|(robotmelon (issue five))|
|by Jen Gann|
If you know how to ride horses, no man will ever trust you. Except for a certain kind of man with a particularly-shaped truck he gasses up so lovingly, so carefully with diesel gasoline. Diesel is the most expensive and that is part of the bond. The man, and you, you who plunges your girl-hand into a flake of hay. Wake the tiny knife sleeping at your hip. With the blade sprung, slice the orange twine keeping the hay bale in such a neat rectangle. Watch the flakes fanning out like a temple of some kind. This is worship, you know. This is reverence.
In your bathroom, other men see the many bristled brush next to the soap dish. They see the dirt washed across the soap’s cracks and crannies. Sniffing your fingers brings to mind a forest or a playground, a dump truck, a freshly fertilized backyard in August. What they smell is manure. The handle of a pitchfork. The skin and scalp of your best mount, the one you curry with such dedication, the one with sensitive skin, whose mane you hand comb until your fingers redden and threaten to bleed.
The men return from the bathroom, puzzled without knowing why, and see you sprawled across the bed. Your hips remain in an ever-present state of open. Your joints, so soft and loose, each ball rolling smoothly across its well-oiled socket. It is so obvious, but you are most comfortable on top. Three years before, you won the mechanical bull contest at a bar off the furthest highway. You accepted the pitcher of beer with sweat and pride on your face, remembering those ribbons, the blue ones, red ones, even white, fluttering so smugly in victory’s wind.
The men with diesel trucks have a certain kind of mother too. Their mothers, dead or alive mothers, had long, kind faces. They wore dresses but their hands were strung, their knuckles sturdy. In the kitchen, they baked oatmeal cookies with real oats and home-churned butter. They killed snakes with brooms, with a single, satisfying whack.
The men without trucks, pausing in the bathroom, standing in your doorway, tripping over the boots conspiring in the hallway, they kept lizards as pets. They grew out of playing in the mud five years earlier than you did. The first time they kneeled before a girl, moving the curtain of fabric aside, sniffed, and thought, How gross. They stopped hugging their mothers, who had pinched faces and frowned over the latest woman’s magazine and wore sweat suits in matching colors.
These men do not know of the horses. The inside of your closet is papered in horses. Horses running across sand, manes billowing out against a background of dunes. Horses nuzzling one another in lush, green pastures, probably in the mountains but with no probable cause for you to know. Horses trotting before carts, their faceless drivers sporting hats of red, black, a single feather sprouting near the rim. Horses with cows. Horses with dogs. Horses with cats, horses with birds perched on the choicest section of plump rump. Horses at the perfect, most freeing apex of a jump, their chins ducked and knees risen in such breath-taking harmony.
You do not know where to find the men with diesel trucks, who would bless you, galloping off into the hills and kissing your horse on its velvety, foam-splattered muzzle.
The other men wait at the bars. They idle in coffee shops. They are friends’ cousins, brothers, sisters’ boyfriends friends, cubicle mate at the office or internet affair gone wrong. You move too fast for them to see the horse in you. Stare just long enough and sure enough, a beast seems to trot toward the surface of your pupils. Turn your head. Laugh. Swathe your face in locks of hair, carefully, carefully washed after the hours spent condemned beneath a velvet-covered helmet. Remember, you are demure. You are riding sidesaddle on the horse of life. Your dresses are thick, long, nearly-impossible to part.
Oh, but sometimes you can never forget! You will never forget! A short, squat pony, white with rust-colored spots, whose expression shifted from evil to love in mere seconds. Impossible to catch in the pasture. Never to be tricked. A trot like a sewing needle and the mind of a devious, hungry little darling. You roved mountains! You once went through the drive-thru of a Dairy Queen! Cried into her mane, convinced yourself you could feel her spots blind-folded, stayed with her as she colicked deep, deep into the night. At night, a ghost rises from you and sneaks to her pasture, now ten-years bulldozed, to thread a rope through the rusted slats of her halter. Your tiny fist grabs a hunk of mane and you vault onto her back, swing your leg over and right yourself. Nudge your heels to her soft, bulging pony sides. She’ll walk forward. You’ll lead each other into secrets, across a blind path and over a silent bridge.
Remember, you can’t marry a horse. A barn dog is an unacceptable bedroom companion. The cats out there gave you fleas. The bargain foal gave you ringworm. A man is the acceptable alternative to a horse. You’re getting older. Your pony is long dead; in the pasture where she lived, a lesbian couple inhabits a brand new house with a piano on each floor. How nice, they think, to live here in the country, not remembering the truckloads of sod, the torn-out posts, the shed of your youth, bull-dozed. How time trots on!
A friendly, dusty gelding. He was the year of hating your father. He was the most dependable. While that pony, that devious little mare, set fires, this gelding burns steady! A bit taller, a bit quicker over the jumps, many times smoother in that perfect three-beat canter. A rocking chair, a water bed, a couch in a perfectly rhythmic earthquake. He sleeps standing in the cross-ties, lower-lip dropped in the most delightful of delights. Trees lay across the path and you leap over them, choosing your distances just, most perfectly right.
The gelding goes lame at the end of high school. His knee jerks to his chest and his head bobs, a damning bob, a bob that sends your heart to the bottom of your leather boots. Your heart leaks from the cracked soles. A freak accident, the vet says very quietly. Before the injection, you are allowed one final pat of the gelding’s thick haunch.
Then, came the pick-up trucks. The vans with mattresses in the back of them. Boys with beer for breath. Skinny dorm-room beds, the green flash of mattress when you—you and whoever—tore at the sheets. Oh, these boys—they knew nothing of the horses. Nothing.
More years, more of the same. Exchange beer for wine. Scotch in some cases.
There was a mare in there somewhere, during college. A jumpy, flighty thing you rode on the weekends, secretly, hungover half the time. Hacking frozen manure to pay your dues. That was the winter your mother started online dating. The mare reared beneath you. People said to crack eggs over her head, so she’d think she’d risen into the barn’s beams and cut herself. The egg yolk, blood. People said to sit poised with a whip over her head. If she rose into it, the fault would be hers. People said to sit still. People said to ride it out. People said, she’d probably have to be euthanized. When she settled, this mare’s canter felt like riding a glass. That smooth.
She wasn’t euthanized. Instead, her real owner, who brushed her sometimes but had never sat atop her back, sent her over the mountains to have babies. Isn’t that great, she told you. Isn’t it lovely to think of her, dusty, fat, happy for once?
There are a few horses now, but none of the urgency. You have a few arrangements, a few mounts in exchange for a few chores. You are still braver than most, will sit atop anything, though the pure romance is gone. Every man is suspicious of you; it feeds the daring, the still-present glint in your eye when you slip into stirrups. Ride on. The men will never change. Neither will you. That one man, with the kind mother and the well-loved truck, maybe you will find him and maybe you won’t. Maybe he is over the mountains too, just waiting for summer to melt the icy passes. Waiting for you to arrive at his door fat, dusty, happy for once.