her pile of alfalfa.

Kimberly and I saddle up Vander and Madison for a trail ride. The horseshoes clack in the barn aisle. The cross ties snap, the buckles on the tack rattle lightly as we adjust them, and the leather squeaks a little when we mount up.

Kimberly and I enjoy the ride without much conversation. The horses’ hoof beats are just audible beneath the wind in the trees. A train rumbles in the distance as we leave the trail beside the tracks and head into the woods. As we near the farm, Justin whinnies. I can’t see him, but perhaps he smells us–or simply senses that we’re almost back.

A short while later, water runs in our bathtub. I uncork a bottle of wine and the glasses clink in my hand as I walk from the kitchen. Kimberly and I soak while we talk about the future and sip from our glasses. She runs more hot water. Pepper flops down on the bathroom floor and sighs.

We’re toweling off when Pickles comes to inspect the still-full bathtub. He leaps off the tub’s edge like an Olympic belly flopper. He seems so shocked by the unfamiliar sensation of landing in water that he just stands silently in the tub with his neck stretched to keep his face out of the ensuing waves.

Kimberly is drying Pickles off when a curious Jack misjudges the curve of the bathtub’s edge and slides into the water with a great kerploosh! Fat little Jack floats pretty well, but meows and frantically flails about until I pick him up and place him in a dry towel beside Pickles. Kimberly and I laugh. Pickles and Jack seem utterly traumatized. This will likely be the last time they bathe with us.

That night Kimberly and I lie together in bed, listening to our soundtrack. The wood stove hums, Pickles’ ball bounces, a train rumbles, and Hazel barks. Kimberly and I are pressed against one another under the covers, and I can hear her breathing slow as she falls asleep.

I try to recall the sounds of the kitchen, but cannot. No matter–I’ll hear them again tomorrow. In the darkness of the bedroom Pepper sighs. I smile and fall asleep.

Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina. Read Jeremy’s other columns in’s Humor section.

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