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Ali Zán and True Love

Ali Zán and True Love

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Ali Zán and True Love

Länge:
505 Seiten
7 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Jan 20, 2004
ISBN:
9781414045238
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

A scruffy Arabian colt of the mountainous Latin American outback is purchased
by North American Tracer Montrose the morning his wife, Constance, angrily
packs to leave him. The horse being a gift that Constance cannot check for
her flight home, she delays her departure. She names him Ali Zn?and soon
encounters a herd of his kin fleeing a highland inferno. Tracer unites equestrian
club riders and dirt-roughened cowboys to save the animals. The mismatched
bunch form a trail riding club. Meanwhile, the purchase of Napoleon and
True Love causes a cramp in Ali Zns stable space. These older horses are
bright and abrasive, strong and fearless, and champion the outback equine
during nerve-wracking jumps, turns, and races. Tracer and Constance, rider
novices, persist upon the backs of their steeds within the club arena and along
the outback abyss, as well. But their horses poorly manage long-pent demands
to achieve maddened equine goals. Their competitive spirits turn upon them.
They find that neither rider nor trail obstruct them; that their devils must be
accosted elsewhere. The youthful Ali Zn interprets this heart-rending tale by
which horse and human are ridden, driven, and, sometimes, bound.
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Jan 20, 2004
ISBN:
9781414045238
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

J J Garrett is a product of Georgia. He is a novelist, a poet, a researcher, and an educator. He holds a Ph.D., M.Ed., and B.A. from various Georgia colleges. He has lived in and traveled most of the U.S. and Central America. He has consolidated his search for lore into six novels and seven chapbooks of poem (now in anthology) with a resolve to return literary fiction back to Planet Earth. He is married; has too many animals around the house.


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Ali Zán and True Love - J J Garrett

Tegucigalpa

Chapter 1

April • The Mountains Above Tegucigalpa, Honduras

The first thing I remember is Father and fire. And it was with Father that I would come to know much, much more about fire in all of its forms and with all of its untamed aftermaths. To this day, I rank the two equal in power—though certainly not in sentiment.

It was the dry season in Garden of the Saints, high in the mountains of Honduras, the afternoon that something, somehow happened, and I stepped fully into consciousness.

Criáda and I walked alongside the road behind Don Justo. We tried to avoid the ditch and still elude the dust that occasional passing vehicles threw upon us. As we walked, Criáda explained the smoke which rose from the horizon to the north; how the smoke came as a product of fire, and how fire worked to refresh pasture and field.

During Criáda’s lecture we heard a vehicle approach from behind. Its moving parts banged against themselves as it negotiated the ruts of the roadway. We squeezed more tightly onto the shoulder and awaited an onslaught of dust.

But no dust came. The vehicle—a pickup truck—slowed. It lingered beside us as we walked. The driver eyed us curiously. We eyed him the same. After a few more steps, we guessed he might want to speak to us, so we stopped. Sure enough, he drove to the shoulder and halted, too.

The driver was Father—known locally as Tracer Montrose—a North American; a strongly built man with dark hair, grayish eyes, and skin five times lighter than the Honduran cowboys with whom I was familiar. Somehow, from his gait and the way he held his mouth, I sensed him to be a determined man—not quite broken.

He stepped from his truck, leaned upon the opened door, and looked at me. Then he looked at Criáda; then back at me. Mostly he looked at me.

He tossed the door closed and approached.

That’s a pretty little colt there, he said in awkward Spanish to Don Justo.

Yep, Don Justo replied.

He smiled proudly at me, took up my rope, and delivered the first pat upon my head of my lifetime.

She’s the dam? Father motioned toward Criáda.

Yep, Don Justo answered.

But she’s white and he’s… well… He squinted at me. Unnatural.

I call the color Castilian clay, señor—a little silver, a little gold. But he’ll turn white like the dam when he grows older.

But I don’t like white horses.

Actually, he probably won’t change color. There’s a very good chance he won’t. Don Justo frowned at Father. Why do you ask? Do you study horses for your bank nowadays?

Father shrugged. He ruffled my ears, put a real serious look on his face, and walked around me like he inspected a machine.

