New Nonfiction: Timber

Horse smileTitle: Timber
Author: J. Bowers
Category: Nonfiction

His name should have been warning enough—that lumberjack bellow with its hint of plaid flannel, the insistent chorus of the Monty Python song. I was at that age. Timber was twenty according to Anne, who kept horses in her backyard, gave lessons. She’d collected strays for decades—slow racehorses, skinny broodmares with foals tucked inside like cereal surprises, me.

Each day we mobbed her kitchen table for instant iced tea, waiting for her to say who we could ride. Foxtails hung from the corners of frames on the wood-paneled walls. The girls in the photos, long since lost to colleges and husbands, posed with horses we didn’t recognize outside the barn we thought had only ever been ours. Anne usually remembered the horse but not the girl, buttering bread as she kneed Winnie the poodle out of the dishwasher. Oh, I don’t know, girls, she’d say. That was so long ago.

Timber was just another Appaloosa, history unknown. His papers called him “Night Fever,” which made sense, I announced, since he and Travolta were both past their prime. I was determined to be the funny one. Jenny kissed boys with tongue. Sarah’s parents were buying her an Arabian “for college.” I slept beside a penguin-shaped baby monitor, thanks to midnight seizures that clacked my teeth. Inexplicably, my folks still let me ride. I can only assume they trusted the photograph girls, their red jackets radiating success, promising their wan and only daughter might sit up straight.

Summertime was Jenny blasting Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Sarah streaking her hair with lemon. We raced the colts through neighboring fields, trampling soybeans, and mocked young Mariella’s confusion when the ghost of Dude’s balls made him mount the mares, feeling smug that we half-knew what was happening. We were cock-shit.

So I wasn’t worried when Anne asked me to jump Timber in lessons, as an example for the younger kids. Mariella went first, popping Cupcake in the ass before take-off. Anne deemed this very good. She perched atop the fence rail, shading her sunglasses. She wore the new kind that darkened automatically outside. They made her hard to read. “Trot along the rail,” she said. Somehow Timber stumbled into the correct diagonal. I was proud to use terms like “diagonal.” I thought jargon meant mastery.

I’m so sorry about that.

Timber bore down on the jump snorting like a chainsaw, and tore the reins through my hands. Briefly, flight—then I was a heap, cold shit seeping through my shirt, my hair. Timber gleefully sailed by, stirrup irons flapping like sneakers on a honeymoon car.

Of course I had to get back on. But Anne said I could quit with that. That’s when I knew she knew. I can still see her there, eyes wide behind dark lenses. I wondered if she’d been coddling me, if she’d start. Oh, from my brain is where I bleed.

Jenny and Sarah came out of the barn to stare. Someone called my dad. He came quick, car seats covered with towels. Well, it’s not the first time you’ve been full of shit, he kept saying. Tim—berrrrrrr!

If Anne developed the negative—if we’re there, framed by foxtails, I am still wearing a shit-stained Hypercolor t-shirt, and there is a smug light in Timber’s liverwurst eye. It’s not our finest hour, just the one that’s left. Pennsylvania absorbed that horse hoof-first. I like to picture his bones leaching into the trees, bringing his name full circle. And the girls still surrounding Anne’s table, crosslegged in purple britches, eating franks and beans and trying to guess our names.

J. Bowers’s short stories have appeared in Redivider, Fringe, 3:AM, DOGZPLOT, Zone 3, and other journals, online and off. She holds a B.A. in English and creative writing from Goucher College, an M.A. in the same from Hollins University, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in fiction writing at the University of Missouri. In her free time, she thinks about the hungry ghosts of silent Hollywood while riding her little yellow pony, Billy, through the totemic Missouri wilderness.

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