By Epiphany Ferrell
It’s funny, what’ll spark a memory. A touch. A sound. A faint odor.
Or, driving for one point three miles behind a crappy red horse trailer with a horse’s white tail and rump visible over the three-quarter door.
And thinking about my father. He should know. There is something he doesn’t know that he should know.
I was fifteen. The cab of the truck wasn’t big enough; I couldn’t get far enough away from him. My leg was between the edge of the bench seat and the door, and I locked it, because in spite of how far away from him I wanted to be, I didn’t want to bounce out onto the pavement. I rolled the window down – it was an old truck and the window was a crank turn. The lock was a silver golf-tee I pushed with an audible click into the door. I turned as far from him as I could, made a pillow of my arms on the window edge, and let the wind streak my tears.
You couldn’t whip a horse like Powder and it not show. As white as he was, every stroke made a tiger of him. It was my fault. I wouldn’t help them. I wouldn’t load my horse into that other man’s trailer, and Powder wouldn’t go without me, and so they whipped him and tied a rope to his halter and around his hocks and the rope slipped and burned his legs and they whipped him more and he was striped on back and belly and legs. My dad was a trader, and there’s a reason the term “horse-trader” has a pejorative sense. Powder was mine, had been from his first weaving steps. A white horse, like a princess might ride. A white horse is bad luck if born on a Tuesday, my dad said, but he said it just to be mean.
I trained that horse, and when he was too high-headed for a pleasure horse, we started running barrels. We made money, Powder and I, at the 3D barrel races. I thought we made enough. But with a horse trader, everything is a commodity.
I cried all the way home. I cried for a week. He said I was spoiled. He pronounced it “spoilt.”
I gave up riding after that.
Nowadays, I don’t even own a pair of cowboy boots. I run an advertising agency. I’m a horse trader, too, selling magic beans and poison apples and gingerbread men.
And I keep my daddy safely cared for at a retirement home. That’s what I call it when I talk to him. He says, and so do I in my own mind, it’s an old-folks home.
I sat in the parking lot behind the wheel of my Sonata, a car that makes sense for me to drive and which I hate. I hadn’t thought about Powder in years. Hadn’t let myself. Like my father, I was practical. Thinking about things that cause pain, that’s not smart. And some things, once you think about them, you can’t really stop thinking.
I blinked the tears away, dabbed a tissue, leaving no streaks. Used breathing techniques: inhale, loosen the bitter lines around my mouth; exhale, widen my eyes from their anger- narrowed glint, in, out, in and out. When I resembled a good daughter, I crossed the lot, sensible shoes making sensible sounds, not like a horse-trot, no, not at all, and I pushed through the two sets of doors.
There’s something he should know.
“Daddy,” I say when I walk into his room. The old man he rooms with is not there. That side of the room is clean, I can see where the pictures used to hang. The roommate won’t be returning. My father sits by the window and stares out of it. He’s grown plump and doughy, shoulders slumped, capable hands gnarled. I brought him pork rinds, his favorite snack. He hands me his little pen-knife to open the bag, and I return it, opened, point facing him. It’s a deliberate faux pas, but he doesn’t notice. Any other day, I might have returned the knife closed, the way manners and superstition dictate.
I lean close to my father, and I say, “Daddy. Do you remember Powder? He was my
white horse, Daddy, the one I raced. Remember?”
He remembered. There’d been so many horses, I wasn’t sure he would.
“You sold him and I cried, and I was spoilt, remember? Don’t cry, Daddy, I know you’re sorry.”
I should stop. I don’t. I see stripes on white hair. I see the road slipping by in the side view mirror. I hear that sound, that whip whistle. He should know something. He should know.
“Remember your hound dog, that Bluetick you called Opera because she had such a lovely hound-dog voice? That’s right, Daddy, you remember her. Let me wipe your mouth, that’s good. Remember how you dragged her accidentally, when her dog-box came open in the truck after that hunt, and she went flying out, and her leash caught, and you dragged her and she died? Remember? That was sad, wasn’t it Daddy?”
Sad, it was tragic. That hound was the only thing he still loved by then, when it
happened. But there is something he should know.
“Daddy,” I tell him. “I was the one who closed that dog-box so the latch didn’t catch, Daddy. And I made sure her leash was just long enough.”
I told the nurse my father was tired. She smiled at me from behind the desk. Such a good daughter.