By Jennifer Shneiderman
The quarter horse’s coat is shining in the sun like a freshly peeled buckeye seed. It is only 8:30 and already the humidity is up. The riding instructor, Dottie, guides the horse about by the reins, her tan muscular arms and rough hands revealing the physicality of farm life. Dottie wipes her brow with a red bandana. The suffocating Northwest Ohio heat will hover until evening when the fireflies glimmer and the sweet smell of corn washes over land cut into quilt-like agricultural squares. The buzzing of cryptic annual cicadas pulses and heaves in the heavy air.
Dottie watches as I became more confident, going around the ring, relaxing slightly into the saddle and going a little faster with each revolution. The horse trots and my internal organs adjust to the jerking movement. Next, I learn how to navigate a bridge obstacle. Dottie places a wooden platform, made of worn gray boards, on the ground. I practice having the horse step up, cross and descend. The platform is only a few inches tall, so it feels simple enough.
Suddenly, the trainer excuses herself. “I have to make a quick call,” she says abruptly. “Is that okay?” I’m too surprised to object. Sometimes, my Midwestern politeness gets in my way, to the point of endangerment. I watch her retreating figure as she hops over the fence and makes a beeline for a little white house by the weathered barn.
I sit for a while, the horse shifting, the only sound the creak of the leather saddle. I am grateful for the bit of breeze that blows through my hair and cools my reddening cheeks. I consider taking a turn around the ring on my own. I want to make progress quickly. My sister, two years older, is an avid horsewoman who disappears during these short hometown visits to go riding with her high school friends. I desperately want to join them and develop the close relationship with my sister that passed us by in our youth.
My heels dig into the horse’s flanks and I make that clicking sound with my tongue. We reach the small platform and I guide the horse on top of it. The horse’s hoof stamps down on the planks, too close to the edge, and the platform flips high in the air. The horse rears and takes off at a gallop across the field. The world goes violently sideways, blurring and jerking as the horse bucks and convulses. I fly off, hit my head and elbow and land on my back. I become acutely aware that I’m not wearing a helmet.
I lay on the ground, my head and back throbbing, my elbow a mess of dirt, grass and blood. Dottie comes running, sprinting across the field and calling my name. She reaches me, sees that I am conscious and puts her hands on her hips.
She advises sternly, “You really should get back on the horse. Otherwise, you’re gonna be scared to ride again.”
I feel a stiffness come over me, and I tell her I think I should see a doctor first. She shrugs noncommittally and, with perhaps a hint of disdain, watches me get up and limp to my rental car.
I gingerly climb into the drivers seat, my lower back throbbing. I’m not sure where to go for an exam. My family doctor died years ago. I drive to my father’s office. He works for the local newspaper, so he would know of the local businesses and medical treatment facilities. I stumble past the front office staff and they stare at me from behind their computer screens. My father is sitting at his desk engaged in what sounds like a printing press lease negotiation. I point to my bloody, pebble- encrusted elbow and he gestures toward a chair with his chin. I slowly sit down, cupping my left elbow in my right palm. I wait as he continues, his voice low and his eyes averted. I touch my head and feel the blades of grass and dirt matted in my hair. I pull them out with my fingers and drop the debris in a metal waste can. After about 10 minutes, I knock on his desk with my knuckle to get his attention. He holds up his index finger sharply for me to wait.
I get up and go to an empty desk in the front office and take out a phone book. I find an urgent care center on the edge of town and drive the mile and a quarter. The terse receptionist is leery about treating anyone from out of town, even if an insurance card is produced. She wants payment up front. I give her my Visa card and sit uncomfortably in a plastic chair. There are a few other people in the waiting room and we watch the news on a TV mounted on the wall. Madonna is being rescued from her own violent equestrian encounter. She was thrown from a horse on her English country estate, cracking three ribs and breaking her collarbone and a hand. Comparisons are drawn to Christopher Reeves’ catastrophic accident, disability and eventual death. It dawns on me that I am getting off easy.
Finally, the doctor examines me and sends me for an X-ray. My elbow is fine and I don’t have a concussion. But my pelvis has a hairline fracture, painful but not requiring surgery, that resembles the Ohio Interstate 70 undulating horizontal line.
I cut my trip short. Driving out of town the next afternoon, I pass my high school, a one story brick building surrounded by green corn stalks and bordered by a creek that overflows in the spring. I pull over and listen to the siren song of the male cicadas. They will return next year, the females forever silent, the deafening vibration of their hollow drum insides washing over the fields.
Jennifer Shneiderman is a writer and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Indolent Book’s HIV Here and Now, The Rubbertop Review, Writers Resist, the Poetry in the Time of COVID-19, Vol 2, anthology, Variant Literature, Bright Flash Literary Review, Trouvaille Review, Montana Mouthful, the Daily Drunk, Sybil Journal, Unique Poetry, Anti-Heroin Chic, Terror House, Thirteen Myna Birds, Potato Soup Journal, Awakened Voices, GreenPrints, Prospectus, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, and The Perch. She was the recipient of an Honorable Mention in the 2020 Laura Riding Jackson poetry competition.
This past year has been remarkable, in the best and worst of ways. (Her)oics Anthology is a collection of essays by women about the lived pandemic experience. Documenting the experiences of women both on the front lines and in their private lives, this book is an important record of the power, strength and ingenuity of women.