Story- A Tango With Blacky

A TANGO WITH BLACKY

by Lenore Plassman

Wall-eyed. That is what Tango was, other than a Welsh and Shetland cross. I’d just stepped off the bus and plugged my nose cause of its diesel downdraft. The usual casual view of pasture and barn now mesmerized me. Up hill a bit from stubby Blacky, a slim black and white mare grazed. She’d stopped tugging at grass to shy at the loud stop and start of the yellow bus and the emerging humans. A thin white mane streamed over her forehead as she danced, her hooves thudding. Blacky grunted then continued greedily snatching more Spring grass.

” You keep standing like that, you’re going to get a crick in your back!” said James as he rounded the garage, headed to the house. ” Paul Christman must have been here.”

I ran after my big brother. “Why doesn’t anyone tell me about anything around here?” I whined.

“Cause you got your nose in a book. What about this floor, ‘eh?” he asked as he flung open the back porch door.

“What about the floor? Your arm broken?” I answered back.

By then he had his face in the fridge, reaching for the gallon jar of Jersey milk. “No but you’re going have a broken butt if you don’t do something about it. Looks like a cow stall in here.”

“Soon as I check out that mare, I’ll sweep.”

He swigged milk and dug into a stale package of Saltines. “Yeah. Right. Uhhuh.”

I teased, “I know where a package of Twinkies is. You going to tell me more about that crazy looking mare?”

James leaned on the counter. “Don’t care about your month old Twinkies. What I heard was that Dad had made some deal or other with Christman. Eventually all horses at his place get ground into mink meat.”

That caused me to shudder. Knew it to be the truth. Paul Christman raised mink and on a regular basis, shadowed the Everson auction, looking for feed for his caged livestock. Reminded me of owning a rattlesnake ranch. “That mare killed to feed mink? She’s too fine and she’s not old or lame from what I can see.”

James shook his head. “Never know with that old man. Maybe he got a good deal and he could still make some money off of Dad. The mare is pretty big. Probably not too small for you to ride.”

The kitchen door slammed as I raced up the stairs to my room to change to old duds. ” Its good Paul had the sense to put her in the front pasture. The Paint might have kicked her.”

James yelled at my heels: “What about that crazy black Shetland monster? Don’t forget him.”

Horse fever had bitten me early on. The family story was that when I’d been just a toddler, Dad put me up onto a work horse and I’d fallen off. He’d logged the back acres with stout Percheron cross drafties. I tossed soft mealy apples into a small paper bag, then slowly walked out into the front pasture. The black and white patterned almost-a-horse silently watched me approach, sizing me up, checking out the harm I might represent. I hid a mid sized rope halter behind my back. Tango stretched her muzzle toward the apple I held to her and didn’t object when I put my hand up onto her neck and gently placed the halter around her nose, and behind her ears. Her blue eye was as placid as her milky white one. Placidly munching the apple, she accepted my probing fingers. Blacky butted in, snicking his teeth out either for a bite of apple or a bite of human. I’d worked with him since before Christmas and he continued being an obnoxious unreliable character.

I fingered the silky mane and in that moment, missed Mom. The previous November, day after Thanksgiving matter of fact, she’d stepped onto a train, said she needed to visit her sister and well, that was that. I’d get a letter and wonder when she’d step back into my life and so far hadn’t gotten a firm answer. Dad said little; his routine of mill work firmly established if we were to keep our twenty acres. I’d heard James rumbling on the phone one night, his tone small boy like. Those intonations caused me to tiptoe quietly out the kitchen door, leaving him to his private grief. “How did you end up at the auction house, hey girl?” And how did I end up in a Mother-less pasture, like having a sinus blocked when maybe you just had a cold?

“Hey brat! Mr. Christman left something in the kitchen you’ll be interested in. I got to go. Save some supper for me.” James tromped off to his idling Honda.

