The farm is right next to a Naval Air Base, where they are performing some sort of war game. Helicopters are flying low in formation, rumbling though the sky so near that I can feel them pounding in my chest. They fly down near the ground and kick up huge clouds of dust and dirt, and I wonder if they are shooting at the ground or dropping bombs. Maybe just bags of flour. It is so loud.
I have a syringe in my hand. It contains 15 milliliters of sodium pentobarbital. It is the exact amount it would take to kill me. One milliliter per 10 pounds. That’s me. I think about that as I stare at the blue fluid. I used to read dog rescue newsgroups, and shelter workers would talk about “the blue juice” – the solution they’d inject into the animals they had to euthanize. I’d only ever used a different brand, Euthasol, and it was pink. They make them vivid colors so you know what you’re dealing with and don’t accidentally inject the wrong animal with the wrong thing. It’s a clever scheme. This time we’re using Fatal Plus, which is blue, so “the blue juice” suddenly makes sense.
I have a syringe in my hand. It contains 15 milliliters of sodium pentobarbital. It is the exact amount it would take to kill me.
There is a calf standing next to me. I look in his eyes and I say “Hey, kid. There you go, kid. It’s okay. Don’t worry.” And then I stick the syringe into his jugular vein and push the fluid in. He lets loose a heavy sigh and collapses onto the concrete. They always use the male calves for these experiments. The lab gets them nearly for free.
The tech drags the body over the drain and cuts his throat. Though the calf is already dead, the blood gushes out like a geyser. I think it’s very beautiful. It’s not watered down like movie blood. It’s so real. Most of the blood runs down the drain but some pools up around us. It coagulates in thick sheets on the concrete. There is a high-pressure hose designed to clean it up.
The pathologist steps in with a knife – it just looks like a normal kitchen knife but is very sharp – and she cuts the calf open, separating his skin from his rib cage and then uses gardening shears to cut his rib cage open. His lungs look pink and healthy. That means the study might be working. It’s a vaccine study for some form of bovine pneumonia. She removes his entire respiratory system and drops it on a tray and takes it inside.
The tech and I lift the body up and drop it into a wagon that gets towed behind a tractor. We repeat the process from the beginning with another calf. By the time we’re done, there are four bodies in the wagon. The helicopters are still dropping their fake bombs.
I’m not sure if I feel very detached or very present. I consider what just happened. I did everything well. There was no suffering on the part of the calves. Just a quick poke of the syringe. The sticks went perfectly every time, and I feel good about that.
There’s a pile of bodies in front of us. Real bodies. Suddenly they’re not test subjects anymore. I look at the muscles and wonder which cut of beef that is. The tech picks up a rib cage then drops it back in the wagon and says, “That’s perfect. Just drop it on the BBQ.” He licks his lips a little and I feel like I’m supposed to be offended. Of course he wouldn’t actually eat it. There are protocols.
The tech starts up the tractor and drives the bodies across the farm to the walk-in freezer where they are stored until they’re picked up by the disposal company. I look up at the sky and squint into the sunshine, watching the helicopters fly by one more time.