I unlocked the front door after disarming the security system late that afternoon.
It was strange just how heavy the door was, resisting my effort to push it open, like one of those big, heavy bank vault doors that weigh tons because they are made out of solid steel.
As I walked into the lounge I felt something…
Or rather I felt the lack of something.
This was no longer my home, our home, the place where I could take refuge from the madness and insanity that was the world out there with my wife.
My rock, my ditsy, weird, marvelous soul mate was not home.
She would not be coming home tonight.
Some time yesterday morning, Sunday morning, the phone had rung.
We had just gotten up.
The call was about some or other pedigree mare on a horse stabling facility just outside of town.
Evidently this mare had managed to escape the paddock and had wondered off in the general direction of the old abandoned mining camp located at the other end of the property and everyone was being mobilized to search for the animal.
This was right up my wife’s street!
An animal in trouble, in crisis, and off she went, Wellington boots and all, to help the other volunteers in their quest to find the animal in distress.
That is what and who she was, always making sure that any person or animal that had somehow wound itself in trouble got whatever it was that was needed.
Down at the hospital our telephone number was on the resource board so that they could call to get her in, to help people that had just lost someone to an accident or some other tragic event.
She has an uncanny knack of being able to say exactly the right thing, do exactly the right thing, to alleviate the pain and loss that people felt when tragedy struck and they had just lost someone.
But it was not only people she helped, somehow animals instinctively trusted her and would calm down when she arrived.
This would allow the rescuers to get the animal retrieved back to safety, whatever injuries treated and dealt with.
When she came back home after one of these rescues she was always on a high, ecstatic that the animal had been saved or the family had been given the resources and fortitude to be able to cope with whatever had happened to their loved one.
Sometimes the high lasted days and she would bounce around like a little child who had eaten too many sugary sweets and was totally hyper on a sugar buzz.
I had learned a long time ago not to even try to bring her back down to normality but rather let the process run its course.
That was who she was!
That was how she was!
That was one of the many little quirks that made her so attractive to me, even after thirty something years of marriage, three children and all the ups and downs that life was always throwing our way.
The only constant with her was that there was always something new and exciting happening.
About five hours after she had left on her latest mission she phoned me from her mobile to tell me that they had located the mare up at the abandoned mine and that they were all on their way to help if and where they could.
I offered to come up with some coffee for everyone but she said no, I had to stay at home so that when the children arrived the house would not be empty.
Her birthday, and our anniversary, was on Wednesday.
She had postponed our wedding so that they could both be on the same day – her greatest birthday present.
All the children and grandchildren, who now lived about a thousand miles away, were all coming down for the party and a week long visit.
They had hired a small bus and were all travelling down together – all eleven of them, a weeks worth of luggage - and two dogs.
The house was definitely going to be crowded but they had done this before a number of times and it was always the stuff that very good memories were made of.
I had just hung up after telling her to be careful when the phone rang again.
The bus had engine issues and the kids had been delayed.
The bus hire company would only be able to supply a replacement much later and they would only be getting here in the middle of the next morning.
But that suited them all fine, more adventure!
It suited me fine too because it would give my mad-cap wife a little time to recover, to stop bouncing around like the lovable lunatic she is.
So I settled down in my study to catch up on some reading.
An hour or two later I heard a car pull into the drive – that was strange – she normally phoned me to let me know that she was on her way home.
Maybe her phone battery was flat.
Anyway, I packed up and was on my way to greet her as she came in when the door bell rang.
It was not her that had pulled into the drive.
I opened the door to see Fred, the local disaster coordinator standing on the veranda.
Evidently the horse had fallen into one of the old slimes dams on the mine and all the rain that we had recently had was making the safe retrieval of the animal difficult.
They needed my expertise onsite to advise them how to go about the task safely.
I grabbed my jacket, locked up the house and followed him out to the site.
The road there, if you can call a track that had not been maintained for years and was totally waterlogged a "road", was a challenge especially because the large and heavy mobile crane that they had brought in to assist in the recovery had churned the muddy surface up badly.
But we eventually got there.
The horse, and my wife, were in the bottom of the dam wall, both up to their necks in water but fortunately not in the deep part of the dam but more towards the center of the dam wall.
Over the years the silt had collected in that area and made it a lot shallower than the rest of the dam.
And the horse was solidly embedded in the silt.
She was keeping the animal calm, which was what she did.
The crane operator had decided to maneuver the crane along the dam wall to get as close to them as possible and was setting up to be able to lift the animal out using a sling.
The operator had finished setting up the stabilizing legs and was busy getting the crane boom extended to do the lifting operation when it happened.
All the rain had made the dam wall soggy which had weakened it.
The weight of the crane was more than the wall could take and the vibration from the motor simply shook the already fragile dam wall to the point where it started to give way.
I watched in horror as the crane started to topple over as the dam wall gave way beneath it.
The operator ran for his life.
Then the center section of the wall breached and all the water, mud and debris in the dam started rushing out and down into the valley, taking large chunks of the wall, and the crane itself with it.
Along with my wife and the animal she was tending.
All in horrifying slow motion!
This all happened just as the sun was setting.
Emergency personnel from the surrounding towns arrived, the entire town pitched in but we only found them just after sunrise the next morning.
She was still with the animal according to the report I heard.
Doing the best she could, right until the very end.
After all the legal formalities at the hospital had been taken care of I came home.
It was no longer a home, it was now just a house.
An empty shell, like my life was now.
Now that my wife was gone.
I sat there in shocked silence, wondering how I was going to be able to tell the family what had happened when they arrived.
Then I heard a diesel powered vehicle come up the drive – they were here!
I slowly got up and went to open that incredibly heavy door.
This short fictional story is dedicated to the memory of the victims and survivors of the Merriespruit (Freestate) catastrope which took place on the 22nd February 1994.
The flood of water and dirt that engulfed the small town after one of the tailings dams collapsed destroyed 80 homes and took the lives of 17 people who were relaxing or sleeping in their homes.
Inspiration came from a picture in the movie "Titanic".