Short Stories

The Summer Horse


The Summer Horse remembers the sweet stench of rotting leaves underfoot and the pallid darkness of forests in the heat of high noon. The Girl’s legs wrapped around his barrel, sweaty leather and copper taste. When the world is white and cold and many years have passed he remembers kicking at the flies in the stagnant swamp and cantering through the hayfield, throwing in a naughty buck at the splitrail fence.

Blizzard winds buffet him and he shifts his head out of the wind. The Black Nag shifts closer, shoulder to shoulder, a reassuring body. He dreams. One bored day when he’s been left behind while The Family goes to the fall fair, he nips and chases the placid cattle, who, in their bovine stupidity, break through the electric fence. They straggle toward the back of the hundred acre plot and the gelding takes over the hay feeder. A heifer strays back toward the feeder; a warning stomp with a pink hind hoof and she stops in her tracks to start grazing the dry weeds.

A car rattles up the gravel driveway, conspicuous in the animal world. The Girl comes home while the others are still licking the pink melted cotton candy from their fingers, hypnotized by midway bright lights and the carnie called crowd. She knows the far off sound of cattle lowing better, loves the leather smell and rough hay. Seeing the curiously empty field, the proud, Arab-flagged tail of the gelding as he sees the car coming, she laughs. He’s neighing triumphantly, his equine superiority despite the dirt stains on his white coat and chubby sides. “The Man” and “The Horse”, as the gelding and the grandfather identify each other, have reached a tentative truce that would easily be broken by a heinous act like cow chasing.

She insincerely chastises him, parks him by the gate and swings up bareback and heels him abruptly into a canter. She sends him after the scattering cattle. This is where the true game is, the finesse of rounding the herd back up and into the field, and the gelding perhaps knows it. Perhaps he chases them out to achieve this very end. He flanks the herd, flattens his ears menacingly at a wild eyed steer, nips the flanks of a heifer trying to break formation. He rounds back for a heifer and calf who have made a break for the road and soon they are all back in the confines of the home they share with the gelding. He stands complacently across the break in the electric fence while The Girl fetches the tools to mend it. She omits the truth to The Grandfather later that evening; the valiant gelding dutifully rounding up the rogue cattle after their break for freedom.

Time means little for an old horse. The Girl comes less frequently and becomes The Woman and then stops coming. He waits for a summer day, good for cattle chasing, while he and The Black Nag sleep in the snow. He tastes copper and cotton candy and smells the rotting leaves.

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