jolie laide: A Memory of Horses

jolie laide

I started this when I lived in Brooklyn and struggled for grace in a city that grants moments of beauty and ugliness breathtakingly close to one another. Now I live in a place where things are a different kind of ugly and the beauty is pedestrian. I struggle with that.


A Memory of Horses

“What is that?” she said, pointing.
I guess I can’t blame her. It looks weird, out of place. We are 9 years old, sitting on the bleachers in the gym, swinging our feet. She is pointing to my arm, to the large ropy tricep snaking towards my elbow.

I don’t know what it is either, really, so I shrug. But I know how it got there.

My sister and I took the girl-love of horses just about as far as it would go. Riding lessons, jumping competitions, hanging out at the stables for no purpose just wasn’t enough. When we read the article in the local paper about the jockey, retired from the local track, who took old racehorses, walker ponies, and track companions and boarded them out until their end, and depended solely on donations and volunteer help, that was it. That’s where we spent afternoons every day and weekends too.

These horses, we would never be able to ride them. They were too old, blind, lame, spooky. We took care of them just to honor the animals they had been. We loaded hay and straw into the hayloft. We threw down the daily rations, twisting the wire baling off to loosen the leaves, tining them on pitch-forks as tall as we were. We mucked stalls, pushing wheelbarrows full of sodden straw and manure up, onto, over, hills of detritus that grew into veritable mountains before it was carted off.

We let the horses out to pasture, and gathered them in again in the evening. Once one of them did not come back to the sound of sweet grain rattling in a pan, and I went looking for her. She was cold already, and lying on her side she had a monumental bulk that she did not have in life. I was stunned by the suddenness, the silence of the act of death that happened on the long slow slope to the pond.

Cherokee and Francis were best friends. They would not pasture without each other. One deaf, one blind, and both ancient, they savored every day outside and were loathe to come in. They had to be collected by hand, urged, herded indoors. I saw many sunsets with the silhouette of Cherokee and Francis on the hill out back, catching the last of the sun, them standing head to flanks in a kind of horse 69, scratching each others rumps with their remaining teeth.

Eventually, my sister got a job at another stable, exercising horses for rich people too lazy or disengaged or busy to work their beautiful animals as much as they needed. Our base of operations moved to a new, clean, bright stable, with young people and shining full tack rooms and foals being born, and we left that dark, decrepit old stable full of geriatric, honorable horses behind.


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