I had gone into the house to change my jeans, and I was only about halfway out of my boots--which were very muddy--when the phone started ringing. And it kept ringing, all the time I was pulling off my boots and hanging up my hat and pushing my hair out of my face. I was really wet--I’d been riding Happy in the arena when the rain fell out of the sky like water out of a bucket, and we were drenched so fast we just started laughing. Daddy was in the barn, and Mom jumped off of Jefferson and ran in there with him--she was right by the gate, so she didn’t get as wet as I did. I could barely see my way across the ring, the water was coming down so hard. But Happy didn’t care. All of our horses lived outside anyway. Rain was just a bath to them.
And then it all stopped. There we were, standing in the aisle of the barn, looking out at the clouds blowing off and the sun shining through the misty air. Mom said, “Oh, I love California. The weather just comes and goes. And there are no tornadoes. I love that the best.” Back in Oklahoma, where Mom and Daddy had grown up, there were tornadoes every day, or at least that’s how they made it sound when they talked about it.
But I had to change my jeans at least--my jacket had kept my shirt a little dry.
The phone rang and rang, and I knew because of that it would be Jane Slater, and it was. Jane was a trainer at the big stable on the coast; she had helped us sell a horse there in the fall. She said, “Oh, Abby! How are you? I do so miss talking to you. What’s it been?”
I said, “We saw you at New Year’s. How--”
But she was excited about something, so she interrupted me. She said, “Then I didn’t tell you that Melinda is back, did I?”
“No, when . . .”
“She hasn’t grown an inch, and Ellen Leinsdorf thinks she’s her worst enemy! Their lessons are back to back, and they’re both riding Gallant Man, because, you know, there’s been a big brouhaha about Melinda’s parents’ divorce, and they have to half lease him to the Leinsdorfs to afford the board, which is fine, but, goodness! What am I talking about?”
Ellen and Melinda were two students she taught; I’d helped her with them from time to time. Melinda was older--about ten--but Ellen was tougher. I laughed to think about them and said, “I don’t know.”
“Oh, Abby, I miss you. I feel surrounded by little little girls!”
I said, “I miss you, too.”
“Well, why don’t you come over here and look at this horse, and I can see you.”
“Such a sad story. But he’s a nice horse. His name is True Blue. Very pretty dappled gray, black mane and tail, black points. Is your dad around?”
Just then, Daddy came in. I handed him the phone and ran upstairs. That was the first I heard of Blue. While I was looking for a clean pair of jeans, the rain came again, and by the time it was over, the arena was too soaked to ride any more that day, because even if there was no more rain for the rest of the weekend, it would take twenty-four hours (“Only a day!” Daddy always said) for the arena to drain. This meant that our work in the winter could be a little intermittent, but at least there were no blizzards. Back in Oklahoma, whenever there weren’t tornadoes, there were blizzards, and Daddy and Mom had to walk through them for hours on end to get home from school, without mittens or buttons on their coats (at least, that was what my brother, Danny, always said when they started talking about how lucky we were to be living in California). “And uphill both ways!” When he said that, I always laughed. Of course, I went to Oklahoma myself from time to time, and the weather was fine.
So instead of waiting around and maybe going over to the coast “at some point” (it was a half-hour trip each way, and more than that if we were pulling the horse trailer), we decided that we had nothing better to do than go look at True Blue and then shop for groceries. We left Rusty, our dog, sitting inside the gate with that look on her face that she always had--“Don’t bother to call. I’ve got everything under control here.”
The rain might have skipped the coastal part of the peninsula, because even though there wasn’t a horse show, the stables were busy with lessons in all the rings, and grooms, riders, and horses were walking here and there. I looked around for my old horse Black George and that girl, Sophia Rosebury, who had bought him, but I didn’t see them in any of the rings. I made myself stop looking. I had had tremendous fun on Black George for a whole year. I thought about him often, but I hadn’t seen him since they’d driven away with him in the Roseburys’ trailer before Thanksgiving. In fact, I was a little afraid to see him, not because I thought there would be anything wrong with him, but because I thought that seeing him would make me miss him more.
Jane ran over to meet us when she saw us parking the truck in the little lot. Daddy said, “You didn’t get all the rain?”
Mom laughed. “We got buckets. It drove us out.”
“No rain,” said Jane. “Just fog fog fog. Did I say fog?” She lowered her voice. “Our golfers don’t allow that sort of weather disturbance around here.”
We all smiled. It was fun to see Jane.
The horse, True Blue, was in the nicest part of the barn, and he was standing in his stall, looking out over the door toward the rings with his ears pricked. He saw Jane right away and tossed his head. She said, “He’s such a sweetheart. Listen to this.”
We must have been about fifty feet from the stall still; she called out, “Blue! Blue! How are you?” and he let out a tremendous whinny. She said, “He always answers.”
“He’s a poet and don’t know it,” said Mom.
“Absolutely,” said Jane.
Copyright © 2011 by Jane Smiley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.