Her horse was the closest thing to a friend
Esther had in those mountains.
They rode one morning along the hogback,
then moved west where the escarpment
leveled off, higher into the foothills.
Esther halted to rest,
let the paint drink from spring runoff meandering
through a meadow of greasewood and sage.
She tied him to a sapling, stroked
his long neck and withers, the base of his ear,
and down his silky cheek, all the while
crooning, Good horse. There’s a good horse.
At the edge of the stream, Esther cupped water
and drank greedily, her reflection
rippling outward in perfect circles. Then something
moved on the opposite bank.
She stood up in surprise, shielding her eyes
from the sun to see what was there.
A man took shape in the haze.
Behind him a wide fringe of ponderosa pine
spread like enormous wings.
Raymond had been there first, had watched
Esther ride up to the stream and dismount, her paint
bow his head and nicker as Esther gentled him.
He’d wanted to shout hello when she first appeared
riding slowly through the sage, but thought
better of it. What if she didn’t remember him?
But Esther did remember him—the delicious
startle and confusion that day in the kitchen,
a young man approaching her without|
warning, wanting nothing from her.
When he’d stumbled out, she had quickly
refastened her smock and sat for a bit in the stillness.
She could feel his presence in the room,
closed her eyes and breathed him in.
Now, from across the stream she felt it—
and before she realized, she’d raised her hand
in greeting, and Raymond did the same.
He paused, then waded across the shallow water,
leading his own horse behind him. His shadow
reached her before him, and the fragrant
complexity of leather and horse, a man’s clean
sweat, meadow of wild onion and prickly pear.
I’m sorry if I frightened you, ma’am, Raymond said,
stepping carefully toward her.
Perhaps it was improper for her to speak.
But how pleased she was to encounter him
here—how beautiful she felt
in the dazzle of morning.