Hearing a commotion, Lilith peeked through her locked door to see her chief tormentor leading a dark horse into a battered trailer. The horse hesitated and Lilith’s knees buckled when she saw the man brutally punch the horse. Silently she closed the door, leaned against the wall and tried to breathe.
She listened while the trailer pulled away and the man washed his hands with the hose directly below her room. He blew his nose and walked into the night. She would never forget the sounds his hard boots made on the asphalt. She would blame herself forever for not heeding her instincts to run that terrible night.
That was the night when a barn cat had given birth to kittens and Lilith gathered them up and brought them to her room. Mamma cat paced the room mewling nervously and Lilith suspected that there might be a kitten still hidden in the straw. She tiptoed downstairs careful not to disturb a loud and drunken party of men at the other end of the barn. She crawled into the bales of straw fishing around for a newborn kitten gently probing the spaces between the sweet smelling bales where a tiny body may have fallen. Kneeling on the lowest bale, she bent forward laying her ear on a the bale and reached her arm down as far as possible. She heard the boots coming up behind her but she was sure there was a kitten within reach. The step quickened and a cold dread gripped her guts. His meaty hand pressed into her lower jaw and gripped her mouth shut. The flannel pajamas she was wearing offered no resistance. Her face was pushed brutally into the straw her neck twisted savagely with every thrust of his drunken hips, her mind grappled with the reality of the act while her dangling hand impossibly searched for a tiny abandoned motherless kitten.
At some point, his stupefied grunting stopped and in that moment of stillness she held her breath. He stepped back from her, her exposed hind end feeling a cool breeze. She dared not move as she heard him zip up his pants. One boot stepped back, a small pause. His kick landed in the meat of her thigh, the power of it was like an explosion in her head.
“Puta.” He belched. The boots stormed away.
As Lilith rolled, her shoulder reached further into the straw. Lilith’s fingers found a small, cold body. Her trembling hand closed around the tiny dying kitten and gingerly brought it up to her bruised face. Cradling the kitten on her belly, she collapsed, pajama pants dangling around her slippered feet. The kitten stirred and Lilith managed to sit up, pull up her pants and limp soundlessly up the stairs to her room cradling the kitten in her shaking hands. She laid the tiny creature on her bed and sat on the floor to watch mama cat revive it’s tiny body with urgent licks and proddings.
Her body wanted a burning hot shower but the fear of leaving her room was stronger. Shaking, she took the chair from her small desk and jammed it under the doorknob, sat on the cool floor and watched the mother cat nurse her kittens.
Lilith knew that horses leaving the racetrack in an old trailer in the middle of the night was not Jude Keenan’s style. Everything about the situation was wrong.
Fear and hate bubbled inside Lilith. She hated this man and feared talking to anyone. If she lost her tiny room above the barn, she had nowhere to go.
It had been six days since the rape. Her bruises were healing but Lilith couldn’t sleep and felt she was losing her mind. The thought of talking to Jude Keenan horrified her. He was one of those smart, fast talking men who would be impatient while she strung words together. And what would she say? Even if Jude fired her tormentor, what would keep him from hurting her again. Surely he knew which room was hers?
She’d spent most of her life lonely, but if she had horses to ride, somehow it was okay. All she had was in this tiny 8’ x 6’ room and if she lost her room there would be nothing.
Lilith penciled out a list of people she might talk to:
The old man
The old man couldn’t hear or didn’t care and he hated trouble or drama. Security was completely out. When she pictured one of the officers, she couldn’t help focusing on the blue uniform and the gun. Just thinking about a man with a gun on his hip made her sweat. Her heart would beat and instead of making words come out of her mouth, her head would pound
The gun.” She knew she couldn’t talk to an armed man. Jude Keenan was almost as bad. He was so handsome, so polished. He talked loud and fast and used bad words that felt sharp and damaging. The only one left was Ann Garrison. Ann had never acknowledged Lilith’s presence and for that Lilith was grateful. She loved to admire Ann and would be embarrassed if Ann knew it. She’d tried to adopt Ann’s riding style – so confident, so relaxed. She’d even tried to mimic Ann’s walk, her bouncy, balls of her feet walk with the slight limp and her chin up and ready smile. But she knew Ann had no patience for timid exercise riders and on more than one occasion, had felt Ann’s snort of contempt as Lilith galloped by, her horses not under perfect control and of much lesser quality than anything Ann would ride.