James cleaned chicken houses for the Snyders. At one time chicken houses outnumbered human houses in that region and early in the morning, the ding of iron milk cans echoed up the Valley road as they were hoisted onto the milk truck. I stared at my final high school year coming on fast, the small farms evaporating, the foggy pastures overrun by houses.

Mr. Trotter had planted the Shetland pony, Blacky on us the following Fall. I’d done my best to tame the crazy pony and its boy companion, Eddie. Small fry irritated me. This kid’s satchel messily flowed over my own debris, mucking up the already brown waters. I hadn’t wanted a little brother and I hadn’t wanted another’s train wreck right at my doorstep. Unexpectedly James had been the one to lead the way; to teach that having an open heart was acceptable.

Now I crossed the back porch and swung open the creaky screen door. The upended scuffed Western saddle plunked on the kitchen floor brought back that cold December night. I righted the heavy leather saddle and ran my finger along its contours, remembering my gasping retreat. James and I had delivered a gunny sack filled with Santa, had hung that sack firmly on Eddie’s family’s front porch and then, after a good toss of an old cowbell, had run like frightened piglets. The rough saddle, the shock of what I’d lusted for all those times of trailing Dad at the feed store, woke in me the terrible polar need of got to have it.

Dented and pitted pans, plates and cups dingy from years of use. This the reason I stood alone in a dusty kitchen? Dad whistled as he banged in and placed his black lunch pail on the newly washed counter. “Looks like Paul’s been here. There’s a saddle blanket in the truck. After I get the cow milked, I’ll show you how to saddle up The Paint. “

A horse will suck their gut in and later, if the rider is not savvy, will settle into a comfortable trot and leave the saddle and rider either dangling or whumped behind. Either the horse has a sense of humor or is just plain ornery. I hated to cinch the saddle so tight. Dad said it didn’t hurt. He showed me how to get the strap positioned so that the dreaded slippage wouldn’t happen. Then it was time to step up into the stirrup and swing the leg over and sit in what felt like an impossibly high seat. “Just like bare back except you put your weight in the stirrups. Still grab the pony with your thighs like before. Try ‘er out.” He lightly slapped the Paint on the neck. I gathered the reins and settled in as we moved steadily off.

Guess the phone had been ringing while we were pasture bound. That evening I scrunched over my history book, frowning over who did what when. The phone jangled from the kitchen,. Dad there, tipping cream from the jar into his coffee cup. The phone mostly stayed quiet so the sound startled me. Sam dog sat up and softly woofed. I couldn’t help hearing Dad’s semi-deaf yeahs and uh-huhs. He finally put the receiver down and must have sat at the kitchen table drinking his coffee. Even the thought of the upcoming history test couldn’t stop me from nodding off.

“Your choice, Lara. You’re old enough.” I woke, blinked, shook like an old weary pup.

“What, Dad?” I asked.

” Ma’s going to be in town for a visit tomorrow afternoon. Wants to talk with you. Said to ride the bus into town and she’d meet you at the café. You don’t want to, you don’t have to.” he said.

“Why’s she doing that?” I said, feeling stupid.

“Why she do anything she does? Only God and her so called mind knows. Like I said, I won’t blame you if you find something else that needs doing.”

Possibly numb, possibly just young, my mouth stayed shut. Dad clumped past to switch on the TV. What in our world was love anyway? I’d never shot anything but I had chewed hungrily on a roast that had once been a sweet young steer. Would talking with Mom make things better or worse? We’d bulldozed through Christmas and Easter. If there were reasons to tell, did I want to hear them? My rambling letters and her general answers enough hash to feed anybody’s soul?

James came in then, in an agreeable mood. He lifted his warm plate from the oven and between bites, told me a buddy of his was moving to Alaska. I nodded then gathered my books, my upstairs room and transistor radio on my mind. “So hey, Lara, Tom’s leaving his Ford here. He asked me to take care of it. “

“So?” I asked.

“So you’re looking a gift horse in the mouth. You know what that means!”

