Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Perfect Day For A Trail Ride

My best friend Starr Ann and I were helping out with our neighbor's trail ride. Every week, our neighbor Carol Fager donates her land and horses for a couple of hours to some girls from the local halfway house. Carol's always scrounging up adults to ride along. We weren't looking forward to it, but figured it was our turn to do our duty. At least our new puppy, Bates, would enjoy riding up on Oatmeal with Starr Ann.

Holy Goddess! Five teenaged girls can sure bicker and find fault with everything. The four who had all the makeup on could not quit griping. The loner just rode along, quiet and moody, like she couldn't care less whether she were riding a horse or sitting in a dentist's chair.

Instead of enjoying the air that had turned cool yesterday, they were trashing the English class they'd just left. One of them said, "It really pisses me off being forced to sit through an hour of some bitch going on about an old guy telling some kid about a bunch of fish." Her voice went up a notch. "Then the guy shoots himself in the head at the end, after all that."

Lane, the brooding girl, finally said something. "You stupid shit. It wasn't about real fish. Bananafish aren't real fish. They stand for something else." She urged her horse forward a little quicker. "Idiot."

Well, Starr Ann just happens to think A Perfect Day For Bananafish is a masterpiece. So she said, "Lane's right."

Goddess! Kids with problems are unpredictable. Lane gave Starr Ann the meanest look you ever saw and said, "I don't need anybody taking up for me, lady."

Starr Ann seemed surprised for a second, then she said, "I'm not concerned with what you need. I was taking up for the author, whose work I happen to respect quite a lot."

The other four girls snickered real loud, and Lane shot another dagger Starr Ann's way. She looked down at Bates and said, "Your dog needs to pee."

Starr Ann said, "He got down right before we left, I think he's fine for a while."

A brief, mutually smug and insolent glance passed between Lane and Bates. They looked like two long lost friends who used to be allies on the Dark Side. Lane shook her head and told Starr Ann, "Suit yourself, but he's getting ready to piss all over you."

Not half a minute down the trail Starr Ann let out a yelp and held Bates out at arm's length, where he continued to leak on her saddle horn and Oatmeal's mane.

When Lane dropped her permanent scowl and almost smiled, you could see the child she should be being at this time in her life. She got control of it almost immediately, but not before Starr Ann saw it too.

We all stopped so Starr Ann could clean things up, and before we got started again, Starr Ann asked Lane, "Would you like for Bates to ride with you? I think you two have something going."

Lane shrugged, but reached out to take Bates anyway.

The girls' conversation had turned into a pretty good parent bashing, and one of them, Bette I think her name was, said, "You think that's bad, Lane said she don't know if she ever saw her mom sober. Right, Lane?"

Lane squinted her eyes, but her voice was even. "Probably not. I don't know." The hand she wasn't holding the reins with was steadily stroking Bates' back.

Starr Ann asked, "What about your dad?"

Without missing one beat or stopping Bates' back rub, Lane said, real thoughtful, "My father's okay, just another tragic case of a heterosexual male trapped in a man's body."

It took a second, but Starr Ann cracked up and just about fell off Oatmeal.

That time, Lane really did let go and smiled so big even those other four sour girls joined in.

Once Starr Ann got hold of herself, she eased Oatmeal up alongside Lane and rode next to her the whole rest of the way home.

Everybody was milling around the outside of the barn after we put the horses up. I guess the girls were waiting for the van from the home to come back for them. We said we better get going, and Carol asked us when we wanted to do it again sometime.

I thought to myself, How about near the turn of the next century?, and I knew Starr Ann was on the same page.

Until she said, "We're available next week. Same time?" Then on her way to Oatmeal, she paused near Lane and said, low, "I'd like to hear your thoughts on the meaning of bananafish."

Lane's shrug showed up again, but she said, real nonchalant, "Whatever. I don't care."

Starr Ann held Bates out and Lane gave him some very light noogies on the top of his noggin.

I think maybe a whole human being who was about to slip through the cracks might have found someone in this world to look up to.