No, there was nobody Lilith could bring herself to talk to. Whoever that horse was, he was gone now – likely to a match racing pit in the desert and then on his way to a Mexican slaughterhouse. The thought haunted Lilith on her seventh night in a row with no sleep. If it weren’t for the purring of the mother cat and her kittens in her room, Lilith knew she wouldn’t be able to survive another night.
Laying down next to the kittens Lilith hoped their purring would lull her to sleep. When her eyes closed she couldn’t separate herself from the horse she saw punched by her tormentor. She felt it as deeply as she had felt the kick from the same man. It sickened her. She rolled over and stroked the mama cat who smiled and arched to meet her hand.
The mercy of sleep closed in on Lilith and for the first time in six days, she slept.
She awoke five hours later to the sounds of shuffling horses and footsteps down the hallway in front of her room. Another day would start and she had two horses to ride for the old man.
With the advantage of a rested mind she settled on a plan of action. She couldn’t bring herself to talk to Ann Garrison, but she could write her a note. Maybe even an anonymous one. She drew out a few pages from a notebook she’d salvaged and opened the shoebox full of the pens and pencils she loved to collect. She rolled them around in the box feeling the sounds they made when they rolled over each other. Pencils in different shapes and sizes, pens with felt tips and roller balls and her favorite, the sharp smelling permanent markers with tops that made a satisfying “pop” when you uncapped them. She tried over twenty different stylus’ on the note paper, feeling each as it glided or ground over the paper surface. Pens that leaked were frustrating, pencils that slid too easily over the coated paper made a strange sound and feel. Those she lined up at the top left hand corner of the desk to be dealt with later. Markers were too thick, even for a title and their precious ink could seep through the paper. Those were relegated to another pile at the right hand corner. Ball points were tricky, if the ball jammed, a word could disappear into a barely visible dent in the paper and that could cause her writing to stop altogether. This was a job for a medium felt tip. She rummaged through the box and found a favorite, a dark brown medium felt tip with just the slightest fray in the tip. This might leave a tricky tail to her writing, but not if she positioned the pen carefully in her hand and didn’t press too hard and cause the tip to fray further. She placed the cap carefully on the top of the paper and drew a smooth “s” shape at the bottom corner of the page. She surveyed the mark carefully and repositioned the marker 1/4 turn counter clockwise and tried again. Much better.
You don’t know me.
Lilith stopped. The pen was not exactly right. Dark brown wouldn’t do for Ann Garrison. She needed blue – a deep blue. Brown was too angry. Lilith paused again. Maybe angry was the right color. Lilith hated her tormentor and Ann would hate him too when she understood what he had done. Maybe it was an angry letter. But what if Ann’s anger was toward Lilith and not to the man? Lilith paced the room. She sat at the desk and ran her fingers through the box of remaining pens. The sound and the feel of them quieted her somewhat. She realized that time was slipping by and that The old man would be expecting her. This would have to wait. She slowly placed each pen, pencil and marker back in the box, each item facing the same way. She allowed herself one more brush of her hand through the pens and pencils and relished the sound and feel of them in the cardboard box. She replaced the lid and placed it with reverence under her bed.
She waited until she couldn’t hear any footsteps by her door. Dressing quickly, she checked water and food for mama cat and stole quietly out the door pulling her gloves and helmet on and hurrying silently to her barn.
