The tension between Dick and I increases on a daily basis. I hide around corners and duck down in stalls when I see him coming. Not that he makes an effort to get out of his truck very often. It’s normally the blaring of his blasted horn that draws me out.
I trot out to the truck soon after the horn sounds, much like Pavlov’s dog trained to the bell without the reward.
Dick sees me coming, and the honking stops.
He sits above me in his one tonne truck. His sunglasses fit tightly on his face, and his arm dangles out the window. He taps his fingers on the side of the door like he’s counting down.
“Good morning Dick.” I said energetically.
He tips his head, “Morning.” He drawls, “How’s everything going today?”
A fly buzzes around my head. I swat at it with an open hand.
“Everything is going well,” I reply, “I’ve started turning out the horses for the day.”
The fly lands on my arm and I shake it off. I continue to talk. “I find it challenging to keep an eye on all the horses though. The other barn is so far away from this one.“
Dick shrugs his shoulders, “Eh, It looks like you’re making it work— I called you over to give you a heads up that Ralph and Vanessa are meeting Tracey and I this morning.”
The fly lands on Dick arm, and he twitches his hand. The insect doesn’t move. Dick ignores the pest. “The adults have some business to discuss. So, I’d like you to keep their girls busy while the grown-ups talk. We don’t need any distractions.”
“Sure,” I nod. “I’ll get the girls to help me brush Charlie, or put some shavings in the stall.” The horses whinny loudly in the barn. They are getting restless. I glance towards the sound.
Dick slams the dash with his hand. He lifts up his fingers. A fly twitches underneath; green goo oozes out of its body. Dick wipes his hand on the side of his shirt. “Fucking bugs,” he said.
I scratch my arm. “They’re everywhere,” I said scrunching up my face, “This morning when I opened the door to the feed room— I saw hundreds of cockroaches scurrying across the floor to hide. All I could hear was the scuttle of their feet sharp on the floor.” I shook my head. “They were fricken huge!” I exclaim, “And so many!”
Another horse whinny’s insistently. I gesture to the barn, “Well, if that’s all you need— I better go, duty calls.”
He holds up a hand, “Actually there’s one more thing— Judy Macmillan, the real-estate agent will be coming by to drop off some brochures on horse properties in the area. You remember her don’t you?”
“You mean the tiny women with the presence of a giant?” I said remembering her bird like figure, and pointed nose. I never expected such a tiny lady to have such a forceful and opinionated personality. I felt like I’d been steam rolled, the first time I met her. She asked me a thousand questions about my life and then had an opinion on every answer. But she knew her horses, and she was honest. I sure appreciated that since I was working for Mr. Shifty over here.
“Yeah,” he chuckles. “Yeah, that’s he for sure. Just tell her to throw the brochures in the Jeep. She said she wouldn’t be staying long.”
He juts his chin out towards me. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you —How’s Allison’s making out with Razor?”
“Good,” I reply shuffling impatiently as I hear the horses call again. “They’re still figuring each other out, but it’s coming along. I’ve been helping her.”
He lifts his sunglasses and eyes me up, “Yeah, Tabby told me you’ve become friends with that family. She said you’re dating Antonio.”
I clench my fists. It’s none of his business.
“Yeah,” I answer nonchalantly, “We’ve been out a few times.”
The horses call out again. Perfect timing. I turn away, “Gotta go,” I shout.
“It’s about time someone pops your cherry,” he hollers behind me.
Asshole I respond silently.
I finish cleaning stalls and fill the water buckets in advance for the evening feed. It’s a soothing routine. There is a rhythmic comfort in daily tasks and in the wordlessness of my own noise.
I push a squeaky wheeled cart to the hay shed.
The hay is dark green. It smells sweet and fresh. It’s invigorating and inviting. I resist the urge to roll in it like a cat and purr.
I climb up onto the shorter side of the stack using the twines as handholds. I reach the top and lift a bale to toss down. I freeze. A brightly banded red, yellow, and black coral snake lifts his head in surprise. It makes a popping sound warning me to vacate his area. I slowly back away and set the bale down. Then I scramble. I accidently hook a twine with my foot and tumble down the stack. I scrape my arms on the way down. I spring to my feet. And sprint to the barn without sparing a glance back.
In the safety of the barn I press my back against the wall. My heart bumps loudly in my chest.
“Holy crap!” I said, sinking down to my heels and leaning my head against the wall. What are the odds I’d meet another venomous snake in Florida?
