Authors: Joseph Monninger
“I know,” she said. “It’s weird without him around.”
“You going to call your dad soon and say you’re on your way?”
She nodded. Her jaw flexed with her chewing. She crumpled up the wrapper and dropped it onto the seat.
“It will work,” I said.
“I hope so. If it doesn’t, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
“You’ll just come back and live with me.”
“Oh, your mom would love that.”
“She loves you and you know it,” I said.
“Paulette’s going to love having you back.”
“She’ll hate me because I haven’t called.”
“She’ll get over it.”
Delores rolled down her window and spit out the bubble gum.
“I swear bubble gum is only good for about a minute,” she said. “But I love it anyway.”
“Can I ask you something serious?” I said.
“A while back Mrs. Ferguson talked to me about being a veterinary assistant. Not for dogs or cats but for large animals. You know. Horses and cattle. There’s a program at the University of New Hampshire. She thinks I could probably get in on a provisional basis. My grades suck, but I have the GED and she says they need people. What do you think?”
Delores looked at me.
“You could not do anything better in this world, Hattie Wyatt,” she said, her eyes on me. “You’d be perfectly suited. I mean it. And you might decide to be a vet yourself.”
“One thing at a time,” I said.
“No one loves animals like you, Hattie. You do that. You ask Mrs. Ferguson to help you get into the program. She can pull some strings. People like her have lots of strings.”
“I think it’ll be good, too.”
She reached over and grabbed my hand.
Fifteen minutes later we pulled up to the bus station. It wasn’t much—just a ticket window with a tiny waiting room. A bus idled, its exhaust blue-green in the late-afternoon light. Greyhound. Delores unloaded my stuff while I went to the window and bought a one-way ticket. A chubby guy told me to get a move on, the bus was about to leave. I grabbed the ticket and ran back outside.
“It’s my bus,” I said.
Delores carried my backpack. I carried my carry-on bag. The bus driver, a tall, thin broom of a man, threw the other passengers’ bags into the undercarriage. He slammed the doors down.
Delores took me in her arms. I squeezed her as hard as I could.
“You’re a woman going west,” I said. “No one can stop you.”
She nodded against me.
“Load it up,” the bus driver shouted.
I grabbed my backpack from Delores and lugged it step by step up the stairs. I dropped the bags onto the first empty seat I found and knelt to look out the window. The bus made a releasing sound, the brakes sighing, and I strained left and right to see Delores. I saw her as the bus pulled away. She had her hand up, waving, but I wasn’t sure she could see me through the tinted windows.
T COULD HAVE EASILY BEEN LOST
The postcard arrived in a bunch of other mail, and somehow it had tucked down into the
, a local shopper newspaper that called itself the North Country’s best flea market. The mail sat on the seat of my old Chevy pickup, a two-wheel-drive S-10, because I had grabbed the letters on my way out of the house. Most of the mail was addressed to my mother.
I probably wouldn’t have noticed the card except that I had gotten cold tending to the horses and had decided to eat my lunch in the truck with the heater going. It was April and rainy, the last of the snow peeling away under the large drops
of moisture. The Fergusons had left me in charge of the horses while they played golf in Bermuda. Mud season held the barn in a soggy, wet cast. Whenever the horses moved, their hooves pulled up large sucks of mud that splattered their bellies. They looked like brown-spotted dalmatians.
I was more interested in the mail these days because I had been accepted into the veterinary assistant program, large animals, at the University of New Hampshire. The acceptance had come bundled with provisions. I had to maintain a 2.7 GPA. I had to complete a summer internship. If my grades slipped below thus and so, I would be bounced. I was part of a North Country statewide outreach program. Whatever it was called, once the University of New Hampshire had gotten the idea I was attending the following fall, mail came by the bucketfuls.
I didn’t check the mail for letters from Delores. She called or texted late at night to tell me about her dad, her job at Home Depot, the boy she had started dating.
When I lifted the
to take a look at it, the postcard from Fry slipped out. My heart stopped. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich I had been eating turned to stones in my mouth. I swallowed as best I could.
I looked at the card. I saw my address and the address of the sender. The front side of the card had a chili recipe on
it. I turned off the truck and stepped out into the wet mist. I tucked the card into my back pocket.
I made myself finish mucking out the stables. I raked out old hay and replenished three stalls with new bedding. The horses nodded and dozed. I worked for most of the afternoon. The card remained in my back pocket. A hundred times I reached my hand down to check it. Each time my hand fell away from it.
It was nearly sunset when I finished with the stables. I put away the rakes and brushes the way Mrs. Ferguson liked them to be stored. Then I sat on a small bench outside Fabio’s stall. He was a big horse, a palomino whose white forelock dangled almost to his eyes. He was a friendly, slightly silly horse. I pulled the card out of my back pocket and tucked it against my knee facedown. I took a deep breath and turned it over.
Sorry to tell you, your horse stopped running today. We found him when we went out to deliver hay. I can’t tell you much about how it happened. He was down when we found him, that’s all. He seemed like a
good horse, and you should be happy he made it to spring. I would have had Punch write to you, but he’s down in Arizona, as you likely know. Most of the mares have foaled, and it’s some pretty to watch
Hope you’re well
I stood and put my arms around Fabio’s neck. He made a good horse sound, a deep rumbling in his throat and chest, and I hugged him as hard as I could. He nodded his head a little. I whispered that I loved Speed, always would, that he was my boy, that of all the horses that ever were, ever would be, Speed was my
one true horse
. He was the one I thought of when I thought of all horses, and I could recall his face faster than I could any other creature I had ever met. “My one true horse,” I whispered. I hoped he had seen the grass turn as green as flame and had breathed the wind carrying the mares’ scents, and maybe he’d seen the foals, all candle-legged, their rock-a-horse trotting bringing warmth to his old heart. I buried my face in Fabio’s neck and I cried as I had never cried. I cried for everything sad in the world, and for Speed, and for
all the things and people who got old and tired, for the good hearts that tried to go on but couldn’t. I cried for Delores and I cried for me, and Fabio took it all. He took it all and it went deep into his body, but he didn’t move or judge. He accepted my tears and he leaned into me, his great, quiet skin smelling of barns beyond counting, smelling of hay and summer and the knobby oats he loved so much.
And for just a second Fabio became Speed.
“Spring,” I whispered, when even old bones get up and walk. And I told him what my first riding instructor told me—that when a horse dies, he becomes Pegasus, the greatest of all horses, a horse with wings, a horse that eats air and canters on light. He soars above the land, free from this world, and I would meet him someday, I promised. We would ride in the sky, and we would perform great deeds, and anyone seeing us would marvel at the magnificence of the horse with wings.
I told him goodbye for Delores and for the Fergusons and even for the children who didn’t understand what they had asked of him, what their impatient heels had done to his heart. I explained that I would tell Delores and we would remember him.
“My one true horse,” I whispered.
His soul flew up. I saw it in the mist and cold rain. In the late-afternoon light I saw great wings push free of his
shoulder blades, and watched evening light shatter and pull to colors along his body. And what had been Speed, this slow, cobby horse, rose and became something shimmering and blinding. No sooner had he left the ground than a sound filled every corner of the world, and a thousand horses, a million horses, all the horses that ever were, stampeded through the sky. And I saw Speed fly up, triumphant at last, and he did not veer left, and he did not stop, and the sparks of his hooves became the dew of evening’s first hour.
JOSEPH MONNINGER has published eleven novels and three nonfiction books for adults, as well as three acclaimed novels for young adults:
Wish; Hippie Chick
Blue Ribbon Book; and
, an ALA-YALSA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults. He lives in New Hampshire, where he is an English professor.