You’d think my bank work tedious, señor. Why don’t we talk instead about my purchase of this handsome colt. He dropped his serious look and chuckled. I liked the way his eyes twinkled along with his laugh—full of life, eager about living. My wife and I had a very harsh argument last night—one of those once-every-three-year kinds.

Hmm. Serious.

Yes. She pulled out her suitcases. She has packed all day. She said she intends to leave me—to return to the United States.

I’m sorry to hear that, señor. But how does that relate to this beast?

I need to buy her a gift—specifically a gift she can’t take with her. A horse would be the perfect thing.

Don Justo grinned.

I understand, señor. She’ll need to stay and care for it… along with you.

Exactly.

The North American sent a hand across my shoulder and back, then ran his thumb through a patch of my coat as if he counted each hair.

So, he won’t change color?

Absolutely not.

What about his blood? Is it good?

The best of Garden de Los Santos, señor.

Father peered at Criáda, who, by then bored, picked at grass around the base of a fence post. He grimaced. Criáda did not make a pretty picture of a horse, even though I loved her. She carried scars from the nips and kicks of the uncultured equines with which we shared life along the roadside, and from old fly and tick bites, the infections of which garnished her coat with hairless blemishes and knotty cysts.

What blood would that be?

Various. The best of mixed breeds.

And the stallion… the sire?

A fine horse, señor. Large. Er… Castilian clay, like the colt. Always agleam like a new coin.

You stable him at your house? Could I see him?

Don Justo chuckled with embarrassment.

I’m sorry, señor, but no. The sire travels in other parts. The last time I saw him was a week ago—behind the church. He trimmed the plots in the cemetery.

Father groaned. He petted me. I sensed a powerful hand.

Well, this is a healthy one. How much do you want for him?

Don Justo wrinkled his face. I wrinkled mine, too.

Four-hundred fifty Lempira.

I gasped. Four-hundred fifty Lempira was four-hundred Lempira over my value in even the best horse market.

That’s forty-five dollars! Father replied.

Yes, señor. This stallion carries a value of at least one-thousand Lempira in any market on earth.

He spoke with a straight face. I gave up on logic. I expanded my chest proudly and tucked my chin in classic pose.

Father thought. His eyes moved as he did so. I could tell he counted. Then he stepped back and concentrated upon my aesthetics.

Can my wife ride him right away?

Don Justo peered at me and lied straight into my face.

Certainly.

I knew he lied because my cousin Baby was nine months old just like me, and Criáda told me they wouldn’t put a full load of produce on her until she made two years. I figured maybe that was because she was a filly. Still, I looked at the size of Father and prayed that his wife was a midget—especially if she might think to ride me.

Father made a guttural sound.

Four-hundred fifty Lempira sounds too high. I’ll give you four-hundred—no more. And you deliver.

To Arcos Iris—the old tannery? Don Justo asked.

That’s right.

Good. I’ll deliver him now.

Now, immediately? Or now, later?

I knew my new master would understand me. He showed a native Honduran intelligence.

Now. Immediately.

It will be nightfall in three hours.

I know, señor. But today you are lucky. We came up from the market early today, which allows me to say ‘yes’ without a doubt.

Father opened his wallet. He handed Don Justo a wad of bills plus a receipt he scribbled upon a remnant of paper bag he found near the fence. Don Justo signed the receipt, transferred the document back to Father, and stuffed the money into his pocket. He grinned the entire time.

The deal done, Father returned to his pickup and opened the door. He paused and called back.

And what do they call him?

Petunia, Don Justo replied.

Petunia?

Yes. A flower.

Yes. I know, Father sighed.

He got into his truck and drove away. Don Justo sent me a wink.

Indeed you are a pretty little petunia with that unnatural coat of yours. I knew you’d bring me a stack of Lempira some day.

He gave me the second pat he’d ever given me, took Criáda by her rope, and led us on up the mountain toward Jardín de Los Santos—I, completely unregistered of the change that was to come.

