Brooke turned on the porch and went in without saying a word. Her long black ponytail slapped her back as the screen door snapped shut. Samuel shuffled his tired legs in his seat. Nothing moved in the harvested fields, golden and brown. Silence surrounded the rickety house. The last drops of condensation trickled down his empty whiskey glass. She came back through the door with a jug in hand.
– Might as well keep it out here, ain’t no more ice anyways. Her country drawl scratched out from her prominent lips.
He held up his glass and she filled it half-empty.
– Is that all you plan to give me ? he said, hand suspended.
– Ya can’t handle this homebrew, Sam.
Samuel slammed the moonshine trying his best not to cringe. She laughed.
– A’right, pour it fer yerself then. She set the jug down beside his chair and fell back into her lawnchair in one unbroken movement. As she leaned over, he saw down her braless shirt but was met by her pale blue stare when she sat.
– Thank you, by the way, he said reaching for the jug, – I appreciate you taking me out.
She looked at him hard then turned her gaze out over the field.
– You did okay I guess, fer a city boy.
She hadn’t been ridden since last summer, but Brooke decided to let him try. When he had stepped out of the car, she squared him up, skeptical. – You think yer ridin’ in those ? She scoffed at his Italian pennyloafers.
– It was either these or my Birkenstocks. He scratched his head.
– Whatever, long’s you don’t break yer ankle and sue me. Brooke hopped down from the porch and headed toward the field. He followed, taking the stairs. A grey shack cowered in the corner of a flat dirt pen next to a deep pile of musty shit. When they stepped between the barbwire fence she came trotting over right away. The early October air smelled of stubble and bailed straw, of earth. A scent Samuel missed.
– Feed ‘er som’in. I’ll look fer the bit. Hay’s in the shed.
Samuel yanked open the swollen door and grabbed a handful.
– What did you say her name was ?
– Missy. Brooke’s voice muffled behind the thin wood slats that separated the tack room from the barn. Dust danced in the thin rays of autumn light. Samuel stepped out and opened his palm to the creature before him.
– Hey there, Missy. Are you peckish ? Her nostrils flared in mistrust. Her deep black eyes stared afraid, but hungry. Samuel stepped forward and she snorted.
– I don’t think she likes me. Samuel looked up and saw Brooke’s violin back framed between a cotton bra-strap and low jeans as she stripped off her shirt and changed it for a dusty flannel hanging inside the shed. He looked away one second too late and their eyes met over her shoulders.
– That’s ‘cause she ain’t stupid, she said buttoning up.
Missy stepped forward and flapped her lips over his fingers.
– She isn’t going to bite, is she ?
– She might if you ain’t careful, Brooke warned as she rattled around with leather straps and metal buckles that were strewn about inside. – Keep yer hand flat and let her do it her way. Samuel opened his palm and hoped for the best.
It’d been years since he had been this close to such a beautiful animal. He’d been raised out here, in the fields, but left for London at seventeen and never looked back. His father’s funeral had brought him home for a few days… Strange, he thought, I still call it home after all these years.
Brooke came back from the rundown shack. – Here, she said as she pulled the halter over Missy’s long muzzle and clipped on a lead. – Hold ‘er still a sec while I saddle ‘er up.
Brooke lugged a heavy American work saddle over Missy’s back. Sam made long, soft strokes down her face whispering and holding the lead in his other hand. Her raw, untamed power bewildered him. But when she felt the soft pressure of the first girth pulled tight her eyes grew wide with fear.
– Uh, Brooke… She bucked hard, sending her hind legs shooting into the air, her head low. She reared and catapulted back pulling Samuel up by the lead.
– Get back. Brooke grabbed the end of the rope just before she could get her front legs off the ground and kick. Samuel slid back in the dust and watched her anchor the angry mare with one firm word : – Stop.
She struggled some but it was clear Brooke had her dominated. Once she stopped tromping up dust Brooke snuggled against her forelock and cooed close.
– You gotta show ‘er you ain’t scared first, then you can be nice.
– Right. Samuel said taking the tether.
– Now hold ‘er this time. Samuel did and Brooke finished strapping on the saddle.
After a moment, Samuel spoke. – Sorry she got away from me.
– I could care less if yer sorry, just don’t let ‘er git away again.
– She won’t.
Once the stirrups were adjusted, Brooke stepped back and sighed. – Now the hard part.
– What do you mean ? Wasn’t that the hard part ?
– Told you I couldn’t find ‘er bridle and bit, didn’t I ? Brooke spoke louder as she clattered around in the shed again.
– Yes, but you said you had another.
– Well, I do. But it ain’t hers and she ain’t ever used it before. She stepped out and fixed Sam straight on. And she sure as hell ain’t gonna like it in her mouth : it’s English.
Brooke held her head back, her hands around her warm cheeks and slipped the bit in. After an initial snort she didn’t pose much resistance. Samuel held on strong. – Good girl, he said gaining confidence, – We’ll have a nice go at it, you’ll see.