I take a deep breathe in and roll to my feet deciding the hay can wait. The little girls Beth and Lauryl will be here soon. I’ll grab a halter for Charlie instead.
A silhouette appears at the far end of the barn. From the shape of it, I would guess it’s Judy.
The petite women closes the gap between us in short order.
She holds out her arms, “Debby, so nice to see you,” she said, embracing me in a tight hug with no worries about my sweaty, stable smelling body.
“Nice to see you too, “I said, my words are slightly muffled by her hair.
She releases me dramatically and I almost fall on my butt.
“Tell me,” she said, “How are things going with the Fatterods?” She peers at me with sharp eyes— an owl on the hunt.
“It’s going?” I say unconvinced of my own answer.
She nods energetically. “Listen, I know things are a little rocky right now,” she said flipping a hand in the air. “But whatever happens, I want you to know,” she leans in, “you’ve got a friend in me.”
What the hell does that mean? What kind of information does she have?
She places a hand on my arm and slides her head close to mine, and whispers, “Listen, I can see your doing a great job here for Dick and Tracey. I know horses. I’ve been around them all my life. No matter what you’ll always have a job.”
I pull away and stare at her with confusion.
She laughs a tinkling laugh accompanied by a flittering wave of her hand. “Now I’ve gone and scared you,” she said, “I didn’t intend that. I just wanted you to know— I have your back.”
I bob my head slowly, swallowing hard. I give her a gawky smile, “Thanks, that’s wonderful.” I manage to reply in a stilted tone. My mind is going a hundred miles an hour with her odd confessional type conversation.
She flips a look at the glittering watch on her wrist, “Oh. I must run,” she gushes, “The pamphlets? Where should I leave them?”
I point in the direction she had come, “In the Jeep parked out front. It’s not locked.”
“Ok Hon, I must run.” She said as strides away.
I follow in her wake, moving the speed of a turtle towards the tack room. What is it that she knows and I don’t? That was the weirdest talk ever.
I hear giggles in the distance. No time to ponder the mystery now. I have two little girls to entertain. They run down the aisle way and greet me with flying hugs.
The older one Lauryl backs away after a short time. She holds her nose. “Oooh What’s that smell? She asks.
I stand up carrying Beth in my arms, “That my dear Lauryl is the odour of horse poop. If you clean horses stalls, you’re going to get stinking.”
I give her a gentle hip check, “When you get a horse of your own, you’re going to find out”
Lauryl lets go of her nose. “Maybe we should get you some perfume for Christmas?”
“Yeah,” Beth agrees, “but Christmas is a long way off. Maybe I’ll just give you mine.” She pushes my hair away from my face, and stares me in the eye. It doesn’t really matter. I like you anyway.”
Lauryl grabs onto my one dangling hand, “Me too.” She said, “I still like you too.” She grins up into my smiling face.
Kids are the best. If you give them a little time, they give you their heart.
Needless to say, the rest of the morning disappeared in a blur.
It’s mid-afternoon; the clouds cover the sun giving a reprieve to the relentless heat. I’m lunging the stallion Jupiter in the exercise ring at the back barn. I catch sight of Allison’s car rolling up.
She steps out of the car. She’s wearing her riding breeches and a light tank top. She waves one arm high and wide. “Hi,” she hollers. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure,” I shout.
I bring Jupiter down to a walk and then to a halt. He drops his head as I step up to him. I give his forehead a scratch. “Good boy.” I said.
I lead Jupiter to the gate where Allison waits.
She studies Jupiter with glowing eyes, “He’s sure a beauty.”
I smile at the glistening horse with affection, “He is, and a sweetheart to boot.” I said. I turn my attention to Allison, “So what’s up?” I ask, as I walk towards the barn with Jupiter by my side.
She hurries along beside us, her wavy dark hair bouncing on her shoulders. “I was wondering if you could come for supper on Friday night? Antonio said he would pick you up.”
“That would be wonderful,” I said feeling a lightness tickle my ribs. “An extra night away from the Fatterod family would be a real treat. Thank you.”
We enter the barn together.
“I have a favour to ask.” Allison confesses hanging back while I tie Jupiter in the wash rack.
“What is it?” I question, giving her a glance. Her face is serious. I turn to face her giving her my full attention.
She wrings her hands, “John got laid off work last Friday— he’s already got a business plan in mind. A friend of his has a patent on a medical machine and John will be working for him in sales. But until the product takes off money will be tight.”
