Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Black (10/15/09)
TITLE: Black Velvet
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Jarvis Cotton, a seasoned groom at Rose Lawn Ranch, lived and breathed horses. His young son, Brady, seemed to share his father’s perceptive knack for understanding equine personalities. When Brady’s favorite mare, Jazzy, gave birth to a coal-black foal with sensitive, penetrating black eyes, Brady secretly named the colt after his soft-as-velvet nose: Black Velvet.
Jazzy’s owner named the foal Sinbad - but Brady thought he deserved a gentler name, like Black Velvet. Brady guarded this secret nickname, however. He didn’t want any new trouble; there was enough of that already.
Earlier in the school year a school psychologist labeled Brady as a daydreamer who couldn’t sit still. Brady struggled daily to focus on reading and writing while consumed by waves of homesickness for the ranch.
After the official diagnosis, Brady’s teacher viewed him skeptically, as if he were stricken by a contagious plague. She repeatedly scheduled consultations with Brady’s parents, which translated into uncomfortable discussions at home. In reality, Brady was simply an active seven-year-old who didn’t fit the cultural routine or the cookie-cutter expectations of the educational system.
An objective observer could discern the truth in Brady’s eyes. His raven-black pupils framed in brown – the deep windows of his soul – said volumes about misunderstandings that were never verbalized.
“Why are you always looking at the ground? Look up, child – look me in the eye!” his teacher demanded. “You can’t hide just because you’re different. Now LOOK AT ME!” But Brady perceived only hostility in her glare, and couldn’t force eye contact. It was too dangerous, too potentially self-defeating, to engage with her visual condemnation.
Several days after Black Velvet was born, Brady helped his father clean stalls and feed the horses in the late afternoon, as usual. “When I’m finished, can I hang out with the new colt until dinnertime?” Brady asked.
“Sure. After chores.”
Brady excelled when performing physical tasks. In this case, he deftly scooped oats into feed boxes and then swept the floor clean. “Can I go now, Dad?”
Jarvis grinned and shooed his son with both arms. “Skedaddle boy, before I find more work for you to do!”
Brady opened the gate to the stall where Jazzy and Black Velvet were stabled; fresh straw crunched beneath his boots as he entered. He clicked the latch behind him and sighed, relishing the horsy smells and privacy of this refuge. The late afternoon sun made its way through a tiny slit-of-a-crack in the barn siding, sending a single dust-speckled, glowing ray onto the young horse’s fuzzy back.
“Hey, little fella. How are you doing?”
Brady calmly stroked the colt’s neck and back, reaching through the bright sunshine-spot to scratch his rump. Jazzy, who busily chomped her oats, murmured approval with a low, guttural whinny.
Black Velvet blinked his eyes curiously, enjoying the attention. Brady stepped in front of the colt and held Black Velvet’s slender face in his hands.
“So buddy, I think my teacher hates me.”
Two tender black orbs stared into Brady’s eyes, and beyond.
Brady stared back, eye-to-blazing-eye, soul-to-soul. “And the kids act weird around me, too. I think they’re on the teacher’s side.”
Black Velvet stood still as a stone with spindly legs spread wide, his eyes fixed on Brady’s.
“How can you be true to yourself when someone else gives you a bad name?” He wiped a tear on his arm. “I mean you don’t have it easy, either – you don’t deserve to be called Sinbad, do you little guy? You’re not really dark and evil inside … course not.” Jazzy turned her head quickly and neighed in affirmation; oats dripped from her grinding jaws. Black Velvet responded with a shrill, but soft, whinny.
“You should have been born all-white, to match your pure heart. Then they wouldn’t have called you Sinbad.” He paused and added, “Me too. I should have been born white, too. That might help.” He stroked the miniature, velvet-smooth nose.
“Sometimes I wonder if Sinbad should be MY name. I’ll never measure up at school.”
The colt’s black eyes continued to peer into the depths of Brady’s brown-rimmed pupils.
“You understand, don’t you?” Brady paused. “You and me – we’re buddies, aren’t we?”
Black Velvet tossed his short mane and issued a tiny snort in reply.
Brady shifted his position; Black Velvet turned and began to nurse at Jazzy’s side. The shaft of sunlight struck Brady mid-chest, and he touched the spot - symbolic of infused hope.
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