Authors: Jane Smiley
We had fried chicken for dinner, which was very good, a special recipe including cornflakes. It came to me maybe three times to tell Gloria about Stella and the ink cartridge, but in the end I never did. It felt too much like tattling, and anyway, it was possible that Gloria knew all about it and wasn’t telling me.
Nor did I tell Mom when she came into my room at bedtime that night. When I told her about Melinda, she said that maybe Melinda was afraid because her family was keeping things from her, so she suspected that there was a lot going on that she didn’t know anything about. She said, “Children always know more than you think.”
I didn’t know if this was true, because I didn’t know what Mom and Daddy thought I knew.
I told her about the fried chicken and the origami birds and the new record player.
Just when I thought she was going to leave, she said, “Jem Jarrow had stopped by while you were gone.”
“Yes, and your daddy was all set to sell him a horse, but he said that he was never in the market for a horse, and he thought maybe he should clear things up.”
“What did he have to clear up?”
“Well, Abby, Danny and Jake sent him over, and I knew about that. It was me who told Jake that you were afraid to ride the horse.”
“I told Danny that, too.”
“I know. The thing is, Danny has been working with Jem. Jake has known Jem Jarrow for forty years, working around at one ranch or another, and Jake always thought he was the best hand with a horse in the area, but Jem wasn’t hiring himself out before. He and his brother had a big ranch, but now they’ve sold some of the land and some of the cattle, so he thought he would go out and see if there was a living to be made training horses.”
“What did Daddy say?”
“He said, ‘Not much of one.’”
I sighed. I said, “Daddy never did ask me what happened.”
“I think he thought you just stood there while Jem tried the horse. He didn’t know that Jem actually did anything with the horse.”
“Does he want to know now?”
“Can I tell him tomorrow?” I was really tired.
“Tomorrow is Sunday. What I came up here to tell you, Abby, is that if you would like Jem Jarrow to come back, I
think you’d better make your case tonight, before your father has his own thoughts about it and they get set, if you know what I mean.”
I knew what she meant. I threw back the covers and put on my robe and slippers. She went out of my room, and I followed her downstairs.
Daddy was sitting at his desk, reading the Bible, when I came in. He always had to do that on Saturday night in order to have a lesson to talk about on Sunday, because our church didn’t have a pastor or a minister—the men in the church took turns “talking” about things, which meant that each Sunday, each of them would do a short lesson. The short lessons were supposed to add up to something about as long as a regular church service.
Daddy closed his Bible and pushed it away from himself. Then he turned his chair toward me. I hoped that the lesson he was working on was about forgiveness and mercy rather than justice and wrath, but there was no telling ahead of time. He said, “So, Abby. I guess Jem Jarrow never came to actually buy the horse. I guess your mom and Jake played a trick on me.”
I said, “I guess.”
“I can’t say I like that, but I recognize that ‘God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.’”
I guessed that that was going to be his text for the following day. I wasn’t quite sure whether he was referring to himself or Ornery George, so I said, “Well, George acted pretty humble after Jem—I mean, Mr. Jarrow—worked with him.”
Mom said, “I think it’s okay to call him Jem.”
Daddy said, “How did he work with him?”
I decided that it was still not the best thing, especially if we
were talking about pride, to mention Danny, so I mixed the two up together a bit. “Well, first he got George to do things that he wanted him to do without making a big deal of it. If the horse was coming toward him, he waved him away and made him keep going until
said George could stop. Whatever George did, he never let him think it was his own idea. If he wanted to go, Jem made him go faster. If he wanted to stop, Jem didn’t let him stop until he had gone farther than he wanted to.”
“Hmm,” said Daddy.
“Another thing was, he didn’t focus on him at first. He worked all the horses together so that George couldn’t prepare himself to be ornery. By the time he singled him out, George was ready to do something.”
“Well, according to what he said to me, because he had aroused his curiosity. He said horses are very curious.”
Daddy opened his mouth to speak.
“And you can use that to get them to do what you want to do. I guess like making something a game.”
Mom said, “That always worked with you kids. If you were fussing or crying and I went over and started doing something in your toy box, pretty soon you would stop fussing because you wanted to see what I was doing.”
“Like that,” I said.
“Hmm,” said Daddy.
“But once he got on George, he did make him work. It’s just that the work started out with a lot of turns. He said that the horse had to learn to soften and step his hind foot over the instant you asked for it, and if he did, he would be less likely to get stubborn or to stumble.” I thought again. “When he was
loping and George started to buck, he pulled him up with one rein and over to the inside, not very hard, and George went around a little bit and then loped off. He only tried to buck that one time.”
“Well, he’s a good rider. He’s been riding and working cows all his life, they say.”
“I know. But it didn’t look that hard.”
This was a statement I soon came to repent of.
“I wish he would buy the horse and we could dispense with the whole problem.” He sighed.
I said, “I don’t want to dispense with the whole problem.”
“I want to try it a couple more times. I want to see if it only works for him.”
“It was interesting. I watched the whole time.” To myself, I added, and I watched Danny, too, and that was interesting, too. I said, “He came twice, right?”
“Well, it seemed to me that the horse learned something from the first time to the second. I always thought that the horse is supposed to do what he’s told, but this was different—he did more than what he was told. It was like he remembered what he was told before and didn’t have to be told again, only reminded. I bet if Jem came another couple of times, the horse would do what he was told without being told.”
Mom said, “You mean he would learn something.”
“Yes, that’s what I mean.”
Daddy said, “I don’t really think of horses as having a body of knowledge, but maybe they do.”
“They do,” I said. “I mean, when George does want to get caught, he’s acting like he knows something bad is going to happen, and so he isn’t going to cooperate.”
