By Chris Lombard
The dirt road to the farmhouse was dark and tangled. I turned on the dome light to look at the directions she had given me. The windows were down, letting in a cool breeze and the sound of car wheels over gravel. Like a flashlight in a cave the headlights lit the road and the walls of thick Maine woods to each side, and I watched the farm appear out of the darkness. I hoped the drive would be longer, just a bit more road. I wanted time. Maybe to think about what I wanted to say.
Maybe to just delay the inevitable.
As I walked up to the front door, I felt like I was going into the job interview of a lifetime.
“Did you find the place okay?” Allison asked as I stepped inside.
“Yes,” I said. I was nervous, that twist in my stomach like when we were on our first date. Her hair was down over her shoulders. Long, dark, with that slight curl at the bottom it sometimes had. Usually in the mornings. Perfectly spread over the pillow beside me.
She was house-sitting, taking care of the farm and its animals. She asked if I would like something to drink and then silently showed me around, going through the motions as if we were mere acquaintances. Neither one of us made the move to talk, letting the thickness in the air grow. And then, like she didn’t know what else to do, she said it was time to take care of the horses…I could come with her to the barn if I wanted.
Allison fed the two horses while I sneezed and rubbed my itchy, watering eyes. Hay fever. It hit the moment I even thought about going near a barn.
“Wow. Horses are big,” I said, nose all stuffed up.
“They are but they don’t know it,” she replied as she filled their water buckets.
I stood there, eyes feeling puffy and red. The horses were beautiful in their form; I couldn’t believe this was the first time in my life I had seen one up close. I suddenly felt foolish for not ever doing this before. I liked their sounds and motions while they ate. It made me feel good. They would grab a bite of hay and then raise their heads to look at me while they chewed, then grab another bite and raise their heads again to look at me, all very content in… their world.
“I’m going back to the house,” Allison said. We need to get on with this was in her eyes.
I turned to follow but as I was closing the barn door I looked back. The horses were still chewing while they watched me leave, and there was something in their eyes. It wasn’t like a human. But it wasn’t like an animal either.
Back in the house Allison and I finally sat down across from each other. As I looked at her not wanting to look at me, little memories came back. Her giggling while she ran and slid across my wood floor in her cozy wool socks. That content little smile she had whenever she was shopping for vegetables. The innocent look on her face when she was watching a movie she was really into.
“You’re not ready to be in a committed relationship,” she said. “You’re searching for something else.”
“No, Ally, I know what I want in life and—”
“I don’t think you do. There’s something in you that...” She paused but didn’t look up. “I love you but there’s something in you that isn’t all the way here.”
Her eyes stared at the floor as if studying the wood. Then, like she had come to some end thought, she said, “I can’t do this anymore,” and stood up, walking toward the doorway where she turned and finally looked into my eyes. We stayed like that for a long moment. “This is the end,” she said.
Lying in bed that night, I gazed blankly at the ceiling. Did that really just happen? Why did I mess it all up? What was wrong with me? I couldn’t move, couldn’t blink, my heart was catatonic.
Suddenly I thought about those horses out in the barn, and I knew what it was I had seen in their eyes. Contentment. They didn’t want to be anything more than they were. And this contentment wasn’t something they had found or been given.
They were born with it.
This excerpt from Land of the Horses by Chris Lombard is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).
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