- - -

The entrance to Arcos Iris was the only thing known of the place by most of the residents of Jardín de Los Santos. Two stone columns, set back a bit from the road and wrapped thickly by the growth of aged bougainvillea, rose powerfully upward. An arrangement of cast iron gears, large and small, capped each monolith like jewelry hooked atop a gypsy’s ear.

A crossing of metal pipes, acceptant of the wheels of vehicles, discouraged the passage of creatures whose movement required reliable contact with planet earth. For those like us, a gate guarded a seldom-used path to the left of the entrance. It, a rickety thing, could barely be recognized from the fence of wobbly split-rail posts and rusted barbed wire that defined the property line along the main road. A congregation of bamboo and, beyond, a loft of towering hardwoods caused in me a sense of foreboding. But the intensity of the brightly-blooming bougainvillea told me to keep an open mind.

Don Justo tied Criáda to one of the sturdier posts, then opened the gate and pulled me through. We made our way along a winding drive and down a hill. Then the road leveled into a stretch of tree-sheltered coffee plants on the right and an orchard of lime trees upon a sun-swept embankment on the left.

Don Justo whistled as we crossed a creek bridge. His song echoed back at me from every direction. Even the crunch of gravel under my hooves caused an echo. I whinnied a farewell up the hill to Criáda. She called back. Our whinnies resonated. With them came the bark of a dog.

Through the leafy ambiance, the upper portion of a large building appeared, its tin roof rusted with years of exposure, the rock of its upper walls dark with mildew, dirt, and stain.

Father’s voice commanded the barks to a halt. A gate slammed and a latch sounded. The whistled gaiety of Don Justo again filled the air. We turned down an incline that directed us past a couple of out-buildings to the most imposing feature of the property—the huge tanning mill, its gaping mouth.

I could not take my eyes off the oppressive shell. Through the twelve foot high, sixteen foot wide entry bordered by cautionary diagonal stripes of yellow and green, inside among the shadows, I could vaguely define the motors, pulleys, barrels, and tables which once tanned the hides of many classes of beasts, my own included. The equipment set greased but silent, a fact I welcomed even as a shutter shot along my withers.

In a horrible scenario, I imagined Father lived in some chamber within the darkness, his wife a spoiled demon whom he kept in a dungeon; who worked upon his sanity with threats to break out and wreak havoc upon the land should he neglect to control her with a gift… a sacrifice. In this case: me.

I panicked. I squealed. I whipped away from the black hole face of the thing.

Don Justo jerked me back with such force that my lids closed down to the base of my whites. When I re-opened my eyes, my hind quarters set toward the factory, and the antithetical side of my illusion began.

Before me spanned a plaza, flat, covered with the greenest grass I had seen since the first week of dry season. The babble of brooks came from every side, as if the hills dumped water from a thousand springs into the place. I stood faint, stunned—especially so when my eyes locked upon, directly across the way, a gourmet lawn.

The lawn covered a coffee-rimmed knoll in the heart of the vale which a retaining wall, constructed of stone like the factory, pretended to hold up. Upon the knoll—and its lawn and flower beds apparently designed with my passion for gardening in mind—perched a salmon-colored cottage of adobe. The structure appeared as inviting as it did peculiar with trim of turquoise, yellow, and cream.

Near the south and east edge of the knoll, a rubber tree towered above a stone walkway.

The walkway split the retaining wall with a set of steps, then stretched to the front porch of the cottage. The porch spanned the length of the residence and, like the front door, faced to the left, or south, away from the plaza. I could make out the frills of curtains inside the end windows. I worried for the loving princess who must live inside, her existence in such close proximity to the demanding bitch who occupied the factory.

Tell the little stud he should relax, I heard Father say as he stepped beside me.

He was smiling. I wondered how a man burdened with a selfish battle-ax who hid in the black hole behind me could find humor in anything—this, as he clasped his hands at his mouth and called across the plaza.

Constance! Constance! Answer me, Constance!

No response. I waited pensively, hopeful of a sweet voice.

Please, Constance! This is important!

Still, no response.

Constance— Father called pleadingly.

Go to hell! a woman’s voice came through the window where the curtains were.

I said this is important, darling! Really important!

A closet door slammed inside the house.

