Horse Thieves

by Glen Chamberlain

art-hosethievesExcerpted from Conjugations of the Verb To Be (Delphinium Books, 2011).

A birth is full of magic. It’s like the empty box the magician closes up, taps with his wand, and spins round and round. When the spinning stops and he opens it, out comes something that wasn’t there before–a beautiful lady or tiger or dove, and all of a sudden you realize that you were waiting, knowing the space would be filled just right. The magic’s in the just right part.

But there’s also a smaller part of the magic I like as much. It’s when the new baby takes something for the very first time from the world, and nothing’s telling it to, but everything is. It’s that first stolen breath, a big, startled one, the biggest one ever because the baby’s lungs have never had anything in them before. Nothing at all. After that, all the other breaths will be married up in pairs of in and out, except the last one where the body comes full circle and gives back what it took when it was born, and nothing’s telling it to, but everything is. And that last breath out is magic like the first breath in. The show reverses itself, and the space that was filled with something big is emptied out again. Poof . . . all gone.

The new baby takes something for the very first time from the world, and nothing’s telling it to, but everything is. It’s that first stolen breath, a big, startled one, the biggest one ever because the baby’s lungs have never had anything in them before.

You probably think I’m talking about little human babies, but I’m not. While I know the magic is there with them–it’s there with rats, too–humans are wrinkled and splotchy with squinty faded eyes when they’re born. They’re not like horses, which are what I’m talking about. Unlike a human, a foal comes out perfect and ready for life, with its coat wet and its eyes open, standing up quick to the world once it gets its nose out of that birthing sac and steals the first breath. And that breath is big, so much bigger than one a human takes. What’s more, a horse seems important because of the amount of space it takes up. I suppose an elephant baby would seem even more important, but I’ve never seen one of them born. And they aren’t nearly as pretty in form as a little foal.

There’s something else that makes horses more magical. Other babies get born almost anytime. But most mares foal in the night, when the sky’s all blued with stars and the world’s all hushed up, almost as if it’s waiting for the new little creature. And you are waiting, too, and expectant. You’ve been watching that mare for clues–a certain standoffishness that comes with the waxing up of her teats, almost like she’s putting lids on two milk bottles. And if you want, and if the mare’s in a stall, you wait with her in the dark blue world for the magic to come.

Sometime in that waiting night, you drift off because you’re tired from doing chores all day, and the straw you’ve put out for the mare and yourself smells like sunshine and summer dust. While you sit in your little grassy mound of gold, your eyelids drop with every falling star.

What wakes you is the sound of running water, not the sound of pissing, which sounds like a water drill boring into the earth, but a more general splashing sound, like birds in a bath. Your eyes pop open and then you squint, a blind person in the night waiting for the magic because the mare’s water has broken.

Finally you see her outline, and she is standing above the straw bed you’ve made for her so when her foal drops, she’ll land soft in the space that has been waiting for her. If the mare was out in the pasture, she would let the baby drop to the hard earth, but, like all of us should do, she’ll give comfort when and where she can.

You have to sit quiet while you wait so she doesn’t move away from the soft bed you’ve offered her. Soon, from beneath her tail which she holds slightly up, a hoof appears, and then another. They look like a present in the heavy, shiny wrapping of the placenta, and you feel like you’re getting a gift and you know what it is because you can see its outline. You try to pretend, though, that you don’t know because you don’t want to jinx the birth.

The hooves are soft because they’ve been floating in liquid for almost a year, but they’re sharp enough so that if all goes like the magician planned, their edges will slice the wrapping just as the foal’s muzzle appears between those two hooves. In the shadow of the mare, it will be hard to see the nostrils, but they are there; they’re not taking in air yet because the baby’s chest is pressed tight in the birth canal, and the lungs can’t push out. This is magic, too, because if the hooves haven’t torn the wrapping of the sac yet, then there’s no need to breathe. All the baby would do is breathe in the fluids of her own making, suck herself up and die. And so, with her mother’s help of throbbing muscles, she slowly wiggles from her world of not quite being into yours of night and stars and straw and earth. The hooves and head drop downward, but the body still resists. If the hooves haven’t already done their job, the opposite pullings of gravity and resistance will rip the sac, and the foal slips into life.

