Authors: Catherine Madera
Taylor grimaced. She’d definitely had something more warm and fuzzy in mind.
The tour continued while Liz gave running commentary on the cleaning routine, the dogs and cats available for adoption, the euthanasia schedule. Taylor was happy to find that three hound-mix puppies were included in the current lot.
“There’s one more thing; a horse out back that will need its paddock cleaned while you’re here.”
Liz nodded. “We don’t have a lot of room at this facility, but a horse or two can stay here if need be. We’re looking for a foster situation for this particular mare. Are you comfortable with horses?”
“When I lived in California I spent two summers at horse camp so, yeah, I like horses.”
Liz made her way out of the kennel and proceeded to lead Taylor along a narrow path covered in woodchips. A light-grey horse stood alongside the metal panels of a large round pen. It pulled hay from a feeder and pricked an ear in their direction.
“Wow. I think she has the biggest, blackest eyes I’ve ever seen.”
“She has only one eye.”
Liz moved to the gate, lifted the latch and gestured for Taylor to follow. The mare turned toward them, gracefully extending her neck in greeting. A low rumble rolled from somewhere deep in her throat. From the front the mare, like Liz herself, looked like two separate indi
viduals. Her right eye, a glistening orb of dark mystery and gentle intelligence,
examined the world with curiosity. In contrast, the left side of her face was a bony landscape of unnatural indentations, scars, and emptiness. The hair had been shaved and skin from around the socket neatly pulled together in a row of tidy stitches yet to be removed.
“She lived? Isn’t that impossible?”
Liz chuckled. “Nope. Seems Miss Miracle here didn’t want to die. She was found up near Glacier when she wandered into someone’s backyard. Vet said he’d never seen anything like it; the bullet missed her brain entirely. She lost a lot of blood, but she’ll be fine. She’s young and we think broke to ride. Could make somebody a nice, one-eyed horse.”
Taylor moved to the mare’s face. It bothered her that Liz seemed amused with the spectacular facts of the horse’s personal horror story. Cradling the mare’s jaw with one hand, she brushed the flies off the scarred landscape of her face. Taylor expected the horse to flinch or move off, but the mare only sighed and dropped her head.
“Who would do something like that to such a sweetheart?”
“Somebody who didn’t want to treat the nasty abscess in her hoof, apparently.”
Liz picked up an empty bucket, her busy demeanor suggesting it was time to collect feral cats. The horror of the horse’s condition seemed to have long since mellowed to simple fact. Maybe all the wounded animals in this place existed only as case files in her mind. She was a woman who had seen everything, no doubt, and her own personal deformities were testimony to the fact that life was not fair.
Taylor wanted to linger; the mare’s gentle presence drawing her to stay. She moved to the horse’s side, running her hand down the crest of the mare’s neck and over her shoulder. It was then that she caught sight of the marking.
“Why does she have this gnarly dark patch of hair?”
The question seemed to still Liz’s impatience. She hitched up her leg and leaned against the side of the wooden shelter.
interesting. If you like legends. This horse is an Arabian. Arabs say a horse with a bloody shoulder is blessed by Allah.”
Liz jerked her head toward the mare. “The marking. It’s called a bloody shoulder. I gotta get going but I’ll give you an abbreviated version of the bloody shoulder legend on our way to the office.”
Taylor hesitated, and then patted the mare’s shoulder. “I’ll see you again, Sweetie.” The horse followed them to the gate.
“I’ve never been a fan of once-upon-a-time, but here we go.” Liz hobbled as fast as she could, the speed of the words a mirror of her gait. Her face seemed to twitch extra fast. “Once upon a time there was a Bedouin warrior who owned a special mare he used for battle. They had a strong bond of love. The warrior was wounded badly in battle one day and fell across the neck and shoulder of his mare. For many miles the mare carried him unconscious across the desert until they reached home. When the warrior was taken from the mare’s back her shoulder remained permanently stained with the master’s blood.
She was in foal and when the baby came it also bore the bloody shoulder
marking. People believed that Allah had rewarded the mare for her courage, loyalty, and faith. The bloody shoulder was an eternal reminder of his favor.”
“Huh. Cool story.”
“Yeah. I gotta go. See you on Sunday then?”
“I’ll be here.” Taylor was lost in thought as she moved to the door. Outside, the beginning of a rain storm pelted the windows of the shelter. She heard the tinkle of car keys and the sound of Liz shrugging into a jacket.
“What’s her name?”
“Name?” Liz furrowed bushy eyebrows, her mind set on the task at hand. She looked out the window as if considering the weather, her expression momentarily softening. “How abou
? ‘Into every life a little rain must fall,’ isn’t that how the saying goes? I think our girl out back has had her share of rain.”
On the drive home the rain increased. The clouds overhead had churned into a threatening mass, black as soot. Raindrops beat at the windshield. Taylor turned the wipers on high speed.
faint, roasty smell of coffee assured Taylor the double-sided paper was the right one. She pulled it from the thin stack of job ap
plications she’d collected and brought the paper to her nose, inhaling the
aroma like a scratch-and-sniff sticker
Sounded like a sexy Latin
dance with no relation whatsoever to “coffee maker.” Sure, people drank lattes in California, but in Bellingham it was an elevated activity.