Nothing can be more important than me getting away from you and your self-righteous, idiotic, know-it-all, male—

Then forget about me! I—

I have already forgotten about you, Tracer Montrose! The woman’s voice came through the window again. So leave me alone! I need this time to pack!

But I swear this is important, darling! Really, really important!

If that man came here to sell us carrots, tell him I’m not buying! Tell him I’m leaving! Tell him that not only am I leaving you, our two blundering workers, and all of Honduras, but I’ll be leaving him, too, within the hour!

But he doesn’t sell anything! He… he comes here on ambassadorial business, darling!

And don’t call me darling! the voice shrieked.

I heard another door slam inside the cottage and then, accompanied by the crash of the heavy door into its sill behind her, a woman stepped upon the porch. I must admit, I staggered backward just a little, enough to catch another stiff jerk on the rope from Don Justo.

The woman was an astoundingly beautiful creature, even by horse standards. She modeled reddish blonde hair, violet eyes, a full, delicately white face with high cheeks and wide lips over a mouth I thought might carry a set of teeth as pretty as mine. Unfortunately, I could not tell about the teeth because they pressed down against each other behind the lips of a frown while she walked from the cottage toward the plaza.

As she stomped down the steps at the wall she adjusted the picturesquely human-proportioned sweater she wore over tights. The tights accented legs I considered to be on the slim side, but believably boot-worthy. She stopped about a yard from me, ignored me just like she ignored Don Justo, and glared at Father.

This catracho doesn’t carry anything on his mule to sell, Tracer. Which means you have him here to take an order, don’t you? She turned her glare upon Don Justo, still ignored me, and then spun back to Father. So now you’ll need to tell him I don’t want any carrots, cabbage, flowers, firewood, or whatever! I don’t want any news! I don’t want anything! Except to get away from you, Tracer! You… You—

I know I pressed the issue a little too much last night, Constance. Father tossed his hands imploringly toward her. And I didn’t mean to get off on your mother and father and your sisters… nor your aunts and uncles and how messed-up they all are, but—

The woman called Constance tossed one hand upon her hip and raised the longest finger of her other at her husband. Her eyes burned with a stubborn independence.

You never know how to shut up, do you, Tracer! You keep pressing your point, don’t you. You’ll hang with it until it kills you, won’t you!

Oh, please, Constance! I—

Leave me alone! the woman shouted.

But—

Leave me alone, I said!

She wheeled toward the cottage.

Father stood silently and trembled for a moment. Then his face swelled like a bumble bee filled with tart.

Damnit! You listen to me, Constance!

Don Justo’s eyes widened and his head kicked back like mine against Father’s fury. But, of course, I was the one that earned yet another jerk.

Anyway, for some reason—I imagined she might be kind of scared like me—the beauty stopped and turned back to Father. Her face wore a somewhat softer look—a look like I make when I’m roped and need a plan.

What, Tracer? What do you need of me? She sighed a long sigh.

I’ve tried to tell you in a number of ways now, Constance: this man has brought a package for you. I think you should be courteous enough to accept it.

I looked around for a package but I didn’t see one. The woman looked around for one, too.

I don’t see a package.

Curiosity defeated her. She advanced again toward Don Justo and me and inspected us more carefully.

Yes, you do.

No, I don’t.

Father took her by the arm and pulled her close to me. He drew her so close that I needed to raise my head in order to keep her in view.

May I introduce you, my sweet love, to your package—a package designed to give you life.

Life?

Yes. New life. Life like you have never experienced it. Life here. Life now. Life in the form of… your first horse.

Constance Montrose, whom I would soon refer to as Mother, sucked in a breath. Her eyes widened as she stared down at me—me looking cross-eyed up at her with my nose fastened between her breasts. She gave a cry of delight, sprang back, and threw her arms around Father’s neck. She hugged and kissed him and chattered away at him with such pleasurable sounding words that came so rapidly I could not quite pick them out.

Then, as quickly, she turned to me and threw her arms around my neck. She gave me a big hug and began to polish her hands on me. A couple of times my instincts told me to kick her. But she didn’t try to bite me, and she didn’t carry even one idea in her whole head about horse petting, so I just relaxed and let her go at me.

