Olivia’s brow wrinkled as she frowned in concentration, and her tongue licked her upper lip as she straightened her reins and wiggled deeper into the saddle.
“Just keep a leg on each side of the pony,” I encouraged. Olivia’s feet were securely tucked into the shortened stirrups, but her little legs didn’t reach very far on the fat-bellied pony.
She grinned, proud of her elevated perch.
“Let me go, Daddy. I can do it myself.”
“Just wait until we’re out of the yard, honey.” I hesitated. The halter shank was more for my benefit than for hers, since she was quickly becoming a handy little rider. I felt more secure knowing she was tethered to me.
We swung through the corral gate, heading for the meadows and wooded pastures beyond. A ride would clear my mind, if I allowed myself to focus on the trees and the lush grass waving in the sun-warmed breeze. Like the melody of the birds warbling in the brush, the cheerful chatter of my little girl always renewed my spirit.
“Can we gallop now, Daddy?”
I was still hesitant to let go of the halter shank, but I shook off my reluctance and unlatched the line.
“Giddy-up, Jelly Bean,” Olivia urged. She spurred up the little horse, and away they went, as fast as the pony’s plump legs could go. Olivia bobbed in the saddle, curls bouncing and elbows flapping, until she settled in her seat. I took off at an easy jog, and soon caught up. I enjoyed watching Olivia’s breathless expression as we loped.
We pulled up at the edge of the meadow, and I dismounted so I could open the slip-wire into the next pasture. Olivia rode on through, cheeks flushed, eyes bright.
“Having fun?” I asked.
“Tons.” She laughed. “Are you?”
“Of course, cowgirl.”
She laughed again, the sound of her laughter clear and unsullied, like water bubbling over stones or rain pattering on leaves.
We rode on along the willow bottom, sometimes silent, sometimes talking about the neighbour’s bull or the fall fair or whether hot dogs were better with mustard or ketchup. Immaterial and mundane, but urgent in its necessity to fill time and thoughts with inconsequential blather.
“Can I make Jelly Bean jump, Daddy?”
I felt the shiver of apprehension in my belly again and forced myself to ignore it. Olivia had leaped over the fallen log dozens of times. I nodded and smiled, urging my horse into a trot as Olivia’s short-legged pony bounded off.
Was it a fluttering leaf or a rabbit in the grass? Olivia’s ecstatic whooping or maybe the pounding of my own heart?
The pony leaped into the air, as he always did, but then he twisted and crumpled to the ground in a flurry of leather and hooves.
Olivia’s shriek was cut short.
Jelly Bean scrambled to his feet, sides heaving, bridle askew.
I was off my horse and beside Olivia in one movement.
“My leg, Daddy.”
Her shin was scraped and blood was oozing, trickling into the frayed edges of her ripped jeans.
She whimpered, and tears, like glistening diamonds, hung on her eyelashes.
Don’t cry, don’t cry.
I didn’t say it out loud, but my heart screamed, torn and raw, the sense of loss refreshed, renewed in my fear and pain.
“Is it broken?”
“No, baby, it’s just a good scrape.”
“It feels broken.”
Like me. Fractured, bleeding.
Please, be fine. Breathe. Live.
Olivia sat up and dabbed at the blood. I handed her my clean handkerchief.
“It really hurts, Daddy. Are you sure it’s not broken?”
“Not broken. Sorry.”
Olivia jumped up, brushing dry grass and leaves from her shirt and remnants of tears from her eyes.
“I better catch poor Jelly Bean.”
And He shall wipe every tear from their eyes. God, wipe away my tears.
As I watched Olivia remount her pony, I understood. God’s fingers dries our tears, but the pain still exists. God never promised protection from loss, but He will replace every tear with joy and peace.
I miss you so much, my love. Oh, God, it hurts. But I am not broken.
The warm-breathed wind caressed my face. The hand of God.
“Daddy, are you okay?”
“Perfect, cowgirl. Just perfect.”
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