Sunday, April 1, 2012

Whiskey Midnight

Everyone loves a good horse story! Here's one I wrote last summer and still just love, but am not sure what to do with. For now, enjoy!! Please comment with suggestions!

It was dark, finally. Too dark to see her bruises, once again dark enough that she could pretend they weren’t there. She breathed as quietly and motionlessly as she could, willing herself to be completely still so as not to wake him. He didn’t like to be woken up, not at all, and she didn’t think she could take another one of his rages tonight.

Sylvia was a black-haired twenty-something, slender and feminine in every way. Her soft looks contrasted sharply with the harsh and ugly struggles she endured. The man she had married five years ago in the throes of young love had transformed into a monster, and had dragged her down into his misery with him. She didn’t know a safe way out, and she was too afraid to tell, too afraid to leave.

But she wasn’t entirely alone in her troubles. She always had a place to retreat to in her mind, a beautiful place of dewy pastures and floating manes. She would go to this place, built on the memories of her childhood, anytime his words became too stinging, his blows too rough. Sylvia loved horses, had owned them and played with them when she was a girl, and she desperately longed for their understanding gaze now.

They lived in a crummy cheap apartment, not far from the local racetrack, Walther Downs. Sometimes, if the wind was just right, Sylvia could hear the cheers from the crowd carry to their tiny lopsided balcony. Just knowing there were horses only a few miles away was a comfort to her, though her longing to be near them again remained ever unfulfilled.

She worked at a local bakery that she could walk to from the apartment. It was always a relief to escape the home that had become a prison to her. At work at least she was safe from Jackson’s drunken stupor. The job left much to be desired, though, paying just over minimum wage, with uncaring employers who had enough troubles of their own. The inside of the bakery was stark, getting just enough customers for coffee and pastries to keep its doors open. Sylvia was too afraid to look for something better, too afraid that if she left she might not be able to find something, and then he would get mad at her. He would get mad and she would regret trying to make things better for herself. She knew; she had tried enough times.
It was a gray afternoon and Sylvia was replacing croissants in the display case when the gentlemen walked in. She looked up, greeted them, and put her head back down to work. They were speaking emphatically about something, and a few key words caught her attention.

“That filly’s gotta do better than she’s been doin’, with that sire she’s got. I’ve gotta get a different rider on her, see if we can’t get somethin’ more out of her,” the first man said.

“Well, you never know in this business. Racing’s a fickle lover,” the second, shorter man responded.
Sylvia was watching them with interest now. People from the track didn’t usually come in here; there were closer bakeries and even gas stations that probably had better baked goods nearer the track.

“ . . . I just had to get away from it for awhile . . . couldn’t stand to run into Smith out there this morning. He never misses a chance to rub a win in my face.”

The men ordered coffee- black- and a piece of pound cake each. Sylvia rang them up with a smile, hoping they might ask her if she followed racing, or some similar invitation to their conversation.

They didn’t, of course, and instead sat down at one of the flimsy two-seater tables along the wall. Sylvia’s mind wandered to the feeling of galloping bareback through the pasture on her childhood mare, Susie Q. She missed those days so much it ached. However did she end up here, living this kind of life?

“ . . . Well, I’ll be up at ol’ Barn C tomorrow mornin’ to check out that colt Jensen wanted me to look at. Glad to have him for a neighbor ‘stead of Smith, that’s for sure. He’s a stand-up guy, that Jensen,” the taller man said.

His friend agreed with him, and scraped his chair back to stand.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said to Sylvia. “Have a good day, now.”

“Thank you; you too,” Sylvia replied with her soft smile. Horse people were the next best thing to horses most of the time. They tend to say what they mean and Sylvia could appreciate that.

A few more long hours passed in that workday, and Sylvia served a few more lone customers before it was time to close up once again. She had been thinking about what those men had said. Who was that filly who they seemed to think underperformed? They hadn’t mentioned a name. And Jensen, and Smith, those other men they had talked about . . . now that she had characters and faces to identify with Walther Downs, she couldn’t seem to stop thinking about it . . . 

To be continued

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