Oh, Tracer! You… you bought him for me! And he’s so beautiful! He’s so wonderful! So handsome! I love him! What’s his name?

Father hesitated.

Petunia, Don Justo volunteered.

Petunia? Mother asked just like Father asked on the road above.

Yes, Don Justo said.

Mother stepped back and eyed me. She studied me from my nose to my tail. She made me a little nervous like maybe my value didn’t reach forty-five U.S. dollars. Then she crossed her arms and gave a huff.

Not anymore! With that brilliant coat; with that dark brown tail and mane; no! From now on, the world will call him Ali Zán: Ali Zán de Montrose!

Ali Zán? Father and Don Justo repeated.

Yes, Mother said with finality, Ali Zán.

Er… what does that mean, Constance?

Who cares, Mother replied.

Don Justo and Father dropped their mouths in wonder. But neither dared debate as Mother lifted my nose before her, gazed deeply into my eyes, and confirmed her decision to herself and me with a single determined nod.

So came I that day to be known as Ali Zán de Montrose. And life began again.

- - -

Mother took my lasso and walked me across the plaza, then up the steps of the retaining wall. I pretended that step climbing was a normal routine for me and followed her. The next thing I knew, I peered through a Dutch door into her kitchen at the back of the cottage. She rummaged under the sink until she found a scrub-brush. She hauled me out to the mango tree beyond the door where she gave me the first brushing of my life.

While she brushed, she called for her workers—two teenage humans named Chispázo and Paco—and made them cut fresh grass for me.

That done, she pointed to the hull shed next to the tannery—the second of the two out-buildings we passed upon our entrance down the drive. She instructed the boys to convert the mostly un-walled and husk-strewn shack into my stable.

Father and Don Justo watched Mother make a loving fuss over me up at the cottage and paid no attention to the boys who gathered their tools and fell to work on the shed.

I, on the other hand, listened to their prattle across the distance as they began their late-hour task. Their topic concerned how crazy the North American breed—specifically Mother and Father—behaved. Although I could understand their unhappiness at being put to work so late in the evening, I could not understand the reason they were assigned the work. Certainly, I did not need a stable; I never had used one; and I agreed with the boys that the building represented nothing more than a horse condominium—a cramped dwelling for which an owner paid an exorbitant mortgage while an inhabitant defecated it… or deprecated… or depreciated it.

Anyway, the boys engaged their assignment in the oddest manner. They tore planks from the smaller shed and nailed them around and about the larger shed with some design in mind to contain me inside my condominium, I supposed.

I took account of their efforts with amusement but without skepticism, given their years. I figured that Chispázo, the oldest, carried seventeen years at best and the younger Paco made only fourteen. Their clumsiness with hammer, saw, crowbar, and nail told me they lacked experience in the work which they undertook. They also came genetically ill-equipped. Although they exhibited a handsome Indian blood, the absence of machete, rope, pistol handle, wire, or rail in their work clearly revealed that they had lost the catracho strain.

Amidst their subdued grumbles and curses, I came to like them—I guess because I saw in them a genuine horse quality—a willingness to do whatever work anybody asked them to do at whatever hour anybody asked them to do it. I saw in them, too, a quality like I already sensed in Father and Mother. I don’t know how to express it except to say that they welcomed life a lot like dirt welcomed corn—or like corn welcomed dirt, whichever. I was used to eating them together.

The snap of wooden beams and the crash of the tin roof of the smaller shed cancelled my thoughts. Cries of surprise from Chispázo and Paco accompanied the catastrophe. Father exploded into Spanish—which apparently only the two boys understood given their familiarity with Father’s North American accent delivered at high speed and with so many filthy English expletives.

The boys countered to him loudly. They blamed the shed for falling and, as Father approached them, beat it and cursed it mercilessly. Father’s expression moved to bafflement while he paused for the youth to tire of their punishment of the debris. Then, shoulders slumped as if fatigued, he employed a complex flourish of finger pointing and hand waving to give new orders before he returned to his conversation with Don Justo.

Mother did not resume the brush-down that the calamity had interrupted.

