Thomas M. Atkinson | River’s Edge

I would have, but that’s just me. Arnett only knew one way to deal with a horse, and that was to physically dominate him, break him and win the battle of wills at any cost. That wasn’t my way. I prefer to come to an understanding, and there’s plenty of horses that works with just fine. Eddie couldn’t hold him still and Arnett was chasing him around in circles with the saddle.

Arnett yelled, “I wished who’d ever cut his balls off would’ve told him!”

And Eddie yelled, “That sonofabitch’s tire ought to be going flat about now.”

Jo Marie said, “I’m sure glad pissing away my money’s so goddamn funny.”

Arnett yelled, “Hold him still!”

And that’s when the blue Ford minivan from Ohio pulled in.

Jo Marie yelled, “Customers.”

It was a family with two little boys and the wife was really pretty. She reminded me of someone on the TV and I wondered what it would be like to see that in the mirror everyday. I wonder what it would be like to be the prettiest girl in the room, no matter what room you happened to be in, and to have people looking at you all the time just because they couldn’t not look at you. I think sometimes it must be a pain in the ass, but all in all, I bet the good out weighs the bad by quite a bit. But maybe they don’t even know, like they’ve always been treated that way and to them that’s just normal.

What I see every day in the mirror could best be summed up as “plain.” I have pretty hair and nice skin.  Or maybe I just think I do because that’s what every mother in the world with a plain daughter tells them. Like mothers with fat daughters bang the personality drum. I have a bump on my nose from a break which I hope looks smaller in everyday life than it does in the mirror. And, like plain and personality plus girls everywhere, I seem to get more attractive with alcohol. Not only do men find me more attractive when they are drinking, but I also seem to find myself more attractive when I’ve been drinking. Up to a point. It’s what’s helped me win the S.O.B. lottery in every bar I walked into my whole life.

Her husband was nothing special. Not that he was ugly or anything, he just didn’t look like anybody you thought she would be with. Jo Marie had him fill out the release forms and the wife followed me with the boys to get them riding helmets. I don’t know if she was ignoring Eddie and Arnett or if they were just no more worthy of consideration than the wheelbarrow full of manure and the circling horseflies. The little boys were cute and blond and tan and thin as greyhounds. They hadn’t ridden in a long time and the boys had never ridden so it took a few minutes for them to get up their nerve. A horse is a big, scary animal if you’ve never been near one before. Most people nowadays go their whole lives without being next to anything bigger than a dog, and you don’t have to climb up on top of a dog and trust it not to run you into a tree or pitch you down a ravine, roll over you, or do any other crazy thing to try and kill you.

I adjusted the wife’s stirrups before Arnett or Eddie made fools of themselves, and told them all how to steer and stop, to lean back going downhill and forward going uphill, and to never, ever let them get their heads down and start eating. It’s a little speech I gave to everyone to make them feel like they were actually learning something when, truth be told, if you could manage to sit in the saddle and not fall off, the horses did everything else on their own. They only went slow and slower, and unless you pulled their heads around, they’d keep their nose right to the ass of the horse in front of them, so provided the lead horse didn’t walk off a cliff, there wasn’t much to do. The trail was about three feet wide and carpeted with wood chips that the park service put down and the horses knew it like they were on guy-wires.

The oldest boy was behind me, then his mother, then the youngest, and then the father.  I would have liked the youngest right behind me, but sometimes the horses sort themselves out and it’s less trouble just to leave them that way. And the oldest boy, who was maybe ten, kept asking me questions.

“Does he like the saddle?”

I said, “Sandy’s a she. You’re riding a mare.”

“How can you tell?”

I wanted to tell him to lift up her tail, but I said, “I can just tell.”

And he said, “Does she like the saddle?”



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  1. When Some of the Best Novels Are ‘Little’ | Official Web News - January 18, 2015

    […] Prizes and have won more awards than I have room to list. Some can be read online, including “River’s Edge,” “Standing Deadwood,” and “Blue Highway.”More book recommendations […]

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