Rule # 1: Skip the Horse Show Altogether
Horseshows are not designed around moments of hopeful intimacy. They are angst-filled encounters with what lies behind the blue eyes, seductive smile...your own fantasies of an overnight adventure in an exotic land that, well...smells funny.
The cab of a pick-up truck is entirely too small. So is a ferry boat. And she's driving:
'The ferry ride turned out to be a lot longer than I imagined. No, it wasn’t the tension level. Seems I failed to examine the geography involved in our expedition. After an hour or so I was thinking Europe. After two hours, it was time to have a serious conversation with Columbus. Even the porpoises that had been following us turned around. I started rummaging around the truck looking for oranges – figured we might need to fend off dysentery or beriberi or something. At 2hrs. & 37 minutes we struck land. The locals seemed curious, but not overly friendly. I considered sticking a flag in the ground and claiming the place for God and America, but a Denny’s restaurant had beat me to it. The ferry crew was busy hosing Brownie’s urine and other stuff off the deck. They gave us a cheery one-fingered send off. Local custom I guessed. After a quick greasy hamburger we hit the road again. Smaller road, fewer inhabitants.
“Uh, just where exactly is this show?” I swore I saw a sign that said, ‘Last Gas for a Hundred Miles!’ I was hoping it was just a marketing stunt.
Three gas stations later we arrived at the show grounds. Yeah, the sign was a shameless marketing ploy. I figured that the next time I toured Europe I’d bring my own hamburger. Between emergency roadside stops Jesse and I talked about the subjects of her choice. I asked a question and received an answer disguised as another question. She must have studied counter-intelligence or male interrogation techniques since after two hours in the truck I wasn’t even sure if Jesse was her real name.
“Why’d you get into horses, Jesse?” Seemed like a safe question.
“Wasn’t supposed to.”
“Me, it was school buses and…some other stuff.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Yes you did.”
“Look, are those Canadian geese?” Wondered what they were doing in Europe. Next time we stopped I planned on going through her purse. Probably find fifteen fake passports, the miniature camera – maybe a Walther PPK. Oh, the official fingernail pulling manual.
“Have you ever been arrested?”
[Another deflection needed...]
“Where’d that question come from?” My eyes were doing the darting thing. “Wow, see that! One shoe by the road. I always see those and they’re always a right shoe. Makes you wonder what was going on…like roadside amputations by deranged foot collectors or…least they could do is leave a pair or something.”
“I thought so.”
This is how I pictured a long weekend of possibilities...
Later in my adventure -- horse bath time...
“How’d the schooling go?” I asked, knowing full well that Jess had got dumped twice in the schooling ring.
“He was a little spooky out there. Didn’t you see him? He spooked at that yellow oxer and dumped me!”
“No, I missed that. I’m sorry. You okay?” Of course I didn’t miss it. That’s why I ended up behind a barn on all fours trying to cough up the Marlboro I sucked down one lung.
“I’m all right.”
“Tell me something,” I said, wanting to change the subject before I surrendered to the giggles. “Why do you do this? I mean, this doesn’t seem like it goes too well, and like I thought this was supposed to be fun? You get horribly nervous, the trainer chews you out, the horse dumps you and you hardly ever get a ribbon or money or anything. How come?”
Jessica paused, tossing the sponge into the bucket of shampoo. “I don’t know. I guess it’s a challenge. To take something like Brownie, with no training, no manners or anything, and convert him into something usable.” She tossed her hair out of her eyes so she could stare straight at me. “I like fixing things.”
“Oh,” I deadpanned. I had really hoped she wanted to ride in the Olympics or something. ‘Fixing things’ tended to make me more than a little nervous. The last thing that got ‘fixed’ was the cat. I guess though that it supported my overall opinion that Jesse and Chet had something and nothing in common. Chet fixing those broken pistons was one thing, but why would a woman sort of pick a man and then try to turn him into some other kind of man? Why not keep shopping? “So winning doesn’t matter?”
“No. Has to do with a poem I read once. Something about ‘the value of the journey’ as opposed to the destination -- something like that. Besides, I can’t afford a horse that wins and it probably wouldn’t be that much fun anyway. I bought my first horse when I was thirteen. Couple of hundred bucks. My father said no…” She suddenly straightened up, gently tipped the bucket over with her left foot, handed me the horse and walked off.
“So, Brownie, now what in the hell did I say?” I thought about just sitting there and waiting, but there was still that issue about not sitting on the chairs. So instead Brownie and I took a tour of the show grounds. I did most of the talking.
And this was how it ended up...
After waiting around to see if the judges gave a ribbon for twenty-third place, we took Brownie back to his stall, bathed him and wrapped his legs in forty-five pounds of cotton and Velcro. Jessica swallowed a couple of aspirin while I organized what was left of the mess. I slid into the cab of the truck and put the key in the ignition and turned it. Zip. The horse show had taken the last ounce of our dignity. After spending the early morning hours braiding Brownie’s mane in the one good headlight of the truck, the only thing we earned for our efforts was a dead battery.
“So, Jessica, where does this leave things, like with the year-end standings and all?”
I thought she might have said something but it was just the prop churning the water. Maybe teeth grinding.