“I’m really not in the mood for this.” I answered.

He ignored me. ” Bet you can’t back that baby car down the driveway.”

I opened the door, my foot already poised for the first stair.

“You learned how to boil noodles, you can learn to handle a clutch and a couple of gears.” he said.

He’d managed to shake the ennui from my bowed shoulders. “Tom won’t like it if he comes back to a wrecked jalopy, James.”

“Nothing to it. Safe as beddie bye. Tom’s coming tomorrow with the car.”

I stared him in the eye. ” You don’t understand no, James. I’m not interested.”

He stopped chewing. “You’d better get interested, Lara. No way are you going to ride that old nag to town and some day, like it or not, there will come a time when driving out of here will be a huge deal.”

A huff escaped my lips. “I don’t know why you’ve decided to make me your project but like I just told you, I am not interested.”

Now James shook his fork at me. “You know one of the reasons Mom left and how she left? Cause she felt trapped and by the noon Stage. You want to hide up in your room, fine by me. Won’t be that long and we all could be moving on.”

Dad pushed the living room door open. “Anybody for popcorn? All that preaching, you need a side order to go with your supper, son.”

James looked out the darkened windows and said nothing. I headed upstairs, heard Dad mutter something about how he’d not seen me smile in days. Thought the mare and saddle would have helped.

What seemed like Way Back When, I’d mutually ached for a horse and deeply feared the dream as reality. I was built more like a Shetland than a dancing Arab. Dad bought The Paint from a Creole friend. The Creole’s kids had raised the red splotched horse, handling him since his birth. He wasn’t especially fast and he wasn’t mean. He had a willing heart though at times he showed a streak of sly contrariness. The horse had tutored me until the day came that I’d ridden him with only the silliness of a rope halter. The Paint shook his mane, as if to say, what about the bridle but did as bidden, turning right when reined that way and then deftly left.

I attempted to pass on some of that deep seated confidence to Eddie. Every week or so since Christmas he’d shown up, plagued me with questions, boldly claiming whatever scrap he could pull his way. I thought more than once that he was a small hungry cat clawing his way out of a dumpster. Together we tamed Blacky enough that he stood still for brushing, keeping his teeth to himself. One afternoon I placed an old gunny sack filled with apples on his back as a test, flicking the rope at him, egging him into a circle on the lounge line. He bit and kicked at the gunny sack for five then ten minutes, never seeming to tire. I finally caved and wondered aloud at ponies that didn’t like objects on their backs. Eddie flattened himself against a barn wall, trying to appear to be as manly as possible. I ignored his trembly hiccoughs, stopping the blowing pony, slowly approaching, hands where he could see them. “No apples for you, silly boy. You flunked, yup you sure did.”

Eddie said, “That were me, Pa’d take a strap to me.”

“Blacky is quick to learn. Maybe he’s more of a cart horse. I’ve never trained a horse to pull. I’ll talk to Dad.” I said.

“Where you get a cart from?” asked Eddie.

Just then James emerged from the other side of the barn. He’d been cleaning the milking parlor. “Hmm. Bet I could make a good enough little buggy with some old bicycle wheels.” He jabbed a hay fork in the air, pretending to fend off a slathering beast pony. Blacky neighed.

That night Dad came up and watched as I put the Shetland through his paces. The pony willingly trotted then stopped at my spoken command. Dad said, “You got most of the work done. Going to have to lay some reins behind him, get him used to minding his manners from behind, where he has to trust you more, see less. Course the real test will be when you’re in the cart. Your Ma would never forgive me for sure if somebody was put in the hospital.”

Dad brought home long reins the next evening. “Went to see Paul at noon. That old coot has everything you could want if you know where to look.” He approached the pony slowly, talked low, placing the strap of a bridle on its neck and removing the halter, talking, watching the flickering ears. “In you go, old boy.” He spoke a little louder. “Been a while since he’s had a bit in his mouth. Give him time to get used to it again. Then this is where you attach the reins. “

“You think his problem is that he’s bored, Dad?” I asked.