A coffee artist
That’s how the black-haired employee at Holy Grounds had described the job. Only part-time so she could devote herself to getting her agent and broker license online and learn the
ropes at the real estate office. Less than twenty hours a week, plus plenty
of hot drinks. Perfect.
Taylor had always wanted to be an artist of some kind. Trouble was nothing quite fit. What was she talking about—nothing came even close. Too awkward for dance, too distracted for writing, and no natural talent for music. How was it fair to be given a great love for music, but no ability to make music? Painting and drawing were definitely out. Pottery once had appeal. She had signed up for a class after watching her father’s favorite old movie
, but operating the wheel wasn’t near as easy—or sexy—in real life. The most memorable thing about the experience was her pottery instructor and his pungent old-man body odor badly masked by patchouli. His teaching mantra was constant and conspicuously aimed in her direction.
“Let the clay find its natural shape. It wants to be something; don’t force it! Let it find its own life.”
After six weeks her “naturally-shaped” pots sat on her dresser like ill-conceived blimps made by a kindergartner on craft day. She could relate to the pots. They didn’t seem capable of finding a functional,
much less beautiful, existence. Forced into service, they trudged into life sullen and unattractive. She’d put one—the best one that wa
a vase—in the kitchen and filled it with Black-Eyed Susans. Her father still had it. Kept out of pity, no doubt.
How many jobs had she had since high school? Babysitting, food
service at a retirement home, Wal-Mart, selling tickets at a movie theater. Forge
, her personal reality show would be called
After scratching the necessary information on the job application, Taylor hopped in her car for the thirty-minute drive to town. On the way, her eyes roamed the countryside whizzing by outside. It was a breathtaking collage of beauty, snow-capped mountains, the winding Nooksack River, pastoral scenes of dairy cows and horses. Low-lying
fog hung on the surrounding hills, verdant with evergreens, as if a giant
had walked through trailing cotton batting. Taylor could sit in a chair for hours on end and just absorb the beauty of the place. But work called. She forced her mind to the task at hand as she approached the outskirts of Bellingham. Of course she’d get the barista position; how hard could it be? It sounded like a desperate job, the kind people wanted when nothing else was available.
“You forgot to fill out the felony part.”
Taylor blinked at “Melissa” and watched her stubby index finger stab at a blank line on the application, its silver-polished nail bitten to the quick.
“You think I’m going to molest the latte machine or something?” A burst of laughter escaped her throat before she could stop it.
Melissa’s eyes widened. “This is
town. You have no idea what passes through here. Ever hear of Ted Bundy? And that guy who went on a random shooting spree cross-country? Both hung out in Bellingham. Probably applied for jobs at places like this.” She pressed slick purple lips together, and furrowed her twice-pierced eyebrows.
Hard brown eyes stared a challenge at Taylor. “I’ve got a stack of applications
in the back. You want to be considered, list your felonies.” She shoved the paper back.
List your felonies.
Taylor took the paper and wrote N/A on the line without looking down. She pushed the paper back. “I don’t have any.”
“Well. I’ll give this to the owner … along with the other applications. Maybe she’ll call you.” Without saying goodbye, Melissa moved to the drive-up window where a car waited.
Taylor walked to the parking lot
It did have a certain ring to it. Her dad would appreciate the juxtaposition of words. He cracked her up with descriptions that didn’t go together: carnival worker/Ph.D; taxidermist/flamenco dancer; librarian/sport fisherman; rocket scientist/knitter. The man knew that a title can be deceiving and a person’s job description doesn’t accurately add up the sum of their life, or comprise a ready-made list of corresponding traits. That’s the wisdom that comes from the two-word description, father/gay man. Not that her father had ever discussed his feelings or lifestyle choices with her. He wouldn’t. His favorite reply when someone questioned
him deeper than he wanted to go was, “I am what I am.” End of conversation.
Taylor pulled her key out of the ignition and thought of her father.
She missed his easy company and odd sense of humor; missed his anomalies. Like how they’d be driving along, in complete silence, and he’d suddenly offer a description to make her giggle. She made a mental note to call him and describe the “felonious baristas” that resided in northwest Washington.
Pulling a pack of cigarettes from her pocket Taylor tapped one out.
It slid smoothly into her hand. Out of habit she looked around, instantly
hating herself for checking for her mother’s car. They weren’t supposed to meet for another twenty minutes, but Ann was notorious for being early. Her work associates admired the obsessive punctuality, as if it indicated solid character or some stellar work ethic. Taylor knew better. Her mother—Ann Archer, real estate legend and Condo Queen—lived to catch someone doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing.
Taylor took a long drag on the cigarette and tried to let it seep gently out of her mouth. Ian could inhale, talk, and never appear to actually exhale. The smoke simply drifted, without effort, from between his lips, hovering and then dissipating into the surrounding air. She could watch him smoke for hours.
Instead of her mother, it was Melissa who watched her with disapproval. Taylor scuffed her toe into the gravel parking lot and blew a line of smoke in the girl’s direction. What was her problem anyway? She tapped cigarette ashes onto the ground and took another drag. Melissa immediately opened the door of the coffee stand and marched over. Taylor noticed something glinting in her middle, a belly button ring attached to a thin chain that anchored onto her jeans pocket. Real smart. At least if she took a swing at her Taylor would know what to grab.
“You’re littering—do you mind?”
“Are you for real? I’ve dropped like a hundredth of a