And so, with her mother’s help of throbbing muscles, she slowly wiggles from her world of not quite being into yours of night and stars and straw and earth. The hooves and head drop downward, but the body still resists.

The mother turns and gives a soft rumbling in her chest and nose, both welcome and relief, as she bends to lick her baby clean. Then you can clearly see the magic. Even though nothing is telling her to, everything is, and the foal’s ribs float outward as she steals her first breath from the world. She is like a thief in the night, and you have come to love a thief.

Of my heartful of horse thieves, I loved Jasmine the best. Her name was Al Mouad al Sahid al Fayedah al Jasmine. You can probably tell from the name that she was an Arabian, and her name traced her story, which was as complicated as anything out of Arabian Nights. Her great grandfather was Fayed, her grandfather Sahid, and her dam Fayedah, the daughter of Sahid. Both Mouad and Sahid were black stallions, and Fayedah’s dam, Jasmine’s grandmother, had been black, too.

Fayedah, or Fay, as I called her, like most of the Arabian breed, was born black but within two years had faded to a dappled gray. Nevertheless, her genes made it quite possible for her to throw a black foal, and so her lot in life was cast. She was a broodmare; every two to three years, in late spring, her marriage to a black stallion in Nevada or California or Oregon was arranged. She’d get shipped out, and two months later she’d come home, a little thinner and pregnant. Through the winter I would tend to her to make sure the magic would happen again.

To me, magic happened no matter the color of the foal, but to the lady I worked for, magic would come when a foal spun out black. So far, that hadn’t happened. Before I came to work, Fay had had three babies. One was a bay, and two had been born black but had the telltale signs of turning gray or white–a few white hairs scattered throughout their coats. Sure enough, one was a pretty little dapple like Fay and the other was an ugly scuffed white.

When Jasmine stole into my world that night, I could tell she was dark, but that was all. And I didn’t have a flashlight because that would have made me some kind of Peeping Tom, separated from the magic, watching rather than being a part of it. I’m not sure all these mechanical gadgets we have are that big a help to us, not when they cut us off. So I watched by what little light the night gave me, which was enough, as Fay licked her baby. And then I fell asleep. I tell you now that I did not see Jasmine get up. I did not.

*

“What have we got?”

That was Wendy. Her voice had the qualities of an alarm clock. Oh, her tones were soft enough; she was from back East and had gone to good schools, and she knew how to talk good. But there was always something pushy and grating, and I think it had to do with money. Her voice had the sound of coins, kind of tinkly, like pennies in a china pig. She sounded like a bank, and people with money who wanted horses–mind you, they didn’t love them but they wanted them–were attracted to her voice and without a flinch would deposit $10,000 in her. And then would her voice jingle!

I came up from underneath my straw mound, startled like a mouse, and there she was glowing in the orange light of daybreak. In June that meant it was only 5:30, and I rubbed the broken bits of last year’s wheat stalks out of my eyes. She was kneeling over the little horse, who in my blurry vision looked black. I couldn’t tell by my own eyesight if there were white hairs in the baby’s coat anywhere, but Wendy’s voice sounded like the U.S. Mint, so I figured she’d finally got herself a black Arabian.

I couldn’t tell by my own eyesight if there were white hairs in the baby’s coat anywhere, but Wendy’s voice sounded like the U.S. Mint, so I figured she’d finally got herself a black Arabian.

Despite her voice, though, something didn’t seem right, so as I combed the straw out of my snarled hair with my fingers, I thought on it. If the horse was dead, then Wendy’s voice wouldn’t be full of milk and money. But why would I think the little horse was dead? Then I jumped up in a hurry. “Why isn’t it standing up?” I asked as I moved toward Wendy. “It was born a while ago. What is it?”