“Could be. And maybe he was gelded kind of late. Still thinks he’s a stallion. Now trot him in circles for a bit with the bridle on. I got to milk.”

A few minutes later he returned. “You ever take him outside when you lounge him?” Dad asked.

At the shake of my head, he pushed the heavy sliding door open. I led Blacky out. The pony snuffed the air, whinnied loudly and jiggled, a huge trout on a fishing line.

“Don’t let go, Lara. Hold on and keep flicking that rope until he settles into a circle. Keep at him!” Dad hollered as he disappeared into the barn.

“You pint sized creep. C’mon. No, you are not free. You might as well give in and settle down cause I’ve got better things to do,” I grumbled. The pony finally began gyrating in circles.

An enormous science test loomed in the next weeks. Eddie drove his Mother nuts going missing and inevitably turning up at our place. The bus driver was forbidden to allow Eddie on the bus so now Eddie bummed rides from folks he ‘sort of’ knew. I brought my science book to the barn, reciting out loud facts that meant little to me yet surely would be on the exam. My brain just did not want to wrap around the words. The concept of Eddie learning to control the shaggy pony was easier to grasp though putting that into common parlance was another matter. Blacky knew the boy was short and slight and had more gumption than muscle. Eddie tended to lose his temper and scream shrilly and Blacky tended to lose his temper and snort then zoom in for a quick nasty nip.

“Muzzle ‘em!” James said. He held two large wheels. “I’m headed over to Tony’s. He said he’s got an old buggy he wants to dump then I got go to Snyders. Better get that living room picked up. I heard Dad talking- think the Dunefors are coming over later.”

Great. Old fogies going to visit. They were friends of Dads. Why did I have to be there? I took the lounge line from Eddie, thought about showing him again then looked out at the placid Welch mare. “Hold this line a moment. I’m going to try something.” I ran to the barn, grabbed a rope. I spoke softly to the mare as I snapped the line on her. “Lets try something. Can’t no more than get us into a worse mess.”

Eddie shook his head no as I snapped the short rope to Blacky and the lounge line to the mare. “Teach him, girl!” I yelled as I clucked to Tango. She readily trotted off, dragging Blacky along. He must have had a mother complex. He only bit at her once. Tango adroitly flared her teeth at him and he got down to business. Eddie attempted a manly whistle. Should have come up with this a long ways back is what I thought. The two horses made quite a sight. The slim fairy mare tethered to a short shaggy weight. She didn’t seem to mind earning her keep. “He’s learning more in ten minutes than he has in a month.” I said as I flicked the rope, urging the combo to trot faster and then to suddenly stop.

“Think I can ride him now?” asked Eddie.

I looked down at him. In a few years that smooth face would house too many wrinkles. He had

that kind of face. “More likely you’ll be driving him.”

“You got to be crazy!” he answered.

“Yup. Crazy as a loon on dry land.” I said.

That’s how it was in that short tenure: desperate memorizing science and math chunks, training and aggravating the Shetland, punctuated by trail rides on The Paint. Eddie the mosquito continued to pepper us. James hinted that he about had the buggy built. One Thursday night Dad spread the newspaper in front of me. “Looky here. Blossom Time parade will be here in two weeks. Carnival time.”

He’d never invited me to go to the carnival. “Funny one, Dad. You know those rides make me want to hurl.” I said.

James raided the cookie jar. “You’re getting better at making cookies, Lara. Come on out to the garage. Got something to show you. You, too, Dad. “

We followed him. He flicked on the light. A lightly built but sturdy appearing buggy cart stood there instead of the usual dismembered motorcycle. It looked out of place in that denizen of greasy tools and motor oil. “No motor, son.” Dad said.

“The motors out in the pasture. Plenty of power, too.” I said.

“Go get ‘em and we’ll size him up.”

