Inside this paddock I watch Laura brush down her horse. It's New Year's Eve, and the second time I've come to see my equine roommate ride. Our landlord went to Florida for Hanukkah and didn't come back, so we've decided to spend rent on Laura's private riding lessons and a keg.
The Bengal Lancers stable is not in the country. In this city of snowy hills, it sits in a valley of them. West is Citadel Hill, a sort of landmark that overlooks the harbour. When visitors come in February, you have to show it to them, regardless of the windchill. They take pictures and are amazed. Meanwhile, your limbs freeze. You could probably slide down that historic pile of ice right into the salty sea. The harbour's water is deep and never freezes over. East and north and south of the stables are more hills. Less showy than the Citadel, but minute mountains nonetheless. All of these slope down Halifax straight into the stables. The momentum of the city leads me right into this paddock where Moira prepares to mount the colt. Wolf is its name.
"I'll be watching, Horse Whisperer," I say, and slump toward the stairs of the viewing room.
"Stop moping, Shay, it's depressing." This is Laura psycho-analyzing me. She is entitled to because she cares, and also because she has become well-versed in relationships since that time she broke her ankle and spent four weeks on our futon watching the complete catalogue of melodramatic teen soap rom-coms that were popular in the '90s. She slides one foot into the stirrup and kicks the other over her horse.
Looking down on me, Laura offers, "You'll feel better tonight after we fill our bathtub with ice and champagne bottles." Her horse flips its head. The gleam of this beast in the narrow stall makes me silent. I want to put my arms around its long thick neck. I want to braid its mane. I want to stand on top of it in a costume, while it circles around a ring, onlookers cheering and throwing popcorn. I want four long legs that end in hooves. With them planted firmly I could hold my place. Or I could just run so fast. My feet wouldn't hurt like they do now from all this running. With hooves my gait would crush.
"Laura, do you think many people will come?"
"No, I don't know if Sam is coming. Invite him."
Upstairs I'm alone in the viewing box. Through the window I can see Laura riding. I thought horseback riding was simple, like knitting or crosswords. But I've since learned. It's all about control. There's a rotary phone on the wall beside the shelf of literature asking you to donate to the Lancers. I get Sam's voicemail again. He's probably with Kelly, so I leave a message. It's from me, and from Wolf:
Once, we were looked after. We were worried about.
Black Beauty went to sleep without a blanket and she died. But us, you always made sure to cover. Until you left and then we spent nights shivering in the hay alone and wondering what we did wrong.
That was once. It isn't now, but because we are God's creatures our memories function like mirrors. Maybe it's not fair but the sting is still sharp and the biting frost is fresh and so when you are so close for so long and then suddenly sparse, you've broken a promise I thought was mutual. Unspoken sure, but assumed, yes.
And so, I'm here, stuck in this barn where I am punished for having ridden bareback for too long and with too much fervour. You're free to see others jump hurdles and show proudly and I believe your absence means they do it with more grace and fragility than me. They probably even accept their wins, their ribbons, with a more practiced humility.
And sure, I get it, I don't blame you. But what it really makes me is sad, not for your choice of her over me, but that we don't fit, you and I, and I know that. I just very much wish we did. But we don't fit, and for that lost cause I mourn.
But regardless, your absence feels familiar. It reminds me of something that once started as absence and turned into abandonment. Something like despair. I know I seem such a heavy powerful beast but it only takes one night of shivering to really lose someone you thought would just wait around, until you called her back.
The party at our house is the gong show I've always dreamed of. New Year's makes everyone so damn crazy, because they're either trying to run through the city to spend a countdown with the person they love the most out of all the other suckers, or they're trying to find someone to fit that description. Laura's preferred television show usually has its couples hailing unresponsive cabs with blow torches or sprinting through sewage systems to make it to their baby-boo by midnight. There were a few close calls that slugged themselves like World Series home runs through our door at 11:59. But mostly we used our new-found fortune to breach a contractual obligation to pay rent, and bought enough booze to get a sperm whale totally wasted.