I nod sympathetically, “That’s rough. I’m not sure how I can help though. I don’t have any extra money kicking around.”
She shakes her head. “It’s not that Deb. It’s Razor. I already have a lot of money soaked into him, and they charge me an outrageous amount for board here.” She studies my face gauging my reaction. “ I found another stable at a third of the cost. I was wondering if you would help us move him.”
I nod, “Of course, maybe I can borrow the truck and trailer to—“
“No,” she interrupts, “I signed a contract with Dick and Tracey. I’m still making payments on the horse. Between that, and the board I can’t make ends meet. I have to take him without them knowing.”
My heart rate speeds up. “There must be another way,” I protest with wide eyes. I shake my head slowly, “No. I’m sorry Deb, you guys are my friends but I can’t help you. My job is to care for the horses, and be loyal to my employers —As much as I dislike Dick. I can’t help you steal Razor.”
Allison’s face becomes hard, “It’s not stealing!” she denies. “Technically, I’ve already paid for part of him. And I’m going to pay for the rest. I just don’t want to be gouged with expensive board,” Allison insists.
I can’t find one word to utter. My guts ache. I roll my eyes to the sky. I see her point— but she signed a contract.
I cover my face with my hands and let out a loud sigh. I drop my arms to my sides and think, I’ll take the coral snake again please.
She clasps her hands together, and brings them to her chin in a thoughtful pose, “Ok,” she yields dropping her hands to her hips. “ I understand. Just forget we ever had this conversation.”
I gently bob my head in agreement, “Alright.” I answer. I see the disappointment in her face. “I guess supper is out. Huh?” I comment.
She waves a hand at me, “No— Supper is still on, I’ll see you then.” She consents with a distant look.
Allison turns and strolls away.
I watch her sagging form.
She stops suddenly, as though she has forgotten something, and swings around. “What time do you clean stalls in this barn?” She asks.
I shrug my shoulders, “I don’t know? Usually around ten, the big barn takes quite a while to clean. Why?”
She looks away, “Antonio mentioned coming to help you sometime. I just wondered what your morning was like.”
“That’d be nice.” I admit. “I never get help cleaning stalls. And according to two little girls, I stink because of it.”
Allison tosses her head, “Ah the glamorous life of a stable hand.”
“Cinderella, Cinderella.” I reply.
She walks away and raises a hand, “Later!” she shouts.
I turn the hose on, and spray Jupiter with his cooling shower. He turns to the water flapping his lips in the spray.
I laugh, if only people were so easy, I thought.
Later that day, I bring two horses into the big barn, one in each hand.
Tracey trots in on her show-horse, Genie. “ Deb,” she said frantically, “I’m late picking up Tabby. Dick is at home but we have both vehicles here.”
She hops off her horse.
I put my two horses away in their stalls.
Tracey flips the reins off Genies neck. “Can you bring Salt and Pepper home?” she asks. “It’s so hot. The air conditioning is giving us trouble in the truck. I’d rather not bring the dogs to pick up Tabby.” She pulls a face, ”Especially if Tabby is going to make me wait— which is the usual.”
I walk over. “It’s not a bother.” I said, “I can bring them home.”
“And my horse?” she asks.
I smile and take the reins, “Of course, I’ll look after Genie.”
I hear the truck leave and the two little corgi’s look at me expectantly, “Don’t worry kids, I’ll take you home.”
They wag their tales at the sound of my voice, and I bend down to give them each a rub. The dogs are my favourites out of the entire Fatterod family.
I complete the evening chores at the big barn. I turn the lights out and slide the doors shut.
I hop in the Jeep to drive to the little barn. It’s a quarter of a mile away. I pat the seat as Salt looks up with dewy eyes. She jumps into my lap.
Pepper eyes us up, and then trots off towards the far barn. It’s not the first time he has refused a ride.
I put the Jeep in gear and drive. I can’t see where Pepper went. I assume he’s racing ahead. I follow the curve around the drive and hear a thud, thud. At the same time the Jeep bumps like it’s going over a rock. My heart thumps. There are no rocks. I hear Pepper yelp.
Oh God! Oh my God! I ran over Pepper.
My chest constricts. My head hurts.
I jump out of the Jeep and run to the back. Nothing. There is no Pepper. I look under. Still nothing. I check out every inch of the Jeep. There is no sign of him.
I imagine him wounded and bleeding —he ran off to die.
