The Other Side
There was no house next to ours,
just a vacant lot with a shed on it
and two horses. The men who looked after
the horses were Gordon and Dave. The
horses never told us their names, so we
gave them different ones each week,
depending on the adventure.
We all got bikes for Christmas one year.
They looked brand new, but I knew that
my Dad had salvaged them from the tip,
painted them up, scrounged for some tyres
and polished the bells until the rust was just
a memory. The bikes gave us new stories;
we could ride around the yard like wildlings,
and the names we gave our wheeled steeds
matched that day's name for the real horses
munching through the weeds a fence away.
It was an old post-and-rail fence. You couldn't
see through it, but you could climb right to the top
(we weren't allowed to stand on the top rail,
but when has that stopped a child? You can't fall
when you're that small.) We would carry handfuls
of our grass -- better grass than that wild and weedy
stuff next door -- and the horses would know what
a treat they were getting. They crossed the paddock
for three blades of pure green goodness. We could
pat their rough-maned necks, feel the velvet of nose
and lips against our fingertips, look into great brown
eyes and know that the horses wanted to be with us,
instead of waiting for Gordon and Dave to visit again.
From the top rail of the fence, it was hardly any distance
at all to drop onto the back of a horse. There was a bond,
and the taffy (who this day was called Thunder) would
understand. I could slip onto his back and we'd sneak away,
me and horse, no longer stuck with less than we deserved.
I didn't that day. I didn't the next. I would, of course, one day.
The taffy returned to his weeds, and I went inside
to sausage, potato and peas. I changed from hand-me-down
jeans to hand-me-down nightie after a bath shared with my sister.
Afterward, the family gathered around the kitchen table,
now covered with a tartan blanket, and played Canasta
until it was time for bed. My dreams were of second hand horses
and shiny new bells, and I never ran away. The house
was warm, and the back of a horse is no place for a child
who has never learned to ride.