The Georges and the Jewels (5 page)

BOOK: The Georges and the Jewels
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“He has his good qualities. But I admit they aren’t mental ones. He’s quiet now, though. You want to get on him?”

This wasn’t a question.

“We’ll stay at this end of the ring. Just do a few things to remind him what a good horse is like.”

The worst thing that could happen was for a purchase to be a complete bust. It was bad for us, because it was a loss of money as well as hay. And it was bad for the horse, because if he was untrainable, he might have to go to the knackers. That was where horses were killed and turned into dog food and other things. We had only ever sent one horse to the killers, a mare that was given to Daddy as a last resort, for a dollar. She was fine for a few days, and then, after she reared up on the cross-ties and struck out at him with both front feet, Daddy took her out to the ring and put her on the line. The first thing she did was not, as Ornery George had done, trot off. That mare had backed up and then run toward him where he was standing in the center, her teeth bared and her
ears pinned. When he put his arm up to protect himself, she bit him through his jacket. It was kill or be killed with her, and she went off two days later.

I didn’t think Ornery George would ever be like that. But if a little girl couldn’t ride him, then I didn’t know what would happen to him. He was the first one Daddy bought after Danny left that a kid, namely me, had not been able to manage.

I stepped up to the horse, took the reins in my left hand, put my palm on top of his neck, and bent my knee. Daddy threw me into the saddle. Ornery George didn’t do anything, but he gave me a look out of the corner of his eye—“Oh, it’s you.” I settled into the saddle and gave him a little nudge. He walked a step or two but then stopped. Daddy had his back turned, rolling up the line. I gave Ornery George another nudge and, when he didn’t move, a little kick. Then
he
gave a kick, just a little kick out with his right foot, quick. What it said was, “I’m the boss. Watch your step.” I kicked him again, and he started walking forward. By the time Daddy was watching, Ornery George was going along. Daddy said, “He looks okay today.”

So, Ornery George and I had a secret. It was that he was going to do things his way, and I was going to let him, and we were going to get along more or less on that basis. This is not a good secret to have with your horse, because it gives him the upper hand. You always know that there might be something you could ask him to do that he would say no to, but you don’t really know what it’s going to be, and you’re a little afraid of finding out. But I was too chicken to argue, either with Ornery George or with Daddy, so I kicked him into the trot and went
around well enough while Daddy said, “He’s not a bad horse. Good-looking, nice mover, a little on the dull side. I think I made a good deal for him. He’ll work out.”

Secretly, Ornery George and I said, “I guess we’ll see about that.”

Everything we did, we did just enough. His jog was just lively enough. His walk was just energetic enough. He took the proper lead at the lope, but I had to think about making him do it. He dropped into the halt, but not in a balanced way, more as if he weren’t bothering to go forward any longer. A halt, as Daddy always said, is different than just stopping. A halt is as much of an exercise as a lope or a jump. You want the horse to think about it, set himself up, and then come to a standstill. Ornery George just stopped. A horse that just stops is doing what he wants to do, not what you want to do. He reined back. He was okay at that, though his ears flattened to show he was unhappy.

I did some figure eights at the trot, trying to make nice circles. When I tried it at the lope, dropping back to the trot to change leads, he bunched up a little for a buck or two but didn’t actually do it, even though at the thought he might, my heart began to pound a little. After about twenty-five minutes, Daddy was satisfied, and I dismounted. As I led Ornery George back to the barn to be untacked and groomed, he and I continued to have our secret about who was the boss, but tomorrow was Sunday, I thought, and I wouldn’t have to deal with him again until Monday afternoon.

When I was putting him away, Gloria’s mom’s white Impala turned into our road, and pretty soon here they were. Gloria
jumped out of the passenger side, and Mrs. Harris opened her door more slowly and then got herself out of the driver’s side.