“A filly,” Wendy answered. And then she announced her name like the horse was some kind of princess. “Al Mouad al Sahid al Fayedah al Jasmine.” She’d been saving that family tree handle for the black horse she kept telling herself and the bank she’d get some day.

“No, not that. What is it that’s making her stay down?”

When I got up to the strawbed, there rested the prettiest little ink horse you’d ever want to see, a horse as dark and shiny as a moonless night, and I liked her right away, for her appearance had the qualities of the night she stole into. My eyes ran over her resting form, her hind legs tucked underneath her and to the side, as girlish as could be, her front legs out straight and relaxed, like a resting ballerina’s. Her head was refined, for Fay was an Egyptian Arabian, the side of the family known for their spooned-out noses, but her father was from the Anglo side, whose muzzles were straighter and larger. Her head was a good genetic nick, then, with a soft gentle curve to the profile. “You are perfect, aren’t you?” I whispered, and I glanced at the dried strand of umbilical cord lying stiffly out from her belly, the only proof that she was conceived in the normal way rather than in a magician’s head.

She just stared at us with eyes that didn’t know distrust yet. There was nothing but a chocolate wonder to them.

I looked at Wendy, whose own eyes were filled with dollar signs. “She should be up and nursing, not just sitting here,” I said. “Let’s help her up.”

When we lifted her, the hind legs didn’t unfold like liquid, like they should. Instead, they dropped only a little ways, all dry and stiff. When I bent down to see why, I saw her hocks. They were swollen like the big knucklebones of a grownup cow.

“Holy . . .”

“What?” Wendy’s voice snapped, and the money drained out of it as she bent to see what I was seeing. For a $4,000 stud fee, Wendy might have finally gotten herself a black mare, but the mare was going to need a wheelchair. And a black horse in a wheelchair is hard to breed. And a black horse that goes unbred doesn’t pay her board.

Wendy let go of her side, and little Jasmine started to crumple. I hurried up and cradled her butt to keep her from falling. “Where you going?” I asked Wendy’s retreating form.

“To call the goddamned vet.”

Gently I lowered the little baby to her bed and then went to the barn to grab a bucket and a large baby bottle. I knelt next to Fay and began to strip her teats of the first milk that Jasmine should have already had. It was the colostrum that would make a baby strong. I poured the liquid into the king-sized bottle and attached a latex nipple, and the smell of that rubber made me so sad. Jasmine should have been under her mother, smelling that rich smell of horse, of hair and sweat and grass and milk. Rubber was not the first taste of life Jasmine–or for that matter, any new creature–should have.

When I knelt down in front of her, though, the little indigo made it plain she didn’t care what life tasted like. She just wanted it. Her black-pencil lips opened, and she bit the latex nipple, her sweet, pink, toothless but bony gums grabbing hold like a snapping turtle and not letting go. When it was empty, I had to yank it out of her mouth. I hurried to pour more colostrum into it, and Jasmine tried to follow me, struggling to get up and get up and get up, and falling and falling and falling. “Stay still,” I kept pleading with her, but she wouldn’t till I came back and she grabbed hold of that nipple again. For five bottles we did that, and by the time we had finished, I knew two things. That little crippled and hungry horse figured I was her mother. And I figured I was her mother. That morning feeding is how I came to love her more than any other horse I’d ever seen born. And like a mother, I didn’t care if she wasn’t perfect. She was to me. She was mine.

Her black-pencil lips opened, and she bit the latex nipple, her sweet, pink, toothless but bony gums grabbing hold like a snapping turtle and not letting go.

The only problem was she wasn’t. I found that out a few hours later when Doc McTee, the vet from Buckle, showed up.

