The Georges and the Jewels (3 page)

BOOK: The Georges and the Jewels
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I rode the pony around the ring with the English saddle, walk, trot, canter, turn right, turn left, back up, go in a big circle, go in a little circle. Three days a week of this was enough for the pony. Once I had untacked him and picked his feet and put him back with the other Georges, I went and peeked in the stall.

The foal was lying down, his back legs folded underneath him and his front legs stretched out. He had his nose on his knees and his eyes closed, but then he lifted his head and looked at me, his ears flicking back and forth. The mare nickered to him, a low ruffling sound, and he put his nose up to her. She touched it with her own, then took another bite of her hay. Behind me, Mom said, “Now, it’s okay to look at them, but you let him and her get to know each other for three or four days before you introduce yourself. Sometimes if you get between a mare and a foal and get your smell on the foal, she’ll
reject him.” The foal flopped over and stretched out in the straw. His legs looked incredibly long and thin, loose, like noodles. If I hadn’t seem him jump around on them, I wouldn’t have thought such a thing was possible.

After the pony, I rode the other Jewel, then the chestnut George. They were little girl material all the way. Then Daddy said, “Okay, Abby, get up on that one again.” He tossed his head toward Ornery George.

“I thought you were going to ride him a couple of times.”

“My back hurts. My feet hurt.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I think you’ll do fine. I don’t want him to get used to me. Sometimes when a strong man pushes a horse around and makes him do what he’s supposed to, then he’s worse when the girl gets back on him. You rode him fine before. Let’s just try it.”

I knew better than to say I didn’t want to try it.

But in spite of how nice the pony had been and the other two horses, it made me nervous to put my foot in the stirrup, and then when he stepped away from me and pinned his ears, I felt my mouth get dry. That was a new one for me. Daddy came up behind me and threw me into the saddle and said, “Now go forward. Don’t give him a chance to think about it.”

I kicked his sides and he squirted forward, then went off at a trot. I tried to remember what my goal was—Daddy said I was to have a goal every time I got on. After thinking hard about my goal for a few seconds, I decided that it was only to be less nervous. I took some deep breaths.

“What are you all stiffening up for? You look like you’re riding a pogo stick.”

I made my hips loosen up and I straightened the small of my back so that I sat more deeply in the saddle. He said, “That’s better.”

When we got to the end of the ring, we trotted back, then did a few circles in both directions. George seemed half asleep. Daddy said, “Stir him up. He’s ignoring you.”

I slapped his sides with my legs, and there he was, kicking out. He kicked out so high that he nearly tossed me over the front. As it was, I got the saddle horn in my stomach. He stopped, I kicked him on, he kicked up again, I pulled him up.

“Now he’s got you,” said Daddy. “He’s got your number and he’s dialing it. He’s saying, ‘Abby, I don’t want to go and you can’t make me.’”

“I can’t.”

“You can.”

“I can’t.”

“You have to.
have to. It doesn’t matter if I do. It’s your number he’s got, not mine.”

While we were talking, he’d come over to me, and now he was standing, looking up at me, his hand on the pommel of the saddle. I could feel that I was shaking now, both because Daddy was giving me his sternest look and because I could feel George beneath me, ready to take off again. I took some more deep breaths and said, “I can’t.” Then I said something I hadn’t ever said before: “And I’m not going to.”

Daddy wasn’t always as strict about sassing as he thought he was—you could say, “I would rather not,” or, “No, thanks,” and sometimes he would give in. But I had used “a tone” with him, so now I looked down, so as not to have him stare at me
anymore, and jumped off. I handed him the reins, then walked away, back toward the barn, where I couldn’t resist peeking at the colt. But then I went out the other end of the barn and around into the house without letting Daddy see me. I went up to my room and closed the door. There was always homework.

