*Chosen for inclusion in the 2018 Best Microfiction anthology

There is the needle. Before that, there is an equine veterinarian preparing a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital.

Before that, there is a magnificent Bay thoroughbred named Frankly My Dear in a trailer, pupils stretched and oblivious, hips and ribcage palpitating to metallic crackles as the truck ahead trots forward.

Before that, there is a child named Maximiliano in critical condition at Kosair Children’s Hospital. Before that, there is an ambulance ride down the Watterson Expressway with an EMT and a hellish concoction of heaves, maledictions, prayers.

Before that, there is a call to Maximiliano’s padres, Socorro y Juan Manuel. Before that, there is a group of other children silent as sleeping dogs, watching their friend leak onto the fresh asphalt.

Before that, there is a connection of low-moisture keratin capped with aluminum with its close cousin, the high-moisture keratinocyte compound stretched over just a few cubic centimeters of collagen and calcium phosphate, otherwise known as the cheekbone of a four-year-old at Jeffersontown Christian Church preschool.

Before that, there is a tug on the twitching tail. Before that, there is a completely calm horse and an exuberant child in the parking lot of a Disciples of Christ Church next to Veteran’s Park. Before that, there is snack time and a giddy line of jacketed children cantering into the parking lot.

Before that, Layla and Maximiliano hand in permission slips.

Before that, there is a paper sent home detailing an end-of-year, reverse field trip where the animals come to them.

Before that, there is one set of parents, Layla’s mom and dad, just trying to be nice, checking the box, folding an extra few dollars for their daughter to bring to Ms. Jennifer. Before that, there is another set of parents, Socorro and Juan Manuel de Soto Vega, preparing to attend la misa at St. Catherine’s, assuring Max that, por seguro, no hay problema. Ya vamos.

Before that, there are two last-minute addenda to the form, one adding the option for parent/guardian to sponsor another child’s reverse field trip and another for parent/guardian to give permission but request sponsorship, anonymously.