Only a couple of grooms knew Roxy was sleeping in one of the rooms above barn 104 since she’d left Tony. She’d scrubbed the urine and beer smells from the floors and borrowed a cot. She’d salvaged two sawhorses and a slab of plywood to place on top for a worktable. Light was a problem. The small barred window let in little daylight and the overhead bulb with it’s stark fluorescent glare threw dark shadows. She’d purchased an outdoor flood light from the local hardware store and other than the uncomfortable amount of heat it generated, it worked.
Roxy unwrapped the block of new clay. She arranged an oilcloth on the table and switched on the lamp. She laid out her precious knives, pointed sticks, sponges and wires and set to work.
The wires would create the frame for her to work around. Finding wire with the perfect balance of flexibility and tension was tricky. Over the years. she’d tried all different gauges of wire and always came back to the wire that bound hay bales. Twenty years ago, hay was wrapped in three strands of wire. These days, hay and straw were almost always bound in nylon twine. She’d hoarded these now special wires in an old duffle bag for as long as she could remember. She took a bundle and started snipping off segments. She arranged them in a pile with some bits up to two feet long and others as small as 4”. Expertly, she began to twist them together and within minutes a stick figure of a horse appeared – neck, back, ribcage, tail, legs, head and even ears were depicted. Roxy held the figure at arms length, assessing – the back was too long. She took it apart and snipped a minuscule amount from one wire, reassembled it and was satisfied. She crimped the wire to indicate joints and parts where legs joined hips, where forelegs became shoulders. She used pliers to create the joining and the joints. She worked from memory and feel. There were no photos of horses on the walls, no models of horse skeletons to use for reference. Horse bodies were part of Roxy’s make-up. She knew their bones better than her own.
She took the clay, slightly warm now from the heat of the lamp, broke off a corner and rubbed it between her palms. It became pliable, softer and alive in her hands. She squeezed and molded. She wrapped the clay around the center wire. Too thin. She removed it, added more clay and repeated the process, forming the back, the legs, the chest, neck, head and tail.
Roxy played with clay since she was a little girl. She made forms with dough, with mud, with the colored plastic-like clay that smelled like crayons. She loved to squeeze and roll and manipulate. She’d tried art classes in school, but drawing bored her and painting was frustrating. She bought some books on sculpture 25 years ago and had been molding and playing ever since. She’d tried to sculpt faces and vases, even a bird, but all that ever came out was horses. She loved making muscles flow over broad backs and creating motion that trickled down the fragile legs but mostly, she loved carving and changing their expression. By swiveling the head or raising it a notch and making nostrils just that much bigger, she could change a relaxed horse to one on alert. By reforming the neck, the horse could become tense or angry. She could show agitation and then make subtle changes to show the animal in repose.
In this space, with nothing but the light and the clay wrapped around wire, she was quiet. She could shut the world out and nothing existed except what she was creating. If she didn’t like the creation she could change it and if she didn’t like that, she could destroy it. This treasured time was hers and hers alone.
Her last few pieces ended badly. She’d had a vision of what she wanted in them but what appeared didn’t measure up. There was no plan this time. Just a burning desire to build something new.
Now that the basic structure of a standing horse was made, she began to move it. It stretched forward – running. She lowered the neck and stretched the nose out. Nothing new – a racing horse. Disappointing. She thought there was something fresh in this project. She wanted to happen – something dangerous or fearful. She couldn’t tell what. It was a delicious and exciting burning in her belly that scared and excited her. She’d promised herself to let go and see what appeared. She craved an outlet for the angry and sad energy of her day. Something to take her mind off thinking of the enraged face of Jude Keenan accusing her wrongly after all of her herculean efforts to help – all of her help thrown savagely in her face. She hurt.
What was happening looked like a score of others she’d done. A horse, running hard, stretching. This was a handsome horse for sure. A male horse, a young stallion; thick in the throat and broad in the shoulders. He was big too. Long, athletic and mighty. Her hands reshaped the loins and she started the intricate details such as the protruding veins of a strong, fit and healthy racehorse. She formed the clay for the head, held it in her hands and began shaping it with her knife. He had a chiseled muzzle, she pressed and made the space between his eyes even thicker, his jaws fierce – definitely a young stallion. His expression emerged; his nostrils brought in more air than seemed possible. Her breath caught. She stared. She hadn’t expected it to be Invictus. But there he was in her hand, breathing fire and running. She committed to letting the muse take over. She made the ears slightly smaller and added bulk to the body. She shaped the legs – her mind not seeing, but feeling their shape, the definition of the forearm, the width of the carpus the curve of the sesamoid and the flatness of the hoof. She realized that tears were streaming down her face as she formed the stride she knew Invictus would never take again in real form. She reshaped the size of his chest filled with air that was fueling his muscles.
Where was Invictus now? At the vet hospital filled with tranquilizers as they filmed another angle of his injured foot? Standing under a horseshoer who was attaching an orthopedic pad to his shoe to support his injury? Pacing a stall oblivious to the pain as he tried desperately to figure out where he was and what his new surroundings meant? Packed in a horse trailer en route to a retirement home or euthanized and laying on a concrete floor awaiting the autopsy to determine the full amount of that crazy woman’s insurance settlement?
Where was Jude? In the arms of his Barbie doll girlfriend? At the bottom of an excellent bottle of scotch? At Ann’s bedside telling her all the news of how Roxy Ayers ruined everything? Life trickled back into Roxy’s secret hiding space with a vengeance. Tony, no doubt was fucking his new vet and counting all the money his new owner would bring him.
Roxy pushed back from her worktable. She wanted a cigarette. She wanted a joint. She looked at her creation and it was good. Really good. It was Invictus, in all his rage and power. Roxy thought about the wind whipping through her helmet as the track opened up in front of them. They were flying. Rather, Invictus was flying and she was less than a passenger, she was along for the ride like an uninvited guest. Roxy thought about the moment she picked up the reins. He stomach clenched. She swallowed hard and took the right front leg of her clay form in her hands. Roxy reached over and lifted the chin of the clay model just a hair. She sniffled once and with care and deliberate movement she placed her thumb on the right front knee and felt the wire give. It was bent ever so slightly back. A greasy sweat broke out over her shoulder blades. She had frozen the moment in clay.
This piece was finished.