Monday, January 21, 2008

Loose Horse

Starr Ann was just standing there in front of the refrigerator, babbling about shampoo. A twingle of alarm shot through my veins.

I gripped Jodie's elbow and ushered her aside. "One of the signs," I said.

Jodie didn't get my drift at first. "Signs of what?"
I shushed her and looked over at a still-oblivious Starr Ann. "Keep your voice down, will you?" I turned and glanced at the calendar for verification - as if I needed it. "PMS. She's entering PMS."

That woke Jodie up. "Will she go willingly to one of the bunkers? I mean, before the snapping and bitching starts? Or do we have to wait until she gets all regretful about being snotty?"

"Depends. Leave this to me." I went over and put my hand on Starr Ann's shoulder. "Hey, Starr Ann, what's on Fridge TV today? Anything good?"

Starr Ann opened the vegetable crisper real quick and grabbed a carrot. Okay, that told me a lot. She was in the denial phase.

It took the rest of the morning to move Starr Ann smoothly out of denial, through mocking incredulity, and beyond downright disparagement, to acceptance and the actual packing of her bags. Jodie and I were happy to help with that.

Starr Ann stepped into Oatmeal's stirrups at five minutes after two. I remember because my cellphone rang right as I would have been saying goodbye to her and telling her I love her. As it was, the call broke in. It was Wanda, our farrier, saying she'd be about a half an hour late, that it was five after two then, and she'd be delayed until around three. I said okay, and by the time I turned back toward the paddock, Starr Ann was a couple hundred yards away already. I didn't think one thing of it. Jodie high-fived me over us getting Starr Ann on her way at such an early stage of this month's PMS festivities, and we went inside to brew some tea.

Wanda came, trimmed four horses, and left. Jodie and I were almost back to the house when we heard hoofbeats, real fast, real erratic, bearing down on us. It was Oatmeal - steaming, blowing, lathered, and missing his saddle.

My brain started this miserable loop that went, We don't even know which bunker she was going to! - How on Earth did he lose even the saddle? - She's for sure hurt! - It's bitter cold out here! - I didn't kiss her goodbye! - We don't even know which bunker....

Jodie ran several steps in the direction Oatmeal had roared in from, then realized the futility of that. She whirled around, stood very still for a moment, and shouted, although I was standing right there, "Margo, you get on Trickster and try to retrace Oatmeal's tracks. I'll follow you on Amelia as soon as I get poor Oatmeal safely put up."

There was no blood. That had to be a good thing, right? But there was no movement either. I'd have imagined myself making fast, efficient moves, instinctively doing whatever the situation called for. That's not how it played out. I could barely move. Kneeling there beside Starr Ann, so still underneath Oatmeal's saddle, my only thought was that there still had to be a Starr Ann spark in there, and I had to be meticulously careful to avoid blowing it out.

I removed my coat and my sweatshirt to pile on top of her, then hit 911. Everybody knows our little bridge across Beargrass Creek, so I used that as a landmark to tell the dispatcher where I'd found Starr Ann. Weightlessly draped across her, trying to share my body heat without hurting, I pressed the side of my face to Starr Ann's neck, listening to the slosh of her pulse there, and asked the lady to please ask them to hurry.

Thank Goddess for the snow. Jodie easily found us, and she'd even had the presence of mind to grab some horse blankets. Starr Ann didn't wake up the whole time we removed the saddle and gingerly bundled her up.

We endured twenty minutes of pure Hell waiting for them to arrive. We both huddled over her, Jodie just staring at her face, and me babbling about everything I hadn't said before she left us, about that stupid phone call from Wanda getting me distracted. I couldn't remember the last time I said out loud that I loved her.

Neither of us cried. Crying would have been too scary. We were outside our bodies, though. Drifting way far away somewhere, with our Starr Ann.

When they finally got there, first thing they did was make us leave her. That felt like the wrong thing, but of course they had work to do. None of the horrible bureaucratic, legality mess you always hear about prevented us from riding in the ambulance with her, though. This is a small town. They know us as people.

When the doctor came out to speak with us, she made sure to approach us wearing a big smile. No broken bones, big concussion, Starr Ann was conscious, her body is one humongous bruise.

Seems something spooked Oatmeal and when his legs went out from under him, Starr Ann ended up underneath. Quick as anything, he rolled upright again, but the roll squished Starr Ann pretty good. She remembers seeing him standing above her, his saddle askew and the reins hanging down. The main thing on her mind was removing the tack before he got tangled in it and hurt himself. As she bent to lower the saddle to the ground, that's when she noticed how bad her head was hurting. Then the light went away.

It was two whole hours before we got to go into the emergency room and be with Starr Ann. And then, it was only because she was being such a pain about us coming in. The dynamic from the scene of her accident took up where it left off, as I started babbling again and Jodie simply picked up Starr Ann's hand and silently held on.

I was saying, "I was so afraid our last moments together were going to end up being with me on the phone, walking away, and you getting hustled off so we wouldn't have to put up with your PMS. Dang, Starr Ann, I thought I'd die, thinking about that."

Starr Ann looked at me real hard for a second, and then said, "Were you saying things like that while I was out? While I was unconscious?"

I said yes.

Starr Ann got that one look, the one she gets when she's all fascinated. "Margo, I think I knew it, knew what you were going through. I remember feeling like I just had to get an idea across to you," she looked at Jodie, "the both of you, that the last moment is just a moment. Being the last one doesn't mean anything." She frowned slightly, then winced at the muscle movement it took to do that. "It was like, you know, if I could focus on a single atom of your body, it'd look like any other atom of that element. The miracle of you, or you," she squeezed Jodie's hand a little harder, "can't be isolated into the pieces either of you are made of. Margo, no final moment or final act could take away from what we are to each other, the nights you stayed awake whispering and humming to me when I first got to the orphanage, every smack on the butt when I've hit you with a smart aleck remark, all the times we've laughed so hard together we had to lean on each other to stay standing. Promise me you'll never worry again about what it's all meant, what it all adds up to, okay?"


"Good." She shook her head. "Goddess, what an idiot you are, to have even one regret about us."

"That's harsh. You just called me an idiot, Starr Ann."

"No way."

"Yes you did, didn't she, Jodie?"

Jodie said yes.

Starr Ann tried to look all innocent. "Must be the concussion. No matter what I say over the next few days, no matter what demands I make, no matter how difficult I might be, please know it's the concussion talking." She got that one real dramatic look on her face then and said, "I sure could use a foot rub. Will one of you rub my poor feet? The doctor says they must have been the only part of me that didn't spend some time underneath Oatmeal."

They said that evil thing gets to come home tomorrow. Jodie and I are sincerely afraid of being cooped up in the house with a Starr Ann who's not only PMSing, but flashing her brand new concussion card just about every two seconds. Wish us luck.