Ana had to get out. Erupting, Mt. Shasta incarnate, she ran past the staleness of cigarettes and coffee on her mother’s breath and clothes, the sickly sweet Jean Nate she used to cover them up.
Bang! Hurtful words followed through the back door that slammed against the sill as if shot from a slingshot. They didn’t stop her. She jumped down all four steps off the porch, dashed out the back gate, and hit the pavement running. The slap, slap of her tennis shoes echoed like buckshot fired across the river.
Her mother called her name, once, twice, but Ana was too far along her escape route for the sharpness of her mother’s voice to pin her in place. Stares from three blocks of curious neighbors goose bumped the hair on her arms. She ran until she reached the field. There she crumbled, resting shaky and sweaty palms upon the pricks of the barbed wire. Somehow, the pain felt right.
He nickered when he looked up from grazing in the middle of the pasture. Green drooled from his mouth as he lipped a wad of succulent grass past his teeth. He shook flies from his sides, and his earthy scent beckoned.
She pulled open the wire gate and slipped through.
He took three lazy steps toward her and stopped.
She stopped and gazed at him.
He lowered his head, unsure of her intent.
She whispered his name.
He shook his head. His ears flopped from side to side. He licked his lips.
She softened and slowly walked toward him. When she reached him, she slipped her fingers under his thick mane. The soft warmth of his new, coppery, spring coat underneath the long, black, stranded curtain soothed her in ways she had yet to define, wouldn’t define, could not define. His salty scent spoke of dark woody roots, freshly turned fertile Earth, hugs, and safety.
He took another step, offering himself.
She wrapped her fingers around a handful of mane, jumped, and threw her leg over his broad back.
He sighed, lowered his head, and continued to graze. Muscles on his shoulder twitched, releasing tension between them.
She leaned back until his round rump became a welcome pillow.
The blue, Spring sky was all she could see. For a long time he rocked her with his gentle search across the field for the choicest clumps of grass.
Her heartbeat slowed. Flies buzzed. His tail swished, and flies scattered. A flock of tiny, brown birds landed in the arms of the big oak beside them, chittering from branch to branch, appearing in sunlight and then disappearing into shadow. Traffic rolled down the main road. Neighborhood boys played a rollicking game of dodgeball in the church parking lot down the street.
It seemed like just yesterday that she used to play too, not as one of the guys but not separate either. That had all changed with this awful, crushing metamorphosis.
For a moment, anger rose its ugly head like a rattler coiled at the base of a rock, daring her to come closer. But the clouds were so fluffy, so starkly white against the blue. They rolled into passing sailing vessels, which sent her dreaming about faraway places. An ostrich rose up, then melted just as fast. A wave of rolling boulders tumbled toward the Sierra Nevadas. Anger gave her up and slithered back under its rock. Beneath her, her horse shifted his weight as he grazed, swaying her back to sanity.
As the sun slipped behind a bank of heavy clouds, her thoughts turned to “mother.” Mother took bits of Ana’s soul with her words of warning: You have to watch your weight. We have to do something with that stringy hair. Must you sniff like that? Boys won’t like it. Your belly is getting too round. Put on that bra.
Why was her body betraying her? Why did her mother constantly point it out?
Her horse jerked, raising his head to watch a dog snooping around the edges of the field. For a moment, Ana’s mind blanked as she prepared for the possibility that her horse would chase the dog. But, the dog moseyed on, and her horse lowered his head to graze. She settled back onto the pillow of his rump.
Hadn’t “mother” also given her this refuge? Hadn’t she insisted upon it, even after the first mare died of extreme old age, and the second one met her fate in a tragic, heartbreaking, trailering accident? Hadn’t Mother brought the Goddess into herself to fight for this union of girl and horse?
Maybe the bits she stole were nothing more than unneeded facsimiles of self, little girl bits that would no longer serve who Ana was to become. Could that be true?
Her horse snorted. He stamped his back left foot, shaking her off the center of his back.
She scooted back into place.
Maybe this was truth, right here, on this warm, rocking back with cool breezes gentling past her under a clear, blue, Spring sky. Maybe this was all she needed. Nothing more.
The sweet scent of freshly broken grass under his feet that sent a warm, welcome rush of pleasure through her body was a portent to womanhood. Nothing more.
The awful burden of budding Goddess scared the desperate little girl living inside. Nothing more.
Her steady companion, who swayed beneath her, was a fearless steed who could carry her away from the mischief-maker of puberty for one more day.
Maybe this was all she needed. Her steed was a Mother’s gift.
Nothing more…nothing less.