“Well, even so, I’m sure Jem Jarrow doesn’t train horses for free.”
I knew what that meant. It meant that was that. Because if you put a lot of money into a horse, then you couldn’t make much of a profit, and if you didn’t make much of a profit, then you couldn’t buy more horses. Or anything else.
Thinking of Ornery George made me think of something else, though. I said, “Mr. Tacker really liked George. He looked at him three times while he was loading Red Jewel into his trailer. You always said someone will pay more for a pretty one, and he’s the prettiest, except for Black George.”
“I doubt if Mr. Tacker would think Black George is prettier. Ornery George is about as pretty as they come for a ranch horse. Or a parade horse.”
Now was when I buttoned my lip. Because I could see the wheels turning, even though as a little girl, I wasn’t supposed to see the wheels turning. Mom said, “Okay, Abby. You go to bed now. I know you’re tired.”
But I stayed awake for another hour or more, waiting to hear Daddy and Mom go into their room. By the time I fell asleep, they were still up. If they were still up, they would still be talking. If they were still talking, then Daddy hadn’t yet said, “I’ve made up my mind,” or, “Who’s the boss around here?” If he hadn’t said that, then Mom was going to have her way.
RAINING SESSIONS WITH
ARROW WERE TWELVE DOLLARS
apiece, for forty-five minutes. He agreed to come on Monday and Tuesday and then on Saturday. This gave me something to look forward to during school.
After lunch on Monday, the tables in the cafeteria were moved into their new arrangement, six of them in a long line over against the back wall, away from the windows. The teachers then laid out the long sheet of brown paper with the outline of California on it. At each of the spots where the twenty-one missions were to sit, someone had drawn stars, and because some of these were rather close together, someone had drawn arrows to different places on the paper where we were to place our missions. Barbara and Alexis Goldman had made the San Diego
Mission entirely of corks that were cut into chunks and glued together. Two of the missions were made of Lincoln Logs. One was just a pile of stones, and the label read,
The Mission La Purisma was destroyed by an EARTHQUAKE in 1812.
There were some plastic cows and pigs set around the rubble. I doubted that the boys who made that model were going to get As.
Joan, Linda, and the two Marys had gotten permission to collaborate on one mission, Mission San Carlos, in Carmel, because it was big, beautiful, and important. The model sat in the middle of the whole display, about half again as large as any of the others. There was the church, the bell tower, with steps going up around it, and a courtyard. Everything was inside a box, and on the outside of the box, the girls had pasted color photos of things like the garden and the interior of the church, with information about Father Serra and Monterey typed on cards. The buildings were glued together from plywood, with designs painted on them. It took two girls to carry the mission from the social studies room to the lunchroom, and we all had to make way.
Unfortunately, Stella and one of the boys, Larry Schnuck, had constructed Mission San Antonio out of cardboard. It was the next one down from Carmel and looked very poor and small by comparison. And then Miss Albers, who was homeroom teacher for the other seventh grade, said, “Stella, we’ll just move yours a little bit to the side so that we can fit Carmel in here.” I didn’t even have to look at Stella to know what she thought of that.
I made Gloria meet me in the girls’ bathroom during study hall. After we pushed on all the stall doors to make sure that
no one else was in there, I took her over by the sinks, where we could see someone come in, and I said, “Were you looking at Stella when Miss Albers made her move her mission?”
“No. Some of my birds fell off—”
“Well, she was plenty mad. Her face turned beet red.” As I said this, I felt sick to my stomach.
Gloria said, “So what?”
“So what if she does something to that mission?”
“Oh, pullease. You’re crazy.”
“No, I’m not, but I can’t tell you—”
“Well, if you can’t tell me, then so what, again. Why can’t you tell me?” Her eyebrows lowered and she stared at me. Right then, I knew she knew all about the ink cartridge.
“I saw something that nobody else saw.”
Now she looked at me. “What?” But it didn’t seem as though she was asking a question. More like she was making a dare—daring me to tell.
I made up my mind right there that Gloria wasn’t on my side anymore. “I can’t tell.” And then I made up my mind that she was.
“Abby, if you brought me in here, you have to tell.”
“I haven’t told anyone.”
“You’re kidding. It’s that bad?”
It seemed like two halves of me were certain of what I should do. Unfortunately, each half was certain of a different thing. One half was certain that if I told Gloria, she would be shocked at what Stella had done and help me prevent Stella from hurting the Carmel mission. The other half was certain that Gloria and Stella were in on things together, and in that
case, I had no idea what I should do. I didn’t know if Gloria was more in favor of Stella doing something bad or more against it.
I didn’t say anything, and finally, Gloria said, “Oh, for heaven’s sake. Who cares?” She sounded fed up. She washed her hands and dried them with some paper towels, then walked out. After that, I sat on the edge of the sink rubbing my stomach in circles, trying to make the feeling go away. I actually said, out loud to myself, “Don’t make such a big deal of it! It’s not a big deal!” But my stomach thought it was a big deal, and so I was late to algebra. I didn’t see Gloria for the rest of the day.
Thanks to Kyle, of course, our mission was one of the best—very neat and colorful and important-looking, because of the clay and the bells. It got a lot of compliments.
That afternoon, Jem Jarrow stayed for an hour and a half. Daddy was somewhere with the truck, getting the carburetor fixed, so he didn’t get to see Jem right from the beginning. The first thing Jem did was to work with Ornery George in much the same way that he did the previous Wednesday. Jem was on him within about ten minutes. But then he was off him again. He waved me into the arena. When I got to him, he said, “I forgot to tell you the most important thing.”