From the sky, if you’re a pilot, or an astronaut, or a high-flying bird or—especially--a god, the Los Angeles basin, even on the clearest day, looks like it needs a good scrub. It’s as if somebody left this one piece of Thanksgiving earthenware unwashed on the kitchen sideboard for too long, and the leftover gravy, the cranberry juice, the string beans and the mashed potatoes grown cold have all been coated with a patina of dirt and dust and the occasional corpses of freeloading insects too stuffed to fly. It’s smog, of course, basically. Carcinogenic particulate matter that clogs air filters and alveoli from Santa Barbara to San Diego and redefines the word ubiquitous.
Like Joni Mitchell in the song, Bethany had come to the desert to lose the smog. And the thing was, after ten years, on a bad day even the desert had smog. You could still see the Milky Way up above you, yes, especially if you were in love, but in the western sky-not so much. There were no stars over Temecula, unless you counted the second-rate acts that played the Indian casino. It wasn’t that long ago that something like a dread had come over Bethany: what would she do now? Where would she go? Who would be there now, now that everything had changed again?
Divorce messes with your mind. Best to stay busy. Hence the career change.
Galantyne raised his head as Bethany slid the bolt open. Of the three of them, the gelding was most attuned to his surroundings. He’d been standing somewhat forlorn at the edge of the arroyo that separated Temeraire from Gabilan’s place. The dogs clattered through the gate behind her, the sixteen-year-old piebald shepherd, Rags, with one blue eye, and Martin, the Golden with more heart than brains, aged six as near as they could tell.
Sabaa snorted when Bethany broke a carrot in half.
--Hi! she said, as both horses trotted towards her. Hi babies!
Rags barked and snapped at Gal’s hooves, bossy like always. The gelding lunged at her, mock-annoyed. Everybody indulged Rags’s need for order; it was just the way she was.
Sabaa’d been rolling again, her magnificent black back dusted brown. Bottle flies were a problem with the heat.
Bethany purposefully offered Galantyne his carrot first. He was easily insulted, this blood-bay baby. For an Arabian, he was large, especially when compared to the girls. He had an endearing overbite, and lips as talented and sensitive as a man’s. He crunched his carrot noisily as Sabaa stepped forward for hers.
--Yes, girl. It’s hot, hunh?
Martin had found himself a just-right pile of manure and was happily chowing down. When given the choice, any dog will eat horseshit. You could call that a metaphor or something. An eternal truth. Bethany didn’t worry about it.
She gave Sabaa a second piece of carrot as Blanche finally appeared. She’d been lolling in the shade on the lee side of what passes for a barn.
Blanche—Blanche DuBois, if you’re being particular--was new to Temeraire, and sensitive of the fact, a bone-colored half-Arab, half-Thoroughbred, older than the other two and a little overweight, with a long career in Western Pleasure on a “Gentleman’s Ranch” up in Paso Robles. She hadn’t learned to keep her footing in the rocky, uneven terrain of the desert, but once she did, she’d be a wonderful mount. A four-year-old could handle Blanche, and there was dignity in that.
--Here, Sweetheart. Blanche gets TWO carrots too! Un hunh.
There was a fresh bite on Blanche’s neck, from either of the other two, but probably Sa. Sa was boss horse in these parts, no question. Everybody gave poor Blanche a hard time, though, even Martin, who was prone to taking more than his share of Blanche’s meals.
Raqs was circling the entire tableau like a crazy person. Where she got the energy at her age was anybody’s guess; it was a small miracle. She’d been at Bethany’s side through two husbands and a career change, from the fairy tale cabin in Palos Verdes and the crazy magic wonderful years in Idyllwild, to Temeraire, the place where she will no-doubt live out her days. More than any other creature in the world, Rags knew Bethany’s heart the best. They were a comfort to each other, each in her way reveling in this thrice a day meal-time routine.
The ranch was a lot to handle alone, for sure. But then she’d never planned to be here alone. Pretty girls never plan to be alone. And pretty girls who become beautiful women have to work to find their solitude. Even out here, thirty miles from the nearest town.
--We need hay, guys, she said to the horses as everybody got a flake and a half. Rags slurped at the water dripping into the ground from the spigot as Bethany topped off Blanche’s barrel. She went through more water than the other two because of the heat and her girth. Water was a good thing for a horse. They couldn’t get too much. Piping it down to the barn from up on the hill had been expensive. Next was electricity, then some way to give them some protection from the wicked east wind that came out of the mountains and froze everybody to the bone in winter. Their stalls were covered, but open on all four sides. The barn gave them some protection on a cold night, but she’d rather not have the three of them squeezed into such a small space, especially if she—too—were sleeping there.
Bethany was the sort of woman who counted sleeping with her animals to be A Very Good Thing. The smell of the barn, the heat from their bodies, the soft rise and fall of their breathing, it was all a comfort. Many nights, when she couldn’t sleep, or if she had a lot of reading to do for class, she’d pour a nice glass of wine, grab a 15 degree sleeping bag, and curl up in the corner of the barn with Sa and Gal, and once in a while even Blanche, if poor old Blanche wasn’t feeling too timid and the others were being nice. Add a Border Collie with a touch of neurosis, and a dim-witted Golden Retriever who just wanted to be friends, and you know? You could call that contentment.
Next: Her voice was shiny
Intruso, a contentedly postmodern love story
- Her voice was shiny
- Timed Writing
- On Location
- In the Beginning was Rock n Roll
- Cell Phone Interruptus
- The Hooch
- Blackbirds at One O'Clock
- Probiotics and the Muse
- Email by Rodney Strong
- Dope and Flax Seed
- Free to a God Home
- Lemonade and Consequences