Genevive hates horse shows. She and her daughter, Paige, have risen well before the sun to prepare for this one. The cold is bitter and they have waited for hours. Genevive stands in the drafty arena which reeks of manure. She spots Paige, who enters the ring on a large mare. The horse’s name is Cover Girl and her coat is the color of milk chocolate. Cover Girl’s long neck is stretching forward as she places one hoof gracefully in front of the other.
“Trot your horses, please. Trot.”
Paige digs into Cover Girl’s sides and posts, lifting her bottom up and out of the saddle and down into it again with the mare’s chopping gait. Paige’s hair is pulled back in a bun and caught in a net under her black velvet riding helmet. Smile, Genevive instructs her silently. The only sound in the frigid show ring is the thudding of hoofs in the soft dirt.
Horses scare Genevive. They bite, step on her feet, rear up and throw her daughter off. But Paige talks about them as though they are human. Therefore, mother and daughter have bathed this mare, braided her mane, brushed out her tail and kept her company all morning and into the afternoon, waiting for Paige’s division to compete.
Genevive surveys the ring’s perimeter. She does not see Paul anywhere. “Canter please. Canter your horses.”
Paige pushes her heels into the horse’s flesh again, and glides into a faster pace. She bends slightly forward, out of the saddle, and holds herself still. Genevive watches with her teeth clenched. Her daughter’s number, 52, is printed in a big square tied to her back.
It is Sunday. Genevive has told Paul how to get to the show and what time Paige will be competing. But she doesn’t see him. She knows he wouldn’t be working, and is certainly not at church.
“Walk your horses, please. Walk.”
Cover Girl slows down almost instantly and Paige appears to relax with her mare.
“Line up, please, numbers facing the judge.”
This is it, thinks Genevive. The girls are trying to still their mounts. She knows each is hoping to hear her name. She watches the riders who have placed sixth through second lean down from their perches in their saddles to accept their ribbons. Genevive’s toes are beginning to sting from the cold.
“First place, number 52, Paige McIntyre on Cover Girl.”
Genevive’s gloved hands cover her mouth. She won! For a moment she does not think about Paul. But the moment passes, and her joy is laced with anger.
She met him at happy hour one Friday, nearBaltimore’sInnerHarbor. Theresa, who danced with Genevive for the same ballet company, knew about him. Theresa had told her that Paul was one to avoid, that he had a wife.
A few weeks after she met him, Genevive shared greasy French fries with Paul at an all night diner. She liked hers plain, with just a little salt. But Paul poured ketchup everywhere and she cringed at the too sweet tomato flavor. Paul finished the ketchupy fries and did not appear to notice that she had stopped eating.
“Congratulations, Paige!” Her gloves make a soft “thud” sound as she claps. Paige glides Cover Girl over to her, and hands Genevive the blue ribbon.
“Where’s Dad?” Paige asks. Her forehead is wrinkled.
“I don’t know, honey.”
“But you told him to come, didn’t you?”
“I can’t remember, Paige. You better go line up. Good luck!” Genevive winks at her daughter as Paige holds out a black gloved pinky finger that Genevive hooks with her own. Genevive stamps her feet and adjusts her scarf. She is so cold she wants to walk around. But Paige will be the first to jump, and she can’t miss it.
It was a cold, winter night when Paul finally crawled under the flannel sheets of Genevive’s bed. A decade had passed by then and Paul had continued to show up sporadically at Friday night happy hours. Sixteen months after they first met, Genevive’s ballet company folded. Paul drove Genevive downtown to his empty office, on a Saturday, to let her use his IBM Selectric and type up a résumé. He knew someone who set up her interview with the ballet school where Genevive found a job. In the next few years, he met her frequently with his dog, after her ballet classes were completed. They took the Chesapeake Bay retriever to Wyman Park behind the Hopkins campus, near Genevive’s ballet school. She had never done anything more than kiss his cheek, but her emotions had grown, and she harbored what she thought was a one sided desire for Paul.
“Hey, Genevive!” Patrick, another rider’s father, walks up to her. He has a woolen skull cap pulled down over his ears, and a ski jacket zipped up to his chin. “Congratulations to Paige.”
“Thanks, Patrick,” Genevive stamps her feet again. “How are you? How’s Lindsey?”
“Good, fine. How about you?”
“So. So,” Genevive replies.
“Uh, oh. Paige’s dad is not here, is he?”
“Nope.” Genevive hugs herself, and rocks on her heels to keep warm.
Patrick has listened – more times than Genevive can count – to her stories about Paul. Last spring, the fields were lush and several shades of green emerged all around them. Patrick’s daughter, Lindsey, and Paige were cantering their horses in a lesson both he and Genevive were watching. The buds on the trees bloomed with light, delicate flowers, so soft it looked like snow covered the branches.