I rolled my eyes. Now? I tromped out to the pasture and soon returned with Blacky. Dad shut the gate for me and plunked a hand on the pony’s rump as he skittered through. “Still a terror, hey Bud?”

“Ok now back him in. Between the shafts.”

I muttered that the pony was going to freak. James pulled the buggy out to the driveway and I managed to back the pony. Dad gave me an apple. Blacky ignored it, his eyes white with fear, turning his head to look back at the thing that stood behind him. “There you go, old boy. Not going to hitch you up tonight. Just trying it on for size. I think it’s the perfect size for him. Just let him get used to the idea..” James said.

The next afternoon I was doing just that, backing the pony into the shafts, soothing and urging him to stand still. Like a stall, I told him. A stall built for him. Eddie jumped over the wooden gate. “You’re dirtier than ever. What happened?” I asked.

“Fell in a ditch. What are you doing? That a cart?”

Blacky chose that moment to lash out with a hind foot, connecting with the cart behind. I lightly flicked him with the rope and gruffly told him to cut it out. His ears flickered. “You’re just pretending to be stupid so you can get away with stuff.”

James walked up, the long reins bundled in his arms. “Might as well toss him in the pool, Lara. He’s had a bit to stew.”

I directed Eddie and James to stand at Blacky’s head while I snapped the reins onto his bridle. He no longer shook his mane at their weight. A good sign. James had shown me how they attached to the cart the night before. “Hold tight!” I yelled.

All three of us held our breaths when James lightly tugged on Blacky. He walked steadily, one foot then another. The cart rolled sweetly behind. Blacky suddenly stopped and looked back, as if to say, What is that contraption behind me? We let out our breath in a laugh when he plodded forward without a fuss. So far just marvelous. Now who would be the guinea pig that rode in the seat?

Eddie jigged up and down. James told him to quit before he gave Blacky ideas. “You sneak up there but be ready to jump if Blacky gets nutty. Got that?” he said.

There will never be anything so smart as a kid sitting up handsome as can be in a cart, eager yet afraid of the danger in that seat. I walked beside the cart and James gently urged Blackie forward. Blacky’s ears folded backward at first but he continued to tromp down the tractor path.

“Want to try slowly turning him, James?” I asked.

“Yeah, real wide. Walk along there right where you are. “

“I think we found what Blacky is good at. ” I said.

“First time I saw this monster, I’d never have thought it. ” James said. Then, “Here goes. I’m going to let go of the bridle but walk real close. You know how to rein at all, Eddie?”

“Sure do, Buster.”

James laughed then told him to quit being a dumb head. “I’ll get him to start walking. You do the steering with the reins. Don’t want him to feel the reins on his back just yet so hold them high. Got that?” James said.

I could see Eddie straining to hold the heavy reins above the pony as he used them to steer. He was getting as much of a workout as Blacky.

That night James rattled the paper at me. ” You only live once, you know.”

“I got to figure this math out, big brother. So go somewhere else.” I said.

“I think we ought to sign up for the Blossom Time parade.”

That got my attention. I threw the pencil erasure at him. “You’re funny. Thanks for the laugh. Now how about leaving me alone?”

He took my pencil away and began drawing out the math puzzle. “Like this. I mean it. I’m going to sign us up tomorrow- Blacky and the cart would be a hit.”

I almost fell off my kitchen chair. “You know how close the state looney bin is. You should be afraid, very afraid, James. And besides, Dad wouldn’t let us.”

He began singing a tuneless trail driving song that he’d heard on an old Western movie. “Don’t know till you ask.”

“You got the guts, you do the asking.” I said.

And he did just that. He marched into the living room with the cookie jar. “You want a cookie, Dad? And hey, you know that Blossom Time parade? Yeah, well, how about we enter Blacky and the cart in it? Both Lara and me would be there so there’d be no problems at all.”

I watched the living room show avidly. Dad spluttered his coffee, eyeing James like he would a strange rattlesnake. “What dope you smoking, son?”