Well, my Ali Zán, she whispered. I really did like that name. We didn’t need that ugly old building next to your stable, did we?"

I snorted a soft reply so as not to scare her—her being so beautiful and with the possibility of frailty suggested by the lack of calluses on her palms.

She bent over and peered at me. Her smaller round eyes tried to see behind my big round ones. I almost thought she saw something, but she didn’t. But that’s when I realized she didn’t know what to do with me. What the heck, I told myself, I didn’t know what to do with her either. I shrugged. She shrugged.

It’s growing dark, little horsey. Let’s go see what the men are doing.

She surprised me with a playful slap of the lasso upon my croup. I let go with a little buck and kick—because I could tell she wanted me to do it—and we ran down the incline from the house, around the lower, distant end of the retaining wall, and across the length of the plaza. She squealed the entire distance, afraid that I might pull the slack from her rope.

I knew better than to rob my master’s slack, but I think the stiff run did her good. She leaned on me and laughed while she caught her breath; and I faked a few deep breaths so she wouldn’t feel inferior. After a while she pulled me along to inspect the final touches Chispázo and Paco made to my condominium. Then she toured the collapsed shed, then, at the last, formed her grin into a line of boredom and led me over to the men.

In low voices, Father and Don Justo spoke of fire. The sobered manner by which they discussed it surprised me, since Criáda had spoken of it so buoyantly.

It won’t come here, Don Justo said, I’ve been here all my life and I’ve never seen it climb this side of the mountain.

But the smoke in the valley near El Oro appears broader than it appeared this morning.

Broad, yes. Still, it travels the range of the valley floor. It must burn twelve miles of mountainside and one-thousand feet upward to reach Jardín de Los Santos.

I lifted my head to search for a scent of smoke. At the same time Mother stretched to rub my nose. She stuck her fingers into my mouth instead. She made a face and wiped the fingers on Father’s slacks.

Could it burn with enough power to come here?

No. The winds never last that long in one direction. This is April, you know. The gusts may come at us from El Oro for a while, but they’ll reverse and come at us from the south, then the east, and the fire will burn away its own fuel.

That makes sense. I never know which side of the house to close the windows on during dry seasons, Mother said.

Exactly, Don Justo answered.

My eyes followed Father’s as his studied the western sky. Even in the growing obscurity of the evening, the sun snuggling behind the distant hills, no hint of flame glowed upon the ceiling of the night.

But if a west wind hit us for any length of time, we could be burned out, Father replied.

The same way the fires threaten the properties every year on the east slope, Mother said.

Yes. But let me repeat: You do not live on the east slope. You live on the west slope. The west slope rises more softly. The wind can’t gather. He paused and took a full breath as if he quelled impatience. The west slope never, never burns. He eyed Mother as she played ear-grab with me and adopted a lighter mood. Even our horses know the behavior of the fires. Have you noticed how they graze this side of the main road during dry season?

I’ve noticed how they seem to graze everywhere, Mother answered. No ordinance makes you keep them on your property?

On my property? Oh, señora! Like my brothers and my friends, my property barely grants me flat ground for my house and a portion of hillside on which to grow my produce.

But a horse should not roam. He could be harmed.

True. The sturdy horses of Jardín de Los Santos have braved many a bus fender and automobile grill.

Mother kept a distressed face. Don Justo offered her an understanding smile.

We are poor cowboys, poor country folk, up here, señora—the last of the catrachos. As we have done for almost four-hundred years now, we enjoy the benefits of the land. We let our horses pass it as they like. When we need them to haul our goods, we round them up, work them for awhile, and, afterward, let them go their way again.

He gestured to where Criáda waited beside the road above. The dam of this colt normally would not be worked right now. But I came across a few lighter stumps in the woods toward Rosario—enough to buy some hybrid corn seed for the planting next month and a few cubes of pork for the family. He grinned proudly. Over the month since I cut her vacation short, his old dam has moved enough wood splinters to earn the keep of all my kin and hers, too.

And the little one traveled along with you? Mother asked.

Trailed along, yes. And you are lucky your husband found us on the road. This is the last week I intended to use the dam. Day after tomorrow she and the colt would be on the roam again until June.

