By Inge Moore
When i am seventeen, I know three things: 1) i will never get married, 2) i will never leave my best friend, and 3) i will never grow old. I am living in Toronto it is the summer i am working at Woodbine.
My best friend and i share a basement in a house where the owner is always downstairs, poking around, fixing things, hoping to catch a glance of us changing … or something … he gives me the creeps. We work at the race track don’t work for anyone in particular we are the ones that go from barn to barn and get on the horses that no one will ride anymore the ones that rear and flip in the shed or prop and wheel in the stretch, we ride the nuts.
I am five foot nine, weigh a hundred five pounds and i have not had a period in months. I am not afraid of anyone or anything or ever will be or so i think and i am very busy proving it.
My friend and i both had long hair which we have cut off close to our skulls it is the sixties when everyone’s hair is long even the men’s but we don’t care, don’t want hair don’t want breasts don’t want to be women. My mother is in the kitchen cooking: griessnockerlsuppe. kartoffelknodel, schweinenbraten, apfelstrudel, she is cooking always cleaning or cooking lost in a mist of steam or flour or waiting, sitting, so tired, waiting for some damn thing to happen in her life. I haven’t been able to look at her in years i don’t know who she is or want to know or understand.
But it is the summer in Toronto and i don’t have to remember my home or my mother i only have to get up at five, pull on my jeans, boots and shirt, walk to the highway and stick out my thumb. In a few rides i am at work.
I start to tingle when i see the barns, when i walk through the gates the security man nods, people on horses are passing alone or in groups, the horses so tall grinding their bits between their teeth, bouncing on legs that won’t simply walk their necks arched their heads nodding, the riders calling morning everyone knows me even in the dark.
I pick up my saddle and go to barn five where the trainer calls for the groom to get O for Canada ready he is not a tall horse he is only two. Last week he threw a man then turned back and stomped him so now i have a new regular mount until the geld him which they might, they are talking about it and i hope they don’t because he is already my favorite horse.
I know just what he is going to do he is going to try and kill me and i like that, i like the cards out on the table i like a horse who is brave not a filly who is afraid of everything and uncontrollable in that fear but a horse that is not afraid of a damn thing like me and i love the way he goes he is as smooth as water the horse has never walked anywhere he floats, it is like an effort to keep him on the ground and out of the air any minute i think i will be flying above the track over the 401 spiraling above the city and into the clouds.
He hurls himself onto the muddy track he bucks he tries to turn but i don’t let him he can’t beat me i just sit deep and i refuse to hurt him and i refuse to fall, until he’s finally bored and ready to do what i tell him, run, hurling his legs out into the air such trust such nerve the force and rhythm of his leaps carrying me, filling my head with a beat that is just the same as my heart, on and on beating and pelting and driving until all at once it is time to slow and stop and turn back and we have done it, we have done it again. When I bring O’fer back to the barn he is covered in froth and panting. I spring to the ground, pull off my saddle and slap his neck, then leave the stall trailing fresh straw which the groom will have to sweep up behind me.
The boy follows with the horse, they will bathe him now they will take care of him like mothers they will dry him off and cool him out the whole while avoiding his bites and kicks as best they can, he is not the kind of a horse you can beat on and live. They’ll make sure that he does not drink too much water at one time and then the groom will watch him in his stall until he finally pees and when he does the groom will whistle or shuffle straw, they are just like mothers, i will never be a groom.
It is the summer in Toronto i am free i am doing exactly what i want to do i am not following anyone’s rules i am exactly what i want to be, my childhood a blur behind me and thoughts of the time after summer pushed away where i can’t see.
In the basement after work my friend and i haggle about who’s going to cook versus do the dishes i tell her for the hundredth time she’s a slob because her dirty clothes lie in a pile on the floor beside her cot all week until we go to the laundromat on Sunday, she tells me i sound just like a woman and i get really mad and we eat and talk about races and listen to music, falling asleep in chairs or on the rug before either of us has done the dishes.
I don’t know if this is before Mark Molson is crippled for life saying I will walk again i will all that determination all that pain and he never does, but i know that Alberto Gonzalez is still alive it is not until years later that he is trampled in a race, back then he is my friend, he is so famous, such a great rider and the ugliest littlest man that i have ever seen his huge wife like a house he must go into at night his son who planned to play football, i wonder about all those people now: Benny the Dwarf, Old Rippy, Andy the Fox, Porky, Rockman, all of them outcasts like me, all of them like family except of course the one who rapes the six-month old baby and the rest of us try to find him and hang him but the police find him first and he lives.
But despite my refusing to think of it the summer ends and the next and my friend goes to Europe and rides in France and Germany and someplace i forget, and by the time she comes back i am fat and married and i am suddenly not who i used to be but then neither is she it’s just that she’s closer.
It is years and years later and i am visiting her at the track it is February and twenty below at Woodbine we are in the shed the air rich and warm with the scent of the animals.
I have left my children thousands of miles away to visit my friend again we talk of races and horses. Her face is leathered with the sun and wind her hands like the hands of the men i began to date after the last summer, big and broad ingrained with dirt the nails flat the fingers short and abrupt the muscle at the base of her thumb and index finger bulging, almost frightening, as she saddles a long-backed bay.
I walk her to the track, it is freezing, and watch her ride.
When we get back to the barn my face is burning from the cold. Several times i have seen a young girl walk by despite the cold she is wearing only jeans and a denim jacket her ears beneath her helmet bare she is young and straight and thin and beautiful. I ask who she is who she works for my friend says, oh, she doesn’t work for anyone, she gets on Jerry’s Candy since he broke my shoulder she gets on the squirrels. Then she looks at me and smiles. Remember?