Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Pen and Paper (07/17/14)
- TITLE: Saddle For Sale
By Rachel Barrett
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I looked around. The cowboy painting over the fireplace had vanished. So had Grampa's shelves full of western novels.
Voices filtered from the kitchen, and I headed that way. I saw my cousin Arch, all of his six-foot, belt-buckled self, and Grampa's old ranch foreman Fidencio. City life had rusted my Spanish, but I interpreted that they were talking about Grampa's horses. Fidencio was giving Arch to understand that Grampa wanted him to have his old stallion, Charco. Arch didn't agree.
As I walked in, Fidencio turned to leave, unhappy.
I rounded on Arch. “Where's Grampa's saddle?”
“Been sold.” Arch grabbed his truck keys. “Some ropers bought it.”
For a second, I couldn't breathe. “You sold Grampa's antique trophy saddle to a bunch of snot-nosed, tobacco-spitting rodeo wanna-be's? Don't you know what that saddle meant to him?”
Arch just looked at me. Anger made no impression on him. “As much debt as this ranch ran up, we've got to balance it somehow. You know Grampa's going to a nursing home. We're both in charge of his affairs now, and...” He cocked an eyebrow at my sundress, perfect for a Tucson summer but ill-suited for the cool mountains. “No offense, Emily, but you haven't been here in years. And you're no businesswoman.”
As my blood pressure spiked, Arch headed out the door. “I've gotta meet some folks in town. Back later.”
When he had gone, I walked out into the yard. Pastures lay serenely across the valley, just like I remembered. But everything was different now.
At the gate, I whistled loudly. A head popped up from the junipers along the creek, and Charco came trotting toward me. I shinnied over the top bar to meet him.
He had gotten old since the last time I'd seen him, swaybacked, with hollows over his eyes. But he'd earned his pension. I hugged him around the neck and inhaled the dusty, comforting horse smell.
With Charco following me, I crossed the pasture to Fidencio's little house. He was outside, dangling his feet in the creek. I kicked off my sandals and joined him.
Fidencio touched the ring on my hand. “You gotta good man, huh?”
“Yeah.” I wished he could meet my family.
“Go back to the city soon?”
“It ain't right, what they're doing to him.”
The chill water bubbled and sighed on my feet. “I understand, Fidencio.”
A light wind gushed through the huge pines above us. I wanted to be a kid again, following Fidencio and Grampa around the ranch, hearing him say my name, Emeelee, in his husky accent as he taught me to doctor a sick horse or find poisonous weeds. But life had drawn me away.
Now Grampa's stroke changed everything. And Fidencio was out of a job.
It was afternoon when I made it to the hospital. It shocked me to see Grampa surrounded by machines and tubes, looking weak and dried up. Letters and phone calls had kept us in touch, but didn't outweigh lost visits.
“Grampa...” His quivering hug made me want to cry. “They sold your saddle.”
“They sold my mares, my cattle. Like I'm already dead.” His thin voice trembled. “Just don't let them sell Charco.”
As I sat down by the bed, Grampa reached for a thin envelope on the bedside table. “Here's his registration papers. I transferred ownership. You sign 'em, and he'll be in your name.”
I held back. “But I have no place for a horse.”
“I know.” He patted my head. “I want you to give him to Fidencio.”
I let him press the envelope into my hands. “I will. Don't worry, Grampa.”
He nodded, and lay back wearily. I couldn't even tell him how sorry I was. I buried my face in his worn-out hands and sat with him until he fell asleep.
When I got back to the house, I searched and found my favorite photograph of Grampa and Grandma, big smiles, squinting in the sun, standing next to a spindle-legged newborn Charco. I tucked it in my car and finally consulted my watch. Time to go.
Before I left, I walked down with the papers and told Fidencio if he wanted Charco, to come get him before Arch came back. Like he said, I'm no businesswoman.
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