“I just do not understand him.” Patrick slapped the side of the wooden plank used to fence in the ring, startling the horses. Genevive had just told Patrick about her invitation for Paul to come to Paige’s induction into the National Junior Honor Society. Paul stood them up, and Genevive never told Paige she’d invited him.
In the cold arena, Patrick shakes his head, “I’m sorry, Genevive, I’ll go get us some hot coffee to warm our bones.”
Genevive focuses on the ring when Patrick leaves. Paige appears again and she leads her mare in a circle, picks up a trot and turns the horse toward the first of five jumps. The jumps are made of wooden boards, painted white and crossed at an “x” under another bar that is between two and three feet high.
Genevive hears Paul’s familiar, deep voice behind her. She doesn’t turn until Paige has safely and expertly cleared the first jump.
“Hi,” Genevive whispers. He is not dressed for the horse show. He wears good shoes that are getting covered with dirt, and a suit under a black cashmere overcoat. “That’s Paige jumping right now,” she explains, turning back to the ring.
Paige and Cover Girl clear every jump with what appears to be such grace, Genevive thinks it would fool anyone into believing it is easy. When they finish, Paige grins at Genevive and Paul. Her teeth, in braces, are hidden behind tightly closed lips.
“Well, gotta go,” Paul says, after Paige leaves the ring.
“Now? You just got here. Paige has another class,” Genevive whispers.
“Genevive, I have a family obligation,” Paul speaks slowly.
“You’re not even going to say hello to Paige?”
“I can’t. I really have to go,” Paul leans in toward Genevive and whispers to her, “She’s my wife.”
“And I’m not!” Genevive spits out each word.
Paul shrugs, spreads his leather gloved hands, palms out, and backs away from her.
Genevive feels her head snap and scream with bright, fire-colored flashes of pain. It is too familiar. The same hurt, mixed with anger, filled her thoughts when she sat next to the empty auditorium seat she’d saved for Paul. The pride she’d struggled to hold onto for Paige’s National Junior Honor Society achievement kept fading each time someone asked her if Paul’s seat was taken. When her own mother missed her performance as Aurorain Sleeping Beauty, Genevive’s anger had been just as intense. She was nine years old and her mom had gone on a date with some guy instead.
A horse, rearing up and screeching, catches her attention. It’s actually a reddish gold Chincoteague pony, shying at a blue plastic grocery bag blowing in the entranceway to the arena. Genevive remembers the pony’s name is Henry. A small, thin girl, in an ill fitting riding jacket, falls off Henry into the dusty, brown dirt. Genevive has seen Henry shy at a grocery bag before. Paige has also ridden him. Paige yanked at Henry’s rein and spoke to him in a clear, firm voice. The pony had actually stopped fretting and allowed Paige to guide him past the plastic bag. Genevive is surprised that the pony continues to shy.
Usually, Paul’s knocks on Genevive’s front door come long after Paige has gone to bed. Genevive lets him in with a trembling hand, and his touch never fails to excite her. Each time, she checks on Paige to be certain that she’s asleep before she returns to him, locking her own bedroom door.
For more than a year, Genevive and Paul had conversed only through lawyers. His drunken phone call came in late February, when Paige was seven months old. “Can you ever forgive me?” Paul had asked her.
Patrick, strolls back up to her, handing her a white styrofoam cup of black coffee. “So, was that him?”
Genevive grips the coffee in her free hand and takes one scalding sip. The coffee’s smell is comforting and its aroma seeps into the shock of Paul’s departure.
“Yes,” Genevive nods.
“Going to go congratulate Paige?” Patrick asks.
Genevive looks at Patrick. He returns her gaze and smiles at her as he waits for her to answer. Genevive is still clutching Paige’s blue ribbon in her other hand, and she realizes Paul didn’t even notice it. “No.”
Patrick grunts, “Huh.” He swings one of his large, meaty arms around Genevive’s shoulders. They both turn back to the ring at the same time. Coffee warms them as they each place their lips on their cup’s rim.
Caryn Coyle writes about arts, culture and food for the websites CBS Baltimore and Welcome to Baltimore, Hon. Her fiction has been published in a dozen literary journals including Gargoyle, JMWW, The Little Patuxent Review, Loch Raven Review, Midway Journal, The Journal (Santa Fe) and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore from City Lit Press. She won the 2009 Maryland Writers Association Short Fiction Award, third prize in the first Delmarva Review Short Story Contest, 2011 and honorable mentions for her fiction from the Missouri Writer’s Guild (2011) and the St. Louis Writer’s Guild (2012).