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Racing the Sky
I twist my body towards the horizon. The glow of the sun is beginning to echo off the land, creating shapes against the corner of the earth. The horizon marks the end of our land; it’s unknown, formidable. The early morning air dashes around my body, not warm, but not entirely cold.
No one else is awake- not the land, not the sky. Here, I am alone. The moment is mine. As far as I can see is mine. And so, we claim it.
Beat after beat, clumps of loose dirt and grass are tossed up behind us. We head towards the line that never ends. We soar over the land together, like a bird. The horizon beckons, promising to last forever.
Except I know that it won’t.
Once the sun rounds the sharp corners of the land, it is the end. It is not mine anymore. I can’t claim it, race it, with such carelessness. Once the sun comes up, the boundaries are displayed. But until then, we race towards it.
The four beat rhythm carries me faster than anything else. His swift gait brings me closer to the horizon every second. So fast over the flat, dry land. So fast that we’re flying.
Now the sun is above the line. I turn him perfectly around without a pause, and we race back against the sky.
Royal knows that we’re free. He knows we are racing the sky. And he knows that we will win.
A few minutes later, we are home. More like confinement. But home, nonetheless.
“Emma!” My dad’s bellowing voice echoes against the now disrupted landscape. Royal and I turn the corner around the barn and he spots us. “Where have you been? You need to leave for school in half an hour and you haven’t even finished mucking the stalls?”
Really, I’m not sorry at all. I can muck the stalls quickly. My morning freedom is what keeps me sane, not mucking out stalls day and night. I dismount Royal, untack him, and put him out in the field to cool off.
Shovel and rake in hand, I finish tackling the stalls. It would be unfair to argue that too much is required of me; we do own a fully operating farm, and I get that I have to pitch in.
I toss a shovelful of wet shavings into the wheelbarrow. Today is going to be hot. I can already feel the sweat dripping down my back. I mechanically finish the stalls, and run by the porch where I left my school bag.
As I reach for it, I realize I am wearing ripped jeans and I am covered in a layer of dust and mud. Wouldn’t be the first time I showed up to school like this. Quickly jogging up the steps into the house, I trail mud behind me. The old stairs creek as I run up to my room, already trying to wiggle out of my sweaty jeans. Wouldn’t be the first time the bus had to wait.
I leave my boots and pants in a corner, throw on what I hope is a clean pair of shorts, and sprint back down the wooden stairs, grabbing an apple as I pass by the kitchen.
Wow, I even eat like a horse.
I swing my bag over my shoulder and start to run down the long driveway. A morning jog is good for the soul. But a morning ride is better.
As I pass behind the barn, I hear my dad yelling at one of the farm hands. “I run this joint- ya hear?” He is always so territorial about everything- yes, we all understand he is in charge. He’s become even worse since Mom left. “Don’t you be telling me how to run this place!”
By now, I am out of earshot, and I see the bus waiting out front. I pick up my pace, still sweaty. My blonde ponytail is frizzy, but I don’t care.
As I slide down into the worn bus seat, I realize for the first time how filthy I am. It’s not even eight in the morning, yet I have managed to coat myself in a layer of grime. That’s the type of girl I am.
During lunch, I walk by the Popular table on my way an empty table in the corner. “I can’t believe how early we have to wake up, like c’mon,” a cheerleader moans to her best friend, “Like, really, how am I supposed to do my hair and then not fall asleep during math?”
Ha. This morning I woke up before the sun. My morning is more hectic than she can ever imagine. But that’s what I was brought up on- I understand mornings, how they are more valuable than nighttime.
I sit down at the empty lunch table and pull out a smushed peanut butter and jelly sandwich I had packed the night before. Now, I really miss Mom’s packed lunches. I really hate lunch. And school.
We knew Mom was unhappy. Riding had always been her life, but she wanted to escape the farm. She wanted to go to the city, travel the world, stop mucking stalls. She wanted a change, and we knew it. It showed in every line of her face.
Mom taught me how to ride. I can still hear her voice saying “back straight, heels down.” She helped me grow an appreciation for horses, for trying to pass my limits, for challenging life.
Like any only child, I looked up to her. I was her little angel, the fairy tale horseback rider. She helped me name Royal. After seeing his regal air, she decided he was special, like a monarch in the barn.
And then she left one day- just like that. We knew something was going to happen, but not what. I came home from school, Dad from the fields, and she was gone.
When the bus drops me off, I jog down the driveway and sprint to my room. Tossing my schoolbag on the ground, I pull on my jeans and boots, leaving my shorts in a pile on the floor. Dad doesn’t care how clean my bedroom is; he only cares about how clean the barn is. I miss Mom telling me to clean my room. I miss her telling me to put on clean clothes. I miss her presence.
On the way outside, I grab another apple and aim straight for the barn. Royal greets me as I approach his stall, knowing I am holding an apple.
I’m feeling adventurous this afternoon.
I quickly brush him down and clip reins onto his halter. I don’t want the assurance of a saddle or a bridle and bit. I need to be free.
I hop on before my dad can find me, and Royal and I speed away from the barn, towards the horizon. His rhythmic gallop is the only thing keeping me attached to earth.
Now Dad’s changed. He doesn’t laugh anymore, or help me with homework. We no longer race the sky together, or pretend to be cowboys. When my left, the Dad I knew left too.
Dad and I trained Royal together. I watched Royal’s birth, and knew he was meant for me. His sleek black coat, splashed with a few spots of white, his knowing eyes. Together, we trained him, but I was the only one who ever rode him.
“How much for this one?” My dad’s best client came by the farm one day after school. I was hanging around Royal’s stall.
“This one,” I shoot my dad a look, “… is not for sale.” Royal could be the best horse we’d ever sold, but Dad didn’t sell him.
There was an unspoken agreement that Royal was mine, and mine only. Dad has upheld this agreement, even though Mom left. It’s the only steady thing. The past few years, Royal has been my best friend, my brother, my parents, and my horse.
Back on the empty field, Royal knows what I need. We continue our gallop, nothing between us. We jump over the hedge that divides two fields. We fly gracefully together. After a few minutes, I slow him down and we walk to the stream. The stream snakes around one side of our land. It was Mom’s favorite place.
I graze Royal and watch the water flow through it’s sure path. He walks over to me, nibbling my hair. I tell him something Mom told me the day before she left. “I love you baby, I’m never going to leave you.”
But I know I am going to keep my promise.