James answered. ” I mean it. Blacky has settled down real good, Dad.”

Dad shook his head. “You have any idea what you’re asking for? Parades have any kind of noise and crazy excitement you don’t want to name. Plus stupid kids running everywhere. You’re going to have to rethink this one, James.”

I stepped in. ” One of us would be in the cart and the other would lead. That way nothing could happen.”

“Could be ok for one of you to ride The Paint in the parade but that Shetland? Don’t think so.” He said.

“I know! Blacky is a lamb when he’s with the mare. We’ll take them both.”

Finally Dad held up his hands. “You must have the trucks lined up to take the horses and cart to town, right, James? One sign of trouble and you’re out of there, hear me?”

I wiggled with excitement. “I’ll go call Eddie right now.”

Dad grumbled, “Eddie? What else?”

James said, “She’s smiling now, Dad.”

“Where’s a semi when you need one?” I demanded crossly a couple of afternoons later. James and I had Blacky and the cart walking the front yard, lining up with our usually busy road. Right then a loaded hay truck roared up from behind. We continued leading Blacky, trying not to be mindful of the awful rush of noise and size. The pony continued to pace as directed. Patting his neck, I told him he’d passed one test with flying colors.

“Ok, Lara. You see that driveway across the road? Soon as I don’t see traffic for half a mile, we’re heading into it. “

I shouted, asking if he was nuts. Blacky stepped onto the pavement readily, not blinking at the yellow or white lines, we humans running along his trotting hooves. Mrs. Larson peered out her curtained windows, shaking her curls in astonishment. Again, I patted Blacky, telling him he was a star performer.

James took hold of the bridle and I scrambled up into the cart. The world looked entirely different from its small seat. The world felt excitedly new as I peered over Blacky I yelled yes! to James as he said, “Ready?”

We reached the pasture gate so I hopped down. “Try it out, James. It’s a lot of fun.”

He eyed the cart. “I’m kind of big. He must be getting tired. Maybe for a minute.”

Once we cleared the gate, James climbed up and I gave him the reins. Playfully, I let go of Blacky. He surged forward. James yelled but hung on as Blacky swung into a strong trot. James pulled back on the reins, saying whoa now! Blacky decided to give it up and stop.

“You trying to kill me, little sister?” he asked.

“Guess it was just too good to pass up, James.” I said.

“You’d better not pull that stunt again.”

We agreed that Blacky was minding better every day. I gave him pieces of carrot then rubbed him down. “You got to admit that Mrs. Larson looked pretty funny, staring out her window at us.”

Early on the morning of the parade, Pat, a friend of James, drove his stock truck over and we loaded the mare in. She nickered her surprise but behaved otherwise. James had banged up wooden sides onto our truck bed. I shook a can of grain and the pony followed me easily up the ramp. He had mellowed. I was grateful for it. Plenty of room for the cart. James and Pat wheeled the cart and shafts up and secured it. “Won’t be long and you’ll be driving this truck, Lara.” James said to me as he settled behind the steering wheel.

“Ha ha. Nice of you to find that old leather vest for Eddie. Kind of wish Dad would have come along. He’s such an old stick.”

We backed slowly out of the driveway. We could hear Blacky moving around in the back. “Yeah, that vest isn’t too big on the kid. Might be some other member of the family will be there, you know.”

I turned to James. Pat had just pulled out of the driveway. James pushed down on the old accelerator and the truck surged forward. “Mom? Mom’s in town again?”

“Guess no one tells you much. She’s working now at Seward nursing home.”

I rolled the window down and stuck my face into the cool air stream. “Guess she didn’t get far with her dreams.”

“Nope. Hold on. I got this jalopy wound up. Going to try to catch up to Pat.”

The aged gears ground, the engine groaned, my just washed hair drying in the breeze. “Got to go. Got to go.” I heard the words clearly as the lifters kerplunked.