Wendy stood impatiently apart, her arms folded across her chest and her fingers tapping like runaway horses while I struggled to hold Jasmine up and the man who looked more like a cowboy than a doctor ran his big broken hands over her hocks and hummed. He rubbed and he hummed, and he hummed and he rubbed, and I could feel the sweat drip through my messy hair and soak my shirt and make me itch all over from the straw chaff. I looked pleadingly at Wendy to help me with the hundred pounds of horseflesh, but she wouldn’t get near Jasmine. I could tell she thought she’d been defrauded.

The humming stopped and McTee stood up. “The stud was too big.”

“It’s the stud’s fault?” Wendy snapped, her fingers still tapping away.

“I didn’t say that. I said the stud was too big. How tall was he?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Sixteen-two.”

He pointed at Fay. “Fay here’s only fourteen, I’d say.” Then he pointed at Jasmine. “This foal didn’t have enough room. As she grew, her legs were forced tighter and tighter into her body, and she couldn’t move ‘em.” He pointed at her hocks. “Her tendons are underdeveloped, and the joint’s probably fused.”

“What do I do now?”

McTee shrugged.

“Will she get better?”

He shrugged again.

Wendy stood in the noon light. The sun was straight up, so she cast no shadow, almost like she didn’t exist. Or at least like she wasn’t human. And what she said next made me know that was true. “Kill her,” she said.

McTee shrugged.

“No.” That’s what I told her. No. “I’ll take care of her.”

Wendy just looked at me, a surprised grimace on her face. “And just how are you going to do that?”

It was my turn to shrug, for I had no idea. Where I labored was where I lived. I had no money, and I had no place, and I never felt more powerless. There Wendy stood, looking past McTee and at me, and I could tell by her face what she saw. I was all hunched over and sweaty, my hair all askew and full of straw, holding a crippled horse like she was my baby, the hired help who slept outside with pregnant mares because I believed in magic. What she saw was an idiot.

I was all hunched over and sweaty, my hair all askew and full of straw, holding a crippled horse like she was my baby, the hired help who slept outside with pregnant mares because I believed in magic.

I looked at McTee, and I could tell he saw the same thing.

The difference between Wendy and McTee, though, is when Wendy sees an idiot, she gets all huffy and superior. When McTee sees one, he gets sorry. And so what McTee did next saved my pride and saved little Jasmine.

“Exercise and hot and cold packs might work.” He just kept looking at me. “Maybe those joints aren’t fused. Maybe they’re just inflamed. If we could get the swelling down and get her moving, those tendons and ligaments would stretch out . . .”

“Well, then, why don’t we just take x-rays to see? If they’re fused, I won’t waste my time. And if they’re just inflamed, why not use steroids?”

“No need to do either of those just yet,” McTee said.

“Why not?”

“Steroids are unhealthy for everyone, let alone a foal. And they’re expensive. Real expensive. Hot and cold packs are cheap. And no need to spend money on the x-rays. We’ll know in a couple of weeks if it works.” He turned from me and faced Wendy. “Look, you’ve got a lot invested in this little horse, and you’ve got the hired hand to tend her. Give it a try. It’ll cost you some hot water and rags. The rest of the time’ll come off her back.” He tipped his head toward me.

I knew what McTee was doing. He was appealing to Wendy’s stinginess. And he didn’t want x-rays used because the x-rays would show there was no point, that her hired help’s time could be better spent dunging out stalls.

It’s always seemed to me that I’m not very smart. But that day with old Doc McTee I saw I wasn’t as bad off as Wendy, for she let him talk her out of killing Jasmine. “All right,” she said. “She can do it.” That day I realized she didn’t have god or brains or anything else on her side. She just had money. I also realized that she and folks like her would always have it. This was because her actions were always tied to money. Folks like me, though, would always be poor. This was because our actions were always tied to magic. We believed that things would turn out just because they should. That afternoon, when I was done with all my chores, I dunged out two stalls in the barn. Into one I moved my sleeping bag and a comb, and into the other I moved Fayedah and Jasmine. Starting that night and going on through the following weeks, I would pack her hocks and find a way to exercise her. It would work because it should.

