Raymond TattenI scuffed my boots across the gravel yard, hoping the day had made everything all right. The barn door was open the quarter way it always was. It never closed all the way. I pushed in, letting what was left of late afternoon sunshine spill in over my shoulders, awakening the barn’s insides.
The sudden sunlight stirred the flies to scatter through the sunbeams, crisscrossing, looking for stillness. My eyes struggled with the light, but I heard the whinny and caught the form in the shadow. Tex tried to rise but slumped back to the floor, his head slapping the dirt with a dull thud. He had been waiting.
I rushed to scoop his head while loose hay, swept by thrashing legs, lay in a pattern around him like snow angels on the barn floor. His legs had tried running, and the hair was scraped blood red, his bottom eye caked closed from rubbing the dirt floor.
“Come on Tex,” I begged. “You gotta get up!”
I pulled his halter, but his body was tired. I lowered his heavy head, accepting it into my lap.
“Tex, you’ll be all right,” I lied. “You just gotta rest here for a while to get your strength back. You got to get better; we got a lot of rides to do.”
But Tex wasn’t listening. Film clouded his eye, maybe in a dream he had left, a contest he was losing. I never really noticed the size of a pony’s head. In my lap it was heavy, like a child – the whole pony in my hands. I mustered tenderness, crafting my touches along Tex’s cheek while the dogs moved in and out, sniffing close to my face and then Tex’s, as if saying goodbyes.
Late afternoon slipped to evening and then to night. Tex’s legs thrashed, and he jerked, running or sneaking under the fence at his favorite spot. I hoped I was a comfort, talking low, telling him out loud how I loved him, and remembering – about how he usually let me catch him when I came with the bridle. Thanking him – for never getting grumpy from too many rides when the city kids came and letting the children pat him all they wanted. I told him about the rides we would do – how we’d find the Indian mounds and get a quick jump to beat Hank’s Mickey Pony the next time we raced to the pine trees. It was no use to cry.
When the cool night air finally broke the spell, like a fever, I felt the ache in my legs. I should probably go in or maybe just move around some. I stretched and stood straight to look down at the shape. A fly jittered across the pony’s black muzzle, while white teeth grinned a snarling smile. The black tail lay stretched behind like a flattened, frayed rope.
I moved with legs stinging with return of blood and almost turned to look back but let the door swing wide behind me as I stepped into the yard. A cloud of mosquitoes slapped my face, but I didn’t rush to brush them away.
I walked a little, stopped, and moved again, up the slope toward the house, before turning to gaze at the stone-still barn. But the mosquitoes were worse now, and all that was left was to go inside.
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