The old man grunted when she approached looking disgustedly at his watch. He was holding the young gray by the bridle. Avoiding his eyes as she normally did, she approached man and beast and the old man legged her up onto the gray’s thin back. She tightened the girth left and right as the old man turned them both loose towards the track. The gray jerked nervously, slinging his head side to side and Lilith exhaled and pretended for all she was worth, to be Ann Garrison. She stood in her stirrups and rocked the saddle back and forth to check the saddle for tightness. The gray was agitated. He snorted and Lilith touched the edge of the saddle cloth, it was dark brown, like the ink. Angry. She sat up forgetting the gray’s perpetually sore back and he lifted his head and started bouncing angrily. Other riders passed her on their way to the track chatting aimlessly with other riders, singing loudly, laughing. Lilith exhaled loudly and the gray echoed her exhale with a frustrated snort and he took off awkwardly toward the track. Lilith silently begged the gray to relax and almost panicked when he nearly collided head on with a horse and rider coming back to the track.
“You stupid bitch – watch where you are going!” Lilith ducked, grabbing the gray’s reins tightly and hustled to the track. She headed right out galloping, not taking the time to backtrack to the right on the track’s outside rail but found open space in the middle of the track to let the angry horse move. Rhythm would calm them both. Lilith stood in the stirrups with a steady grip on the reins. They gray was still too agitated, his head high, his strides crooked. Lilith cheated and tipped his head hard to the left, the gelding pitched sideways, growling. Lilith heard a wall of workers pounding up the track behind her four horses across. Whips were cracking as the riders and horses pushed the final eighth of a mile in a speed drill. Lilith would have to fade right to keep her horse out of their way but that meant straightening his head and asking for another runaway horse.
Lilith’s body still hurt, her hip was badly bruised and each jarring stride of the crooked horse caused pain to shoot through down her leg. She blinked slowly and could feel the pain in her horse’s thigh as well, felt the nervousness and near panic in his body as the wall of horses closed in on them both. She was in that space again where everything in her and everything in the horse was wrong, wrong wrong.
She needed to find something right. Above her, she tuned into the birdsong floating overhead. She could pick apart their voices, the trills and the cawing, the whistles and the stops in between. She and the horse were now breathing, hearing, floating. His body straightened, his head dropped, they both sunk into a rhythm where nobody else existed, just the birds and them. His gallop developed a bubbling of energy, up and down not down and out. She never wanted this gallop to end. The gray was breathing quietly his body and hers dusted with a light warming sweat. She could feel the trilling and whistles of the birds overhead vibrating in her shoulders and throat. A soft “mmmmmm” escaped her.
“Tis a beautiful morning’ Miss” A male voice jerked her out of her reverie. Alongside her was Charlie Clahain galloping a rangy bay horse. He was too close, his smile too clean, Lilith braked hard, turned her horse around and hurried off the track.
The old man grabbed the bridle just outside the barn as Lilith vaulted off patting the gray’s sweaty shoulder. He nodded at Lilith once and she nodded back. Everything they needed to communicate was addressed. She stripped the tack off the horse and carried it back to the barn pausing twice, once to dip the bit into the solution of water and disinfectant and once to drop the saddle cloth into the bucket of laundry. She picked up a fresh saddle cloth and brought the tack to the stall of the black mare and began to tack her. The mare jerked back hard when Lilith went to bridle her. Lilith stopped and slowly ran her hand up the mare’s nose towards her ears. The mare ground her teeth. Lilith closed her eyes, planted her feet and felt a hotness in her jaws and a saltiness in her mouth. She ran her fingers in the groove below the mare’s ear and followed it down and then forward under the mare’s chin. The mare’s head relaxed, her eyes drooped. There was something wrong in there. But Lilith cringed at the thought of telling the old man the mare was hurting and worried even more about the old man ignoring her and sending them both to the track anyhow and she knew she would need the additional $15 for the gallop money to keep mama in cat food and another box of cereal for herself. Lilith crooned to the mare and slipped her fingers in the mare’s mouth, the surprised animal snorted when Lilith slipped the bridle on. She gently led the mare out of the barn and accepted the leg up from the old man and headed toward the track, the mare’s teeth grinding set her entire body on edge and she knew she had to listen to the horse. Knowing the old man was too old and crippled to follow them to the track to watch them gallop, Lilith ducked around a quiet corner, dismounted the mare and they walked the perimeter of the barns for the next 20 minutes never going close to the racetrack.[ Lilith witnesses Ann’s wreck – Charlie/Paul was trying to flirt with Lilith when his horse spooks and flips ]