*

“Windy oughtn’t order me about,” Rory said. “I’m no hired man; I’m her lover. I’ll take the front end; you take the back.” Rory put the frayed halter on the perfect head, and he pulled while I lifted. “She don’t ‘preciate me atall, all I do to make her feel good. No self-spectin’ man’d put up with her horseshit.” He tugged on the head while I carried the hind end. “She’s frigid to boot. Did you know that? You’re lettin’ that side droop. Lift up more.”

While I could pack Jasmine’s legs by myself, I couldn’t hold her up and move her around, so the next day I told Wendy I needed help. Notice that I say “told” rather than “asked.” This is because McTee had evened the playing field; I didn’t feel nearly so puny next to her anymore. And there was a need beyond just saving Jasmine. It was my belief in magic against hers in money.

So when I told Wendy I needed help, she sent Rory, her other hired hand. Even though Rory and I had the same work title, there were a few differences. First, he was dumber. Second, he was better looking. Third, he had a penis. The second and third reasons put him in Wendy’s graces or something, and while he didn’t move into the big house, he slept many a night there. Even though he was never invited to her dinner parties–she didn’t want him to talk to anybody–Rory didn’t think he should have to work in anything as low as the barn, but, nevertheless, Wendy had sent him to help with Blackie. That was the new name she had bestowed on Jasmine because of her hocks. Just as there was no reason to spend money on x-rays, there was no reason to waste a princess name on a cripple. She referred to her like some stray dog. Only I still called her Jasmine.

Every morning Rory and I did this, him walking in circles for a half an hour pulling on the lead while I carried the tail end of the little horse that dragged two furrows in the earth with her useless legs. Each day I became less sure of my belief, thinking that maybe I should not imagine anything–just see the overwhelming world around me: the sky was blue, just blue, and the ground was green–green–and there were all kinds of lines that ran between the blue and green and there was water that went across the land, fat and flush. And that was all there was. Why was I clinging to the notion that the land and the creatures on it made magic, when every day Wendy seemed to prove that what the land and the creatures on it were really meant to do was make money?

Why was I clinging to the notion that the land and the creatures on it made magic, when every day Wendy seemed to prove that what the land and the creatures on it were really meant to do was make money?

Then, well into the second week, something happened. I was holding Jasmine up as usual, feeling the dusty drag of her legs, when all of a sudden there was a bump in the drag. I thought she’d hit a rock in the earth, and I kept holding her, but there it was again, a bump. I looked down, watching her hooves plow the earth, and as I watched, one lifted up and then set down. A step. I interrupted one of Rory’s monologues. “Rory, look at this.” As he pulled on the halter, he watched the earth, and he saw it, too–drag and a bump.

“Windy; hey, Windy: Windy, looksee this, Windy! Looksee Blackie!” He dropped the lead and went screaming out of the barn to get his keeper. I understood his motives, and I didn’t begrudge him. Life in her bed, though probably unpleasant, was better than life on some grub line. Once, I suspected, we had been alike in our beliefs. But while mine had waned, they hadn’t totally disappeared. Rory’s had. He now believed in Wendy and her way, and if he could he would take credit for Blackie’s resurrection.

As I stood there holding Jasmine’s hind end up, I worried that such weak trust in my world would hurt the little horse, so gently I released her and waited for her to fold down to the ground. Instead, she stood wobbling there on her own.

“Jasmine, Jasmine?” It was Wendy, and she and Rory came running through the door. “Jasmine’s walking?”

I grinned at her use of the princess name even as I grimaced. For it meant that magic was afoot, and because of it I would lose my little horse. I would have lost her anyway. Once again, I felt puny next to Wendy. All my work which had looked crazy and stupid to everyone had just turned smart and sassy in Wendy’s world—the world I didn’t belong to. Magic would save Jasmine but rob me.