Mrs. Harris was a big woman, at least a head taller than Mom, and older, too, I think. Gloria was an only child, and Mrs. Harris had always treated her, Mom said, like she didn’t know the first thing about children and was afraid of them to boot. But she was nice in her awkward way, and she always talked to me as if Mom and I were about the same age. Now she walked over to me and said, “Good morning, Abby. I hope you’re well. It’s wonderful to see you.” She held out her hand, and I offered her mine to shake. She was wearing sunglasses. “I understand you have a new foal, and I would love to be introduced to the young man.” She picked up one of her feet to show me her cowboy boot. She always wore red cowboy boots when she came out. I don’t think she’d ever been on a horse.

Gloria had always been about my size, that is, not short and not tall, not fat and not thin. I sometimes wondered if we would look like our moms when we got older, and if so, when her future size would kick in, but it hadn’t so far, even though lots of the girls had gotten their growth, as my mom would say. Gloria was wearing jeans, a jean jacket, and sneakers. She seemed excited, and that made me excited, too. I said, “They’re out. Over here!”

We walked over to the gate, and in a moment, Mom joined us. She and Mrs. Harris had a little hug.

It was quite sunny and warm by now, and the grass in the mares’ corral had greened up nicely, because only one mare was out there much. The foal’s dam was eating calmly and the foal was stretched out on his side, sleeping, though his little tail
flicked against the grass from time to time, and his little ears flicked, too. Mom said, “Follow me. It’s time to get acquainted.” She opened the gate.

As we walked toward the mare, she looked up at us and then moved around the foal so that she was between him and us. “Perfect,” said Mom. She pulled out a handful of carrot pieces. She said, “Okay, girls, now each of you can take some carrots, and we’re going to go up to the mare, not the foal, slowly but confidently, and we’re just going to feed her some carrots and pet her and pretty much ignore the baby for a while.” We did this. The Jewel ate the carrots quite happily, Gloria and I petted her on the face and down the neck, and Mom slipped the halter on her. She said, “Just keep petting her, all over. As if you were brushing her with your hands.” We did this, a little carefully, in case she might change her mind about whether she trusted us, but she stood quietly, keeping her eye on the foal but enjoying the petting.

After a little bit, the foal rolled up onto his chest, blinking a little. His eyelashes were really long. He even yawned, which was very cute. Then he got to his feet. This was a production. First he used his front feet to lever himself up, then he got his back feet under him and pushed off and sort of jumped into the air. Then he shook all over and yawned again. Gloria started laughing and her mother said, “Oh, how darling!” but we just kept petting the mare until after a moment, she walked over to him. Mom followed her, holding the lead rope. The foal started to nurse. Mom said, “Okay, now come over here, nice and easy, and start petting her again, on the side away from him, just petting her. We’ll see how she likes it.”

She liked it fine. The foal nursed and we petted the mare, Gloria and I at the neck and shoulders on the side away from the foal and Mom in front, stroking her face and head. Mom inched her way to the side the foal was on, and then every so often, she let her hand drop smoothly to his shoulder. Then she stroked him lightly but smoothly, so as not to be mistaken for a fly. He did shiver his skin, the way horses do to shake off flies, but after a few minutes, he even stopped doing that. Then she said, “Okay, Abby, trade places with me.” I did and then did just what she had done.

The foal’s coat wasn’t smooth and soft, like the mare’s. It was rough and thick, to keep him warm. And he was warm. Because he’d been lying in the sun, his coat was almost hot. I let my fingers stray through it, but smoothly, like Mom had done. At one point, he stopped nursing for a moment and realized that I was next to him. He jumped a little bit, as if startled, which made me jump, too, and that made Gloria jump, and we laughed. I switched places with Gloria. By this time, the colt was more or less used to us being around and even to us petting him, and he didn’t seem nervous. In fact, he got bored and walked away, over toward the George corral, just to look at the geldings. Then he jumped in the air and galloped around for a minute or two.

