Despite my mother’s claims, I’m no Dr. Doolittle. So, why is there a horse in the garage?
I hear the nickering as soon as I step off the school bus. This isn’t how I planned on spending my evening. Mom is standing by the front door, grinning. A strange man leans against the door frame. I hope this is just another of Mom’s unique boyfriends, but I am afraid she’s found me another costumer instead.
“Cassie,” Mom says, “I’d like you to meet Mr. Edward Stewart.”
“Call me Ed.” The man doffs his cap and bows. Does he expect me to curtsy in return? I’m not really into that sort of thing. I hold out my hand instead and, after a moment’s hesitation, he gives my fingertips a weak shake. “I was hoping you’d take a look at Ginger.”
I force a smile. “Of course, Mr. Ed.”
Mom sends me a warning look, but I don’t feel like playing nice with the customers. To tell the truth, I don’t want people coming to me with their pets. There is nothing magic about the way I work with animals. They don’t talk to me, even though that’s what Mom wants people to believe. I blow out a breath as I follow Mom and Mr. Ed to the garage.
I know from the whinny that Ginger is a horse, but I’m surprised to see she’s less than three feet tall. She prances around the small garage, shaking her mane. I grab a bucket and take it to the center of the floor. Turning it over, I sit down as the tiny horse makes circles around me. On first look, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with her. Her movements are free and fluid.
“She’s not eating.” Mr. Ed’s voice is sad. “For the last month she hasn’t eaten much. I’ve been treating her for ulcers, but it doesn’t seem to be helping.” Ginger comes up and nuzzles his hand. He pulls his fingers away quickly before her teeth snap. So, she bites. That’s a good thing to know.
“Did anything happen before she stopped eating?” Ginger walks toward me, stopping just out of reach.
“I’d hired a boy to care for Ginger while I was away on a business trip. I came home a night early, only to find he’d invited a group of hooligans over. They had Ginger chugging bottles of cola. She’s not been the same since.”
I watch Ginger while she studies me. If her size is any indication, she’s not starving. but then I notice the slight grinding motion she’s making with mouth.
Mom enters the garage carrying a bag of popcorn. I hate this part. She always makes me feel like I’m a sideshow attraction at the circus. She offers the bag to Mr. Ed, but he declines.
“Never eat the stuff. I hate having the hulls stuck in my teeth.”
Mr. Ed’s comment gives me an idea. I hold out my hand and Ginger takes another step forward. I caress her nose, making eye contact. I’m trying to build a bridge of trust. I speak calmly and soon see the trust building. Ginger relaxes under my touch. I don’t want to get bit, but I have to take a look in this horse’s mouth.
I play with her loosening lip. “Trust me, girl.” I open her mouth and watch her eyes. I reach in, running my fingers along her teeth. There is something lodged between her gums and cheek. Gently I work it loose and pull it from her mouth. I’ve been watching Ginger this whole time, but as soon as I look to see what is in my hand, she darts forward and bites me on the arm. I drop the object. Ungrateful horse.
Mr. Ed picks it up. “A piece of plastic? How did that get in there?”
“Probably from the bottles of cola she was drinking.” A semicircle of welts bead up on my arm. “Stuck like a popcorn hull. She should be good a new.” Except for the biting.
As if to prove my words, Ginger dips her head into the feed bucket and starts eating.
“You are amazing, young lady.” Mr. Ed pats Ginger on the neck. “I’ll be singing your praises, you can be sure.”
“I’m not an animal whisperer,” I insist.
“But I’ve seen proof,” Mr. Ed says, “straight from the horse’s mouth.”
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