After that morning, Wendy began to boss me around about how to care for Jasmine. Now Rory and I had two big exercise programs a day, and with each day the little indigo horse wobbled less and walked more. With each night’s packing, the swelling in her hocks lessened. All of this brought on the day I was dreading. “Put Jazz and Fay out in the small pasture,” Wendy ordered. “With the extra time you can begin halter breaking the other foals.” That afternoon, I let her and Fay go through the gate to the biggest world she had ever been in, and I moved my sleeping bag and comb back to my little house.

The next morning, we rounded up one of Wendy’s mares and her little colt, slipping a halter on the dam and walking across the ranch compound to the indoor arena. Where the mare went, the foal was sure to follow. As I led them through the bright sunlight, I glanced at Fay and Jasmine who were grazing out farther and farther, and I watched their shiny bodies, knowing that every step by Jasmine was one more away from me. Then I took the mare and colt through the sliding doors and shut them. As soon as the dam and foal and I got used to the dark coolness, Rory distracted the mare with grain while I slipped the halter on her baby boy. There were a few moments of fighting, but when he saw his mother could care less, he resigned himself to his newest mark of tameness. We led him around in the arena for half an hour and then freed him. The next day we would do the same, and it depressed me how this little colt would never learn to like us but would learn to put up with us.

There were a dozen new foals that summer, and we had them all pretty well started when Wendy said it was time to get working with Jasmine again, who had done nothing for a few weeks but get strong.

It’s a funny thing about stories. Sometimes when you want to tell them, you don’t know what the words should be. So you throw a rope out into a whole herd of possibilities, hoping to catch anything, and you snag just the right one by a hind foot, and then another by a front. Your catching is awkward, but you drag them in and all of a sudden you’ve got a nice little string, and you sit back and admire your catching. That’s how I feel when I tell you that the day I started working with Jasmine as a real horse, not a cripple, was just plain blue. Just plain blue.

That was the sky in the morning. It had nothing in it but blue, and that color went every which way. Like the sky, things looked simple. I went to the holding pasture to catch Fay, and she came up to me, with Jasmine right next to her. But Jasmine, little Jasmine, when she saw me slip the halter on her mama, she took off. The grass was all twinkly with dew, and her hind legs, which were never supposed to work, threw a train of sparkles onto my face, like they were magic. She was so pretty to watch. She didn’t have a regular gait yet because her hocks were still puffy, so her hind legs came down together, making her look like a little rocking horse. She rocked through all that blue tossing her head and shimmying her sides, just glad to be alive, and I was glad for her. When she was done showing off, she came close to Fay but not to me, which kind of hurt my feelings, and followed her across to the arena.

When I slid the door shut behind them, Rory came out with a grain pan. While Fay ate, I slipped the halter up over Jasmine’s muzzle, buckled it, attached the lead, and wrapped the end of it around my hand. You never do that with a horse because you don’t want to be too strongly attached. But Jasmine wasn’t just a horse. She was my horse. Or so I thought.

She took off; a black bundle of muscles and nerves bounding across that arena with me on the end of the lead, trying to get it unwrapped. I felt like a big fish that had just been hooked. During one of the fastest dashes anybody’s ever run in cowboy boots, I looked up and knew what my future was. It was corrugated and made of tin. I closed my eyes and could see my shape pushed into that wall about two feet above the ground like some cartoon character’s.

Then I remember looking at the tin, but my shape wasn’t there so I wasn’t sure if I’d hit it. I was lying in the dirt with chunks of dry horse manure in my hair and face and all over my shirt. I looked around for Jasmine, but she was nowhere to be seen. Neither was Fay. Or Rory. It made me think that maybe I’d gone to Buckle and gotten drunk and come back and passed out in the arena, and now I was waking up. I started moving all my parts around, and everything worked except my left ankle. I was relieved, because that was the proof I’d hit the wall rather than the bottle. “Rory?” I called.

Nothing.

“Rory?”

The door, which was opened slightly, let in a slat of that plain blue which colored the dangling dust. I put my head down in the soft, fertilized dirt and just watched, enjoying the brightness and lightness, and then a shadow blocked it. “Rory?”