“Now’s the test,” Mom said. She followed the mare again when the mare followed the colt. We stood there quietly, just the way we had done before, petting the mare and giving her some more carrots. Finally, the colt turned around and looked at us, all standing there. He snorted and jumped, then stopped and looked. Then, the best thing, step by step, he came toward us,
toward his mom. His tail kept flicking back and forth. He stopped, took a step or two, stopped again. But finally he was back beside the mare, him on his side and us on our side. He peeked under her neck at us. Mom’s hand moved toward his neck and then stroked it. His skin shivered, but he stood still. “Smart boy,” said Mom.

“Oh, how lovely,” said Mrs. Harris.

“I think that’s enough for one day,” said Mom.

“I love him,” said Gloria. “You are so lucky, Abby.”

I knew I was, but I said, “Daddy says that a foal is a terrible responsibility.”

“I have every confidence that you are up to it,” said Mrs. Harris.

Mom smiled. We went inside for tea, and Gloria and her mom stayed almost until supper. Gloria had a
Seventeen
magazine with her, and we went into my room and sat on the bed and leafed through it. She pointed at a couple of the models and said, “Did I tell you my cousin Emily saw them in Florida at Christmastime? They were sitting together in the restaurant of the hotel where she was staying, and they all had matching outfits on.”

“They must have been doing a shoot.”

“I guess. Don’t you wonder how much they make?”

“I heard it was like a hundred dollars an hour.”

“Wow.” We stared at the models cavorting in the snow (this was, after all, the February issue), and then Gloria read me the dating column that was written by the guy they had. It was about whether boys like popular girls best or not. As far as I could tell, he wished that they didn’t, but he knew that they
did. All in all, Gloria and I had a nice afternoon, just the sort of afternoon we had been having ever since we first played Chutes and Ladders in second grade, ever since we got coloring books and her crayon box (forty-eight colors) was always in perfect order. If she broke one, her mom taped it together so all the tips were the same height. My crayon box would be half empty because even though I only liked certain colors, Daddy said I had to use all the colors before I could have a new box. So Gloria would loan me hers and we would color all afternoon. They went home before supper. We hadn’t said a word about Stella, and I didn’t know if that was good or bad.

Chapter 5

N
OW WE COULD MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE COLT
,
AND WE DID
. T
HE
path to a colt’s heart is through his mom, and the first thing I did was to make friends with the Jewel (whom I called “Pearl,” just between us, as in “Hey, Pearl! Hey, sweet thing! What a good girl you are, Pearl!”). Every time I passed the stall or, if they were out, the corral, I called to Pearl and gave her a couple of pats or a bit of carrot. Pretty soon, she was looking for me and nickering to me. She and the colt stayed out more and more as the weather got better. Mom was cautious about putting the two mares out together with the foal, but the other Jewel didn’t mind staying in and eating hay most of the day and then going out at night. I was happy we didn’t have any more mares, because that would have meant more stalls to clean.

Daddy started talking about going back to Oklahoma and buying more horses. Horses were cheap in Oklahoma, and there were plenty of them, but now that Danny was out of the house, Daddy hated to leave Mom and me on our own. Then he started talking about whether his brother, Luke, in Oklahoma might bring us some horses, but then Luke would have to be cut in on the profits, and anyway, Luke had a different idea of a good horse from Daddy’s idea. Luke was older than Daddy, and though they got along, you never knew whether that would last. Sometimes they didn’t fight for a month and sometimes only for a few days. Luke hated for Daddy to “boss him around” or “tell it to him straight” (whichever of these it was depended on your point of view). Whenever they had a fight, Mom said that Daddy felt a strong obligation to witness to Luke, but older brothers, in particular, didn’t care to be witnessed to by the boys they had spent a lifetime beating up and bossing around. So, for the time being, there were no horses from Oklahoma. The other thing my mom said once in a while was, “Mark, you should make things up with Danny.”

BOOK: The Georges and the Jewels
4.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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