Tracey will hate me. I hate me.
I’m crying. Tears are running down my face. I killed their beloved pet. Poor pepper.
“Pepper. Here Pepper!” I cry and snivel barely making a sound because I’m crying too hard. I walk around the bushes searching.
I wipe my face with the back of my hand and holler, “Peeeepper!”
I jog towards the caretaker’s barn. There is a phone on the wall. I need to call for help.
I see a movement in the corner of my eye. It’s Pepper. He limps towards me. I can’t see any cuts, or any blood.
I gently pick him up. He whimpers. I cry.
I dial the Fatterod’s number.
“Hello,” answers Dick.
“Hi’” I said with a sniffle
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
I sob. “III accidently ran ooover Pepper with tthe Jeep.” I stutter.
“What? How? Is he alive.”
I suck in a breath of air, “Yes, he’s alive. He’s even walking, but he has a limp.”
“Bring him home.” Dick orders. “Tracey and I will get him to the vet.”
The phone clicks and the wall holds me up.
Pepper is a miracle. There’s no broken bones and no internal bleeding. The Fatterod kids, Tabby and Zack fawn all over him when he comes back home. There is nothing like a near death experience to get your family to pay attention to you.
The entire day had been trying. I’m glad I didn’t end it with murdering the family pet.
The next day is worse.
It starts out ordinary. I feed, water, turn out horses, fling horse poop and fill stalls with clean bedding. Around ten o’clock I finish cleaning the big barn.
I drive to the small barn watching closely for dogs.
I have eight stalls to clean. I finish around eleven and roll the wheelbarrow of poop outside to the shit pile.
I hear the roar of a working truck going down the road. I lift my head and shade my eyes from the sun—I see a truck and horse trailer leaving the stable yard.
Who could that be I wonder? It’s the off-season for horse events. We’re the only customers here.
Oh crap. I feel a heaviness growing in the pit of my stomach. Allison.
I race up to the big barn.
Razor is gone.
“Fuck!” I scream in a long drawn out tone. I put my hands on my face and crouch down. Dick is going to fucking kill me.
I traipse to the caretakers barn to make the phone call to the Fatterods.
I put a shaky hand on the receiver —The phone of miserable happenings. My hand drops away. I lean back against the wall. “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” I chant as though it’s going to help.
I feel ill, and dizzy.
I tilt forward and place my hands on my knees. “Ok Deb, just breathe. It’s going to be okay.” I said to myself.
I stand up and shake my hands vigorously. I roll my neck like I’m some sort of athlete about to do something spectacular.
I grab the receiver and dial the phone as quickly as I can before I lose my courage.
I huff out a breath of air. My hands vibrate.
“Hello,” said Dick.
Dammit! It had to be Dick. I can’t get a fricken break. “Hello,” I reply.
“Oh, Debby. What’s up?” He asks sounding somewhat confused.
I never call—Unless I run over a dog, and there’s no dog here now.
“Razor’s gone.” I said flatly, there was no sugar coating this puppy.
“What do you mean Razor’s gone?” he asks with a hard edge to his voice.
I can hear Tracey’s voice in the background high pitched.
“I saw a horse trailer leaving. I think Allison took him.” I said.
“You think Allison took him?” He asks— or accuses. I’m not sure which.
“It had to be Allison.” I reply. “Who else would take him?”
I continue to hear Tracey in the background. She has switched to her angry voice.
“Hold on,” Dick said.
I wait. I hear muffled yet elevated voices.
I can feel how this will play out. I’m friends with Allison. I’m dating her brother. This would land on me.
The phone comes to life, “Debby, come back to the condo,” Dick orders. “Tracey is going out to the barn.”
The phone clicks.
I want to drop the receiver and run away.
I don’t. I slide into the drivers seat in the jeep and wonder if I’ll ever see my horse companions again.
I admit to being scared. Dick has no morale compass. So far I am certain Tracey’s been my protector. Hmmm, I ran over her dog last night. How’s that going to work out for you Deb?
I enter the condo reminding myself I have done nothing wrong.
“Hello?” I call out.
“In here,” Dick answers from the kitchen.
I stride in pushing myself to be confident. I will not cower.
Dick is chopping carrots with a butcher knife.
I’ve never seen Dick cook.
He waves the knife towards me, ”Sit down,” he orders. “We have a lot to talk about.”
He stabs the knife into the wooden board with aggression— and I cower.