Ann kept a bag of clothes in the barn office for occasions like these. She called Peter and got his answering machine on her way to the showers.
“Hey Peter, I’m just calling to check on Luke. I’m stuck here at the races and so I need to leave him with you all day. I’ll be back around 6 o’clock tonight and I’ll bring you some soup from the deli. Call me if you need anything and pet Luke for me. I hope you are feeling better and no, I didn’t forget your doctor’s appointment for tomorrow.”
Her friend Peter was a retired jockey who was loved for his jocular personality despite his significant lack of race riding talent. After his riding career was over, Peter worked as a jockey’s valet, a mutual clerk – taking bets at the track’s betting windows and lastly, as a groom for the outrider’s horse. Until two years ago, Peter had been a fixture at the track for over 50 years. He was housebound now, with arthritis, diabetes and macular degeneration. He kept Luke, her Walker Hound for her when she knew she would have a long day at the track. Luke loved Peter more than anyone and the feeling was mutual.
Peter was the kind of person that she could spend hours listening to. Peter’s stories of racing’s glory days of the late 40’s and 50’s were the stuff people made movies about. Peter had a skill that racing folks loved above all – he could tell one hell of a story. She, Peter and Luke spent lazy evenings at Peter’s trailer house in Sierra Madre just a few miles from the track playing checkers and swapping racing stories. Peter had scores of them. Some of them were so good she didn’t mind hearing them over and over. She relished her time with Peter. But she couldn’t help being angry that he had so few visitors anymore. It was as if racing had forgotten him completely when he could no longer drive to the track. His phone never rang and if anyone visited, he didn’t mention it. People spoke warmly of him anytime she mentioned his name. She wondered how quickly racing might forget her too.
Some of the barn bathrooms had dorm-like showers. She brought a folding chair with her into the bathroom and used it to block the door so that she’d be guaranteed privacy. Jamming the door with the chair, she stepped into the hot shower. As the room steamed up, she did her best to shake the thickness in her head leftover from the liquid lunch and choked back tears brought on by another crazy morning. All her planning had gone down the drain. Her morning was supposed to have involved a smooth running barn, a good lunch and a quick nap. Instead it was a circus of not one but two fired riders, an injured horse, a sick horse, a freaky jealous girlfriend of the boss and a particularly non-healthy lunch. Ann swore again to herself that she would eat better and regularly. She went as far as to write herself notes on her fridge at home. But her plans were thwarted by nothing short of a bunch of bullshit and her inability to avoid or control it. What she really needed was a vacation. Of course, she’d been saying that for over two years and not taken more than an afternoon off in all that time. Seven days a week creeps up on you, whether you love your job not.
When riding race horses for a living, a woman’s body takes on a particular shape. Deltoids, lat muscles, and particularly glute muscles are lean but round and deeply defined. As someone who had been doing it for over 20 years, day in and day out, she was a steel hard professional athlete. Corded muscles covered her smallish frame as did the scars of the wrecks, She studied her “man hands” with ropey veins and enlarged knuckles, ran them over tiny breasts and past the bands of muscle that wrapped her core and thighs. She laughed through the tears at the small shamrock tattoo on her left hip, the remnants of a drunken weekend in Miami after a disappointing stake race. The details were fuzzy but they included a tryst with an adorable Irish jockey. “If only he could ride a racehorse like that.” Laughing softly, she treated herself to a long hot rinse in the shower, allowing the water to massage her low back and tight hamstrings. As the water loosened her muscles, she focused on snapping herself out of her pity party. There was talk of sending Invictus to France for the Prix de l’Arc de Triumph. It was a long shot, but it was also a chance to run on the soft turf of Lonchamp for four million Euros. Jude was talking about it and she had just recently begun to dare to dream that it just might come true. The notion of going to France to run in the giant race was too rich. She’d gone as far as to dig out her old French textbooks from high school. It was the only class in high school she cared about. She loved the feel of the language and dreamed of roaming the French countryside in search of crusty bread, creamy fresh cheese and crimson wines. She rolled around in the thoughts of conversing with the fashionable Parisian set. She pictured herself wearing tall boots and short skirts with leggings, sheer blouses, colorful scarves, and fine perfumes. To be completely female seemed the ultimate escape from her daily reality. She could almost smell the frothy espresso and the buttery croissants.
She was rudely shaken from her reverie when she heard the crackly barn loudspeaker; “Horses in the first race, due in the receiving barn in 20 MINUTES.” She had 30 minutes to get their horse ready for the 2nd race. She dressed quickly, slipping on the expensive Italian bra and panties she’d treated herself to after breaking up with Mateo. A girl’s got to feel feminine somehow. That said, slipping on clean jeans after dreaming of Parisian fashion was a come down. She popped another Celebrex into her mouth, swallowed it dry, threw her dirty clothes and toiletries into her gym bag and high-tailed for the barn.