Home > The Language of Hoofbeats(8)

The Language of Hoofbeats(8)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

“It really is, though, if that’s what I want. Please see if you can get used to it.”

“I could try. No offense to anyone else in the family. You know. About wanting to be out here.”

“None taken. I know privacy is important to you.”

“Yes, ma’am. I mean, Jackie.”

“You seemed a little upset on the ride out.”

“It’s just strange, you know? Leaving a place you’ve lived in all your life.”

I snorted a sarcastic laugh. “Tell me about it. But we’ll get used to it here.”

I stood up, stretched my back. Looked around.

It was old and shabby, the barn. Slivers of light filtered in between the boards. Birds’ nests and cobwebs decorated the high corners.

“It’s going to take an awful lot of work to make this livable.”

“I’ll do all the work.”

“Tell you what. When Paula comes home, we’ll talk about it.”

A big sigh from him. A happy sigh. Or as close to happy as Mando seemed to get. “Thanks,” he said.

I smiled, leaned down. Put one hand behind his head, pulled his face in close, and kissed him on the forehead. When I let him go again, he looked shy and embarrassed, but not particularly unhappy.

4. Clementine

When I got back to the safety of my own house, Vern was sitting in his stuffed easy chair in front of the television, watching one of those shows about bass fishing. He did now and then, and it always struck me as strange. I can see the point of fishing well enough, though I wouldn’t care to go myself. But watching fishing on TV? It hardly seems like a proper spectator sport. I always felt you should watch other people do things you never could or would do yourself. Bullfighting. Skydiving. Tackle football. That sort of thing. If you can do it easily enough, you should just do it. That’s what I think.

Vern used to go fishing. Back in the day. In the “before” of our days together. Before all the heartache, as he put it. By now he’d wound down to mostly the newspaper, the TV, and the occasional long, hot bath.

I sat down in the chair next to him.

“I have to tell you the strangest thing,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. Without ever taking his eyes off the screen.

“One of the women who just moved in across the street is the new vet. You know. The one to take over Dr. Raymond’s practice now that he’s retired.”

“What strange about that?”

“That’s not really the strange thing. Well, it’s a little strange, thinking of a small woman tending to all those bulls and horses.”

“Have you met her?”

“Not yet.”

“Then how do you know she’s small?”

Listening to the bass fishermen on TV while we were trying to talk was starting to get on my nerves. I wanted to grab the remote and turn it off, but Vernon can get cranky over a thing like that.

“Because she’s a woman, and women are small compared to men. Look. You’re getting me all off track. I want to tell you the strange part. The woman I was just talking to—not the vet, but the other one—she calls the vet woman her wife.” Silence. Except for the bass fishermen. “You’re not saying anything,” I said.

“I’m waiting for the strange thing. Was that it?”

“Of course that was it. Are you teasing me just to give me a hard time? She calls this other woman her wife. Like they were married.”

“They probably are. That’s legal in this state now, you know.”

I felt myself getting angry. Angry at Vern for not thinking this odd thing was odd, and at the state of California for changing everything, and the Supreme Court of the United States for letting them. And at the bass fisherman for talking over us and making it hard for me to think. All of life was suddenly getting under my skin.

“I just don’t like it,” I said. “I don’t like it one bit. This was always a nice town. And now suddenly here these people are right across the road, and I don’t like how they talk about being married, like there’s not the slightest thing wrong with it. Like I wouldn’t bat an eye at that. And I don’t like that rude girl who comes over here and leans on the corral and reaches her hands out to Comet without even asking if she can come on the premises. And that boy—”

“You said the boy was polite,” Vern interjected.

“Not that boy. Turns out there are two boys. A little one and a big one. And the big one is really big. Big enough that even you might be scared of him. And I don’t think he’s American. His name is . . . Oh darn, I don’t remember now what his name is, but it has an ‘o’ on the end and I think he’s Mexican or Spanish or something. And I just don’t like having all of this going on right outside my house, where it gets to be part of my life, too, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

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