Seemed taller than his height. From the carpentry. Dark caramel past where his t-shirt sleeves ended on the workdays. Pale between there and the tank he wore this Saturday’s heat. Supple jiggled as he wrestled. One arm around the pony’s neck. The other holding a blue and red striped on white can of beer.
The pony was begrudgingly compliant. Until it wasn’t. Threw some weight into it. Pulling pony. Years hard methodic trot strapped in front a cart. No Shetland here. Welsh. Proud. Traded out from under the harness to the father of a little girl. But muscled still. Heavy.
The man’s daughter stood her full straight unmoving. Wanted to tell him of fruitlessness. Wanted to tell him, you cannot control this pony by the neck. You must take it by a more sensitive spot, like the mouth, the ear. Take it by the lower jaw, fingers curled in there. Behind the incisors and before the wolf teeth. Guide the head, then you can control where it goes.
She saw him glance at the top of his tipped can, when the pony made a quick wrench and it threatened to spill. She reckoned calling to him right then. Ask some advice about some made-up something. Could think of nothing quick. Pulled her lower lip in. Held it soft between chipped sharp teeth.
Maybe he got ideas from those old black and white movies, she thought. He often reminisced about those movies from when he was a kid. Walked to the little theater in town when he could earn a nickel. Spaghetti Westerns, he said. She didn’t get that the first time, but he explained. I-tal-yens. Cheaper labor.
This is what men do, she thought he might figure.
The pony gave in to his age and she saw her father take the near forfeit and call it victory. Noticed her air blow pinched lips to pucker. Felt electric run out of her. Looked up at swaying leaves and breathed what felt cooler suddenly. Another day done without talk of how much the killers over the river might be paying per pound this day. Estimating how much that pony might weigh.
She turned to go inside. Make herself sweet tea.
Next morning, she’d make the coffee strong. During a cup, he’d think of someone to convince into needing a deck, remodeled kitchen. Maybe find a widow lady, wanting one thing built after another, after another, beguiled by blue eyes.
He’d go with his leather portfolio, legal pads in it. Three pencils sharp, fixed in the loops. All shaved and aftershaved. Dress pants, snappy belt, buffed-up shoes.
Once he was out of sight, she’d half-full a three-pound can with oats. On the way to the corral, she’d shake the can a bit. Intermittent. See what head-high trot and throw still was left in him. Brush dust from her outgrown pony in the time biding. As, she mused, she’d do ‘til endmost, when one morning she would come find him laid down quiet.
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Ranney Campbell is from St. Louis, Missouri, but lives in Southern California. Her chapbook, “Pimp,” is published by Arroyo Seco Press and other work has appeared in Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Hummingbird: Magazine of the Short Poem, Third Wednesday, Eastern Iowa Review, ONE ART, Storm Cellar (forthcoming), and elsewhere.