You should be delighted that you saw him, Tracer. Mother’s tone came demurely. I can’t think of anything other than Ali Zán that could have… temporarily… kept me here.

She laughed as father worked up an innocent face. Then, as Father followed Don Justo in his leave, Mother turned away to massage my temples and called my name repetitively as if I might lack the faculties to remember the two odd syllables. Before I knew it, Don Justo ranged out of view around the curve, whistling gaily just like he had done upon our arrival.

That was when something triggered in my chest. I realized I did not accompany the whistles as they diminished along the drive. I did not go with Don Justo; I would not go with Criáda. I lingered in a different place; a place not of the places I knew as me. I was… I was… sold!"

I bolted. I knew from Mother’s scream that I nearly jerked her arms from their sockets. Father dived for the rope and pulled me up short. I reared against the tension. I squealed. Criáda’s whinny came to me from the distant gate. Father pulled me back once more, more ferociously, tight against his body. I jerked my head in every direction. I tried to rear again, to free myself from the lasso and run madly to where I knew I belonged. But Father held me tight; and Mother’s fingers found my halter. Even as I fought against the lasso, she held me in a hammock of her arms, and moved her head close to me, and spoke to me.

In my hysteria I didn’t know what she said but I do know how she spoke. I know how her words fell softly upon my ear, that my ear consumed her message like a cerebral anesthesia against all fear. My effort against Father’s unyielding grasp became unimportant. My struggle diminished. I found myself paused, feeling soothed, acceptant that I felt confused. Mother moved one hand to my chin and with the other hand twined her fingers in my mane. She gently lifted my nose and kissed me upon my forehead.

I took a deep breath and let it go. As I did so, Father, playing some form of complement to Mother’s touch, relaxed his hold of the rope. Then she released my mane; she slipped her arm down around my neck, pulled me against her. From the other side, Father tossed his arm around my neck and clasped me near as well.

Thank you, Tracer, Mother whispered.

I love you, Constance, Father replied.

I know, she whispered.

Father took a full breath and chuckled quietly to himself.

Something in all of that caused a rush around my rib cage and up into my chest—a rush of satisfaction, intense, a little unsettling to the stomach as if I had eaten a handful of pure cane sugar. But before I could let myself melt into it, the sensation changed—not the sensation of satisfaction, but my sense of the source from which derived the sensation. It was like the barriers of creature flesh dissolved and the sensation I thought was mine, I came to know as theirs. Their loving of each other.

For me, for a mere horse, I was baffled by the intensity of the attachment they felt. They were neither as one and same, nor opposites attracted. They neither stood alone, nor thought to share their space. Neither did I sense a doting friendship, nor a vow of sacrifice; nor an absence of logic nor a contrivance of logic by which their love amassed.

In my mind I saw the windows of stained glass that made the walls of the village church: A thousand cuts of glass each a different shape, never opposite nor same; a thousand cuts of glass uncompromising, though each buttressing the next; a thousand cuts of glass, each hue delimited, but each a participant in the picture made of light every time I passed.

Yet with such words and pictures I still lacked the sensibility by which to define the aspect that Mother and Father made. I can claim only to have served as part of it—and to have known that it was true love I messengered that night.

Chapter 2

Of Don Justo and his tough little cowboy friends—the catrachos—I must say they were patient people, quiet, accustomed to the movement of life in the countryside, to the pace of their horses, to the growth and death of the grasses, to the come and go of everything, including themselves.

And their dogs reflected their lifestyle. They grew small, wiry like their masters. They felt as satisfied to gnaw upon an occasional chicken bone as to tear at a cut of steak; forever satisfied to lie ignored and sentinel the houses of their masters against the unknown. Given that we ranked in the known category, I, Criáda, and the other horses of the community never received their attention. Even if Criáda happened into a bad mood and kicked at one of the scruffy mutts, he moved amiably to another spot, laid down, and watched with sleepy eyes for creatures with which he had not been assigned a relationship.

Not so did the humans and their prized canine behave at Arcos Iris where I found myself that first morning, a little ashamed because I laid down and took the first really good snooze of my life.