He broke through the blue and bent over me on his tippytoes. Then he just stared.

“Why’d you run off?”

How he whined. “Why’d you do this to me? You know how Windy feels ‘bout Jasmine. You coulda kilt that horse!”

“Rory. Shut up.” I came out of the dust feeling like Eve must have when she was first made–small and bent, not quite put together, barely more than a rib bone. “I think my ankle’s broken. Go get Wendy. Tell her Jasmine threw me against the barn.”

“I can’t tell her that. You know how she feels ‘bout horses.”

“Okay, okay. Tell her I threw myself against the barn. Just leave Jasmine out.”

He ran off. Real fast Wendy was there. “Where’s Jasmine? Is she all right?”

“Yup, I put her and Fay back in the pasture,” Rory bragged as he tried to help me up.

Then she turned her attention to me. “What did you do?”

I tested my ankle, feeling the bone push against my skin like some trapped animal that wanted out. I had a feeling if I told her Jasmine had thrown me into the wall, she’d fire me on the spot. So I shrugged. “I don’t know. I hit the barn wall. My ankle’s broke. It’s broke bad.”

I tested my ankle, feeling the bone push against my skin like some trapped animal that wanted out. I had a feeling if I told her Jasmine had thrown me into the wall, she’d fire me on the spot.

I looked into her face, her eyes, and they were just plain blue. She had no loyalty to me, I could see it. I was livestock, bought cheap and paid for. Unlike Jasmine, I had no kind of return. I was just some fool who on any day might throw herself into tin walls, so I deserved to lose my job.

Which I did. She cut me loose on the spot, giving me $500, her promise to pay my medical expenses, and Rory, but just to take me into the hospital.

I sat in her brand new Jeep while Rory went to the little house and threw my belongings into my duffle bags. While he was gone, I stared out the window at the holding pasture, where Fay and Jasmine grazed. I watched Jasmine’s pretty little muzzle nibble at the grass. She looked up once at the car, and then she went to Fay and impatiently threw her head under her belly for milk. I had to smile at how horsey she’d become, and how spoiled. I watched her for as long as I could while Rory drove down the lane and out. That day made me just plain blue.

*

About a year later, I ran into Rory in the Trout Creek Bar. He told me that after a decade, Wendy had tired of the horse-breeding business and was selling out, planning on going back East.

“It’s okay,” Rory said about losing his job. “She said it was no place for me.”

Poor Rory. I know what she probably said was he had no place in her next world, made up of buildings and art and culture and money. In that unhorsey place, she’d need a different kind of stud than him.

“Where’d Jasmine go?” I asked.

“California. Broodmare. Windy got twenty-two thousand for her.”

“What’d you get?”

“I got me another ranch job.” He grinned. “It’s okay.”

I got me another job, too, but not on a ranch. I work in a nursing home now as a certified nurses’ aide, emptying bedpans and rotating patients in their beds and bathing them and combing their hair and helping them walk down the halls. Sometimes when I lift their weak old haunches it reminds me of Jasmine and how I lifted her weak new ones. I don’t quite get why I need a certificate for my job, other than I’m certified nuts to put up with it.

I guess, though, if truth be told, there’s another reason besides being crazy. On a day, I’ll go into some box stall of a room, and there’s a body in there that’s coming full circle, giving back what it took when it was born, and nothing’s telling it to, but everything is. And that last breath out is magic like the first breath in. The show reverses itself, and the space that was filled with something beautiful is emptied out again. Poof . . . all gone.

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About Glen Chamberlain

Glen Chamberlain lives in Bozeman, Montana, where she teaches writing at Montana State University. “Horse Thieves” is from the short story collection Conjugations Of The Verb To Be. She has completed her second collection, All I Want Is What You’ve Got, and is working on a novel, The Grand Voyage To The Country Of The Dead. Chamberlain and her husband have two young dogs, a middle-aged horse, and a very old cat.

Glen Chamberlain

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