Chapter 3

, D
back to Daddy, but that’s how it started. We call him Danny, Mom and I, but Daddy has always called him Daniel, because that was the real biblical name. Daddy wanted Danny to grow into his name—Daniel. There was a time when I was a little kid when Daddy and Daniel were “just like this!” as Mom would say, putting her forefinger and her middle finger together and holding them up for you to see. But after Danny turned twelve and got to be as tall as Daddy, they went from being “just like this” to being “cut from the same cloth,” and it was a rough, tough cloth. Neither one of them could say anything that the other didn’t disagree with, which meant that Daddy considered Danny “ornery” and Danny considered Daddy “stubborn.” It
didn’t help that they looked pretty much alike and could stare each other down, eye to eye. The whole thing made my mom very sad, but there wasn’t a thing she could do about it. She would say, “It’s hard to be a man in the Lovitt family,” and then shake her head.

I remember on the day Daddy kicked Danny out, which was before Halloween, I was in my room with the door open, braiding a set of reins. I heard Mom go into Danny’s room and start in with him. She said, “Honey, it’s fine for you to read any book you want, especially if it’s a schoolbook, but you don’t have to discuss it with him or even tell him what’s in it. You know it will make him mad, so just keep it to yourself.”

“He should know about evolution.”

“He does know about that.”

“Then why didn’t he ever tell me? So that when I raise my hand in science class and make my contribution, as Mr. Freer wants me to do, they can all laugh at me? It’s a good thing I’m bigger than all those guys, or I would have gotten beat up over lunch period.”

“Well, your dad and the science teacher disagree about a few things, but you can learn what the science teacher has to teach you and read the book and make up your own mind without getting into it with your dad.”

“I can?”

“You can. I wish you would.”

Danny generally did what Mom told him, so what happened at the table wasn’t precisely about the science class thing. However, it was about breaking rules. It was Saturday-night
supper. Because Mom had to cook for church the next day, we were having something simple—just some minute steaks and gravy with rice and string beans. It was good. Then Danny said, “I’m going to the movies with Frankie Horner. He drives and he’s picking me up. I’ve got the money myself.”

“You’re not going out with a pack of boys alone in a car.”

“It’s not a pack of boys. It’s me and Frankie and one other guy. We’re going to a movie.”

“What movie?”

“It’s just
Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster.

“It’s a piece of foolishness, I’m sure.”

“Well, yeah, but the other kids said it was good. It’s been out for weeks. Everybody’s seen it—”

“And if every kid in your class—”

Mom and I gave each other a look.

“Poked a rattler with a sharp stick—”

Danny started scowling and then said in his own sarcastic voice, “Would you get in line to poke it, too?”

Daddy slammed down his knife and fork. Danny had never talked quite like that before. Mom said, “Danny—”

I said, “Daddy—”

And then Danny said, “Goddammit.” And he said it in a voice that you would only use if you had said it before, more than once, and if you were used to saying it, not as if it was the first time.

Daddy said, in his extra-quiet, you-better-watch-it tone, “What was that?”

I don’t know that Danny had realized what he was saying
before he said it, and maybe he was sorry, but it was clear as day that he wasn’t going to back down, and then he said, “I said, ‘Goddammit.’ What I meant was, ‘Goddammit to hell.’”

“So,” said Daddy, “some boys who taught you to take the holy name of the Lord in vain are going to pick you up and take you to see a fantasy movie about evil and hate. Am I right?”

Danny backed down a little here, and he said, “It’s harmless. I’m s—”

But now Daddy was madder, because the way it works with him, something starts him off, and at first he’s not so mad, but then he thinks about it a little and he gets hotter and hotter. Usually he has to go in his room and pray and seek the righteousness of the Lord before he calms down (though Mom said it was worse before I was born). Anyway, Daddy didn’t hear Danny begin to back off, and so he leaned forward across the table and landed a blow, the chastisement of the Lord, which was a punch across the jaw. This knocked Danny out of his chair, but he came up swinging and crawled across the table, putting his knee in the green beans, and returned the punch, and then the two of them fell off the table and were rolling around on the floor, yelling and hitting. And truly, I had never seen anything like this in my life. My mother jumped up and was shouting, “Mark! Daniel! Mark! Daniel!” but they didn’t pay one bit of attention to her.