The radio of Chispázo and Paco—opened to full volume inside the tannery where their bedroom was—awakened me. Above the noise, they chattered loudly, something about whose penis looked largest upon awakening in the mornings.

Father appeared. He stood in front of my condominium, a cup of coffee in his hands. He smiled at me, sent me a wink, and made a few baby sounds for me. Then he turned toward the tannery, gathered a deep breath, and bellowed. As best I could interpret, his not altogether perfect Spanish commanded his workers to leave their whackers in their lockers, stand up off their assholes, eat the table on which their tortillas set, and report to him with their machetes at some unspecified time during that day which was in a hurry.

After his yells, I stood abundantly awake to recognize the clatter of boards that made the walls of my condominium and the crisscross of rope over nail, much like a bootlace, that formed my door.

Mother arrived, followed by a dog which looked like a horse. She sang to the beast while Father yelled some more. Then she shooed Father away. She entered the condominium and began to sing to me.

Her endless mantra that first morning irritated me beyond belief, me being somewhat like I imagined Father to be: a stallion—a creature that needs to get out of his condominium without an over-do of sweet female moil—with the exception of breakfast.

Well, that particular morning no breakfast arrived. No problem. At that period in my life the word breakfast sounded as remote as the word stable had sounded the night before. The moment marked by the first rays of the morning sun fallen upon a few scraps of roadside grass always had served as the concept for that particular meal. Anyway, Mother, who would later require that I participate daily in the consumption of that sort of meal, chanted to me—to the silent accompaniment of the beast that encircled my legs and sniffed.

The beast, called Bía by Mother, was female, based upon her name and lack of visible reproductive paraphernalia. I hesitated to infer much more for a couple of reasons.

To start with, the creature approximated the measures of Criáda’s aunt’s sire’s sister I once saw as she passed along our road from Rosario in route to a freak show in Tegucigalpa. They told me that some act of nature dwarfed the old mare and thus enabled her to become the richest in the family. My recall of that incident told me that if nature could do one horse that way, then she could probably manage a more intense bastardization on any particularly good horse.

I leaned further toward that line of thought as I studied the creature. She was the color of midnight black from the tip of her tail to the inside of her ears. She stood upon feet almost as big as hooves and long, skinny legs like a horse—which told me she moved fast. She also displayed a broad chest, with thick muscles splayed there, and her shoulders would have spread broader than mine, I believe, if I were reduced to her size. Sure, toenails formed in place of her hooves, like a dog; but her hair grew smooth and short like mine. She actually snorted as she smelled of me—almost as a horse would snort. On the other hand, I noticed her teeth when she curled her lips back and licked away the moisture at her nose. They extended long and sharp like those of a dog; and, anyway, I never had seen a horse lick its nose, so I decided the beast was a bitch… or a dog… or, well, whatever.

I decided to be humble and communicate with her.

Hello, I said.

She did not reply. She continued to investigate me. She paused under my crotch and took a good whiff of the real me. I felt her tug at my tail. Then she worked her way around and stuck her nose up against mine. I could tell she thought my breath smelled like shit—like a vegetarian with a case of Brussels sprouts indigestion. No matter. Her breath smelled like shit, too—like Don Justo’s after a lunch of fried chicken.

Mother sang a while more and rubbed her hands over me like she did the evening past, all but begging me to kick her. But I didn’t move—not while the dwarf filly-bitch dog-prototype roamed beneath me and ran her tongue over her teeth.

I was relieved when Mother grabbed my halter and slipped it over my head. She led me outside, then let me go. Normally I would have run. But I didn’t know where I was, so I didn’t know exactly where to run. I looked around for another horse, but I saw only the beast squatted dog-like beside Mother. Mother squinted at me.

He doesn’t want to move, Tracer, she called to Father who returned from the tannery. Chispázo and Paco carried machetes and accompanied him. I don’t think he feels playful.

Father deferred to his confederates.

What do you think she should do, boys?

Shoot him with the water hose, Doña Constance, Chispázo said.

Don’t listen to Chispázo, Doña Constance, Paco countered, He just wants to squirt your horse.

Then what would you do, little cucumber? Chispázo

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