Excerpt of “Wild Horses”
by Brian Reeves
published in Sand Hill Review, 2012
It is late afternoon and my legs are aching from work when I see the horses. I’m out at the site with my other crew members, repaving state road 2398, a straight line cutting through open Wyoming range. All I can see out here that is manmade are the road and the remnants of a sagging, fallen barbed wire fence running beside it. There’s nothing else to indicate anyone ever comes out here, or ever has. The afternoon rainstorm is brief, a summer shower, the sun never covered. After it’s over I prop my shovel against the back of the work truck and step off the stinking tar past the flashing orange lights into the weedy ditch. I stand in the wet air and look out on the empty fields. Normally it’s quiet out here, the only sound the wind in the grass, but today we have brought the noise with us. The resurfacer churns behind me and it’s very loud so I must wear earplugs.
My boots are wet from standing in the grass, the toes black with dampness. Beside my feet are tiny yellow prairie flowers, fluttering in the breeze. Raindrops on them catch the sun. I think to pick a few when work is over and bring them back to Lisa for a little surprise. Maybe she can tuck one behind her ear. She would look nice, with this little spot of color against her brown hair. Maybe it would help her feel beautiful.
As I look up, I notice movement far out in the fields. Coming over a low rise very far from me I see a group of loose horses. They are running in great circles and pausing to nuzzle one another. I shield my eyes against the sun and study them. They are unbridled and unattended, and I wonder if they might be wild. I had heard of wild horses living in the hills, but I didn’t think they came down this far out of the mountains. These seem free in every way, and as I watch they form a group and play among one another, one galloping far out and turning to saunter back and toss his head.
I’m reminded of the horses in a painting that hangs in our hall, the one I bought at the flea market. It shows several horses, dappled white and brown and very wild-looking, racing across a windy plain under a red-streaked sky. The illustration is very nice, and the horses very detailed, down to the hairs in their manes. Lisa has always loved horses. She was raised on a ranch and grew up around horses, but she had always longed to tame a wild one, and I thought the painting would make her happy. I find her staring at it sometimes, pausing in the hall with her hands poised on her wheels, studying the horses, the detail of the muscles and the way their hair courses back as they run.
These are colored differently from the ones in the painting. The painted ones are like the kind from the covers of paperback Westerns, but these are more of a solid brown, not dappled at all. Maybe they were once domestic, and escaped. Maybe they have fled the fences that kept them trapped and now they run out here with no limits. It is a very wonderful thought, and I wish that Lisa were here to see them at this moment. I think how much I will enjoy telling her about them when I get home.
Soon they crest another hill and sink from sight. I am left with the resurfacing crew and the
As I drive home I suddenly remember the little flowers and wish I had picked some. I would have come home with them in my hand. I would have gone to Lisa and told her she reminds me of those flowers, small and fragile, but beautiful. I used to talk to her in that way when we were first dating, and even though she would squinch up her brow and look at me in a ridiculing way, she told me
Reeves 1she enjoyed hearing such things from me. Anyone else, she would say, could never get away with it. From me, though, even such corny things sounded good. Maybe if I had remembered the flowers I could have surprised her with them and made her happy. Like how she used to be.
I want to come home one day and find Lisa at her exercises. I want her to have started without me. Her days are long and empty and I can see something in her eyes, an inner look I find disturbing. I wish I knew how to motivate her to do what she knows she has to do. We discussed these things at great length, both with her doctor and with her counselor – while she was still going to her counselor – and they prescribed exercises she needs to do to keep herself in shape. It has been nearly ten months, and she is far behind.
My wife is an “L2 – L4 Para,” or so her specialist and physical therapist call her. Last fall, soon before Lisa was released from the hospital, we sat in her specialist’s main office surrounded by books, charts and cut-away pictures of the human body. Dr. Atwood pulled out a plastic diagram and rested it on her desk. It was the human spinal cord. Each of the four sections were colored and given a different letter. She showed us where the nerves connect, and told us that the farther down the spinal cord injury, the more body function remained. She pointed to two wide, thick discs toward the bottom, in the “Lumbar” area, and she told us this is where the nerves for the leg muscles were attached and that we were “unlikely to see leg function return” with such a degree of damage. Lisa would also have less bowel and bladder control, and a loss of sexual feeling. Lisa sat quietly and I got the impression she had been told this already because she did not cry and did not move. I kept looking at her and looking back at the chart and I suddenly felt very fragile, even in my strong, working body. Lisa’s body looked solid and yet inside it something had been changed forever and could not be fixed.
Sometimes in the night, she will awaken and need me. She will shake me and I have to rouse myself and help her out of bed. I sit her upright and she waits while I angle the chair beside the bed so she can slide onto it. Her arms are becoming stronger and firmer with this constant effort. She will push herself up on her arms and shift her weight off the bed onto the chair. I have to hold it so it doesn’t roll from a stray movement. I’ve told her I can simply carry her to the bathroom, but she tells me she has to get used to doing this whole process. Her nurse suggested a bedpan but she refused.
Sometimes while she sleeps I can see her eyes moving and I know she’s dreaming. I wonder if she’s dreaming of her accident. If she is remembering our stupid fight, and her storming out for a drive in the night. I wonder how much she can remember of the sinkhole, maybe seeing it suddenly appear in the headlights, just as she must have seen it, and the collision and the shattering glass and the pavement. Or I wonder if she sees it as if from an outside viewpoint, watching from a distance the things that happened to her body. I know the facts. They were in the police report. She refused to read the report, but I know she remembers the event very clearly and sometimes I can see it in her expression. It will be there some nights as we are talking about something else, or while she watches out the window as I drive, or at times when she sits quietly in her chair as I buy groceries. I see her hands clench up while she sleeps, gripping a remembered steering wheel.
When I picture the accident, it’s as if I’m standing beside the road where it happened, watching from the side. I see our old car flying forward into the sinkhole and crunching to a stop, and I see her breaking through the windshield with her hands out before her, sliced by the shattering glass. I see her clothes and her skin tearing as she hits the pavement, and I see her body become twisted and start to roll. Even though she slides a long distance, I can still see her when she comes to a stop in the weeds. She doesn’t move and the night becomes very quiet and empty. She cries out from the pain but there is nobody to hear. Nobody comes along that road for a very long time.