Finally, Daddy had Danny pinned because after all, he did outweigh him quite a bit, and by this time Danny was crying. Daddy let him up, saying, “Dear Lord forgive me!” but Danny wasn’t going to forgive him, and he went into his room and packed a bag, and when those boys arrived in their car, even
though Daddy was shouting, “Don’t you go with them, young man! Don’t you do it or you will find yourself in very hot water!” Danny walked out the door with his bag and never looked back.

He came home a couple of days later for more stuff, and he and Daddy haven’t spoken since, though Mom goes and sees Danny from time to time and takes him things like biscuits and bread and probably money, though he doesn’t need money, because he works for the horseshoer, Jake Morrisson, and even though Jake shoes our horses and Danny doesn’t come over when Jake does, Daddy doesn’t mind that he has a real job and a hard job.

One night, I heard him say to Mom, “It’s just as well that he doesn’t go to school anymore, because the higher you get in school, the more they teach you that’s against the Lord.” But they won’t speak until Danny is moved to come forth with a humble and sincere apology and reaffirm the authority of his father, which I don’t think is going to happen. Daddy and Mom pretend that everything is fine. Daddy even said once that he himself left home at sixteen and started supporting himself, and what’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong with it was that everyone was so angry and that Danny didn’t help me ride the horses anymore. Daddy pretended that everything was the same as it was the previous year when we had ten horses waiting to be sold and they were getting ridden every day and really working. Ten horses in the late winter was good. Along about March, just when you’d gotten them ready, spring came, the flowers bloomed, and the buyers started feeling like they needed new mounts, or better
mounts, or prettier mounts. Daddy could make enough in March to be a nice cushion for the whole rest of the year. This year we had five horses, and now it was four, until the foal was weaned.

These were not the things I was thinking about when I refused to ride Ornery George, but I thought about them later, that night in my bed. Danny and Daddy had been “cut from the same cloth” for so long that our house was quieter and more peaceful without him, and sometimes I was glad of that, or at least relieved. But Danny had always been fun for me—never (well, hardly ever) the kind of brother who hits or teases, more the kind of brother who teaches you to play checkers and pick-up sticks, or helps you saddle your horse, or lets you have the last cookie if you really want it. I missed him, but it was hard to get to see him, so I tried not to think about it. Daddy said that it was the job of the prodigal to return, not the job of the righteous to go after him.

The next day, of course, I had school again. I sat through math (unilateral equations), science (the cell), English (
Hard Times)
, social studies (the Pharaohs), health (protein, fats, and carbohydrates), and homeroom. Through all of these classes, the Big Four (Linda, Mary A., Mary N., and Joan) sat in a single row in the front, passing notes when Mr. Jepsen wasn’t looking and poring over their books when he was. They weren’t actively mean to me, but I had known since fifth grade that they would be if they thought I was acting “weird” or “stupid,” so I sat across the aisle from them, beside the window, not looking out, but thinking of the foal. Already, after only a
single day, he was stronger and more inquisitive. When I went out to feed that morning, he had been peering over the top of the stall door, just to see what he could see, and though I didn’t touch him, he looked as though he would have let me if I’d tried. His eyes said, “Who are you? What do you want?” I just murmured in a low voice, “You’ll see, little buddy, you will certainly see.”

Stella and Gloria sat with me at lunch, no problem. Stella was extra nice to me. “Oh, Abby. I know you like oranges, and I don’t care. Here’s mine. I’ll eat your apple.” While I was sharing the orange with Gloria, Stella leaned toward us and said, “He called me again last night. We talked for half an hour.” She glanced over her shoulder at Brian Connelly. Brian Connelly was a boy Gloria and I had known since kindergarten, who had spent the first four years of elementary school picking his nose. He was now kind of good-looking. His mom let him grow his hair long, for one thing, and he also liked to talk to girls, which was a rarity among the boys we knew.

BOOK: The Georges and the Jewels
8.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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