“You’re number eleven and 12. That pony going to make the entire route?” the lady consulted her note pad. I silently admired her; a lady past 40 sporting a braid always got my attention.

Eddie looked great in his Western get up. The light brown vest matched the holstered guns that he wore around his diminutive waist. He’d borrowed or other wise gotten black boots. I’d borrowed Dad’s black cowboy hat and shined up my own black boots. I’d braided Blackie’s forelock and the mare’s mane and tail. I’d also rubbed leather cleaner into each horse’s bridle reins and the old saddle. James surprised me when he smacked a white cowboy hat on his head. I didn’t get a chance to ask him where that had come from. “Too bad you couldn’t have ridden The Paint, James.” I said.

He said naw. He was happy enough walking by Blacky’s head and keeping Eddie company. I knew some of the excitement of circus performers, helping to unload the horses and the buggy. A clown came by, tipped his bowler hat at us and tossed candy bars our way. Eddie yelled “thanks!” and grabbed them. Blacky rolled his eyes, stamping his feet. I took a bar from Eddie and ripped away some of its wrapper. “Here, boy. Its not every day you’re in downtown. This better not make you worse! Now settle.” I was glad he was distracted by the chewy sweet when a truck roared by, backfiring and blowing smoke. Blacky snorted back and jigged around. James and Pat finally got the cart unloaded.

Police sirens and fire truck racket. The parade had begun. “Line up. Hurry up and get in line, folks. ” a man yelled from a tall palomino.

I swung up onto the mare and without a nudge, she headed out. We entered the line, coming up behind a convertible filled with bank dignitaries. A pretty woman in an evening gown winked at us and waved out at the seated observers. Blacky kicked and kinked his back a little, got laughs then settled into an easy trot behind us. James grabbed his bridle and warningly shook it. I heard him ask Eddie if he still had his hat and Eddie yelled Sure Do! Back.

That mile and a half route yawned on forever. We’d walk a few feet then stop, waiting for the folks in front of us to move forward. Grownups waved, acting about as goofy as their crazy hordes of children. I stopped counting how many balloons sailed into the air away from screaming gabbling children. I wheeled the mare quickly and deflected one grubby little boy. He’d almost tossed an ice cream cone bomb at Blacky. There was no reason. Just felt good, I suspected. Someone laughed loudly as I herded the boy down the street. “Going to tell my Dad on you if you run me over, lady!” he yelled. “Go on, little doggy.” I answered.. That was a first for me, using a horse as a weapon. Eddie aimed his gun at the boy. I almost fell out of my saddle laughing. Smart Eddie had brought a squirt gun. He had a good aim for such a runt. James turned just in time to see the miscreant run away, water dripping down the back of his head.

Eddie stopped grinning, frozen in his seat. A heavy set lady waved frantically at the buggy. “Edward! Oh, Edward Trotter you are just so handsome.” If Eddie could have shriveled into a prune, he would have. I’d never met his Mother but knew her right away. I waved at her, and set the mare into a circular trot. James just shook his head and kept on plodding. Just as we came out of the trot, I spotted someone quite familiar to me.

She boldly emerged from the pulsating crowds and stepped right into the mare’s path. She held onto the bridle and reached up to the saddle horn, where my right hand rested. “You’re practically grown up now, Lara. I’m proud of you.” I looked into my Mother’s eyes and nodded, silently wished her well and aloud, asked her to please move aside.

“Will you come to town tonight for supper, dear? We need to talk.” She asked.

I heard the command. I needed that command. I was still too young to accept that directive. I said no and asked her again to please let go of the bridle.

” I needed to grow, Lara. Just like you. Some day you’ll know what I mean. Come tonight. Just us two. I miss you.”

I wanted to spit out, Do you? Really? I stayed quiet because it was the best route; the only route out of that cold damp miasma.

She moved aside. James tugged on Blacky’s bridle and the parade surged ahead and soon, the certain small woman stood as strangers performed their acts for the enjoyment of the throngs.