My name is Maya Daniels and I am a student of creative writing at Macalester College in St. Paul. I read Ms. Houston’s book, Cowboys Are My Weakness, last semester when I was taking some time off school and loved it. I grew up in rural Montana and even the parts that didn’t directly remind me of home still resonated. I saw on the website that you’re looking for someone to type up an excerpt from Cowboys Are My Weakness, so I took a break from studying for midterms to type up an end section of “What Shock Heard.”
What Shock Heard
I spent a lot of time imagining his homecoming. I’d make up the kind of scenes in my head I knew would never happen, the kind that never happen to anyone, where the man gets out of the car so fast he tears his jacket, and when he lifts the woman up against the sky she is so light that she thinks she may be absorbed into the atmosphere.
I had just come back from a four-hour ride when his truck did pull up to the barn, six weeks to the day from when he left. He got out slow as ever, and then went around back to where he kept his carrots. From the tack-room window I watched him rub Jesse and feed him, pick up one of his front hooves, run his fingers through his tail.
I wanted to look busy but I’d just got done putting everything away so I sat on the floor and started oiling my tack and then wished I hadn’t because of what I’d smell like when he saw me. It was fifteen minutes before he even came looking, and I had the bridle apart, giving it the oil job of its life. He put his hands on the doorjamb and smiled big.
“Put that thing back together and come riding with me,” he said.
“I just got back,” I said. “Jesse and I’ve been all over.”
“That’ll make it easier for you to beat me on your horse,” he said. “Come on, it’s getting dark earlier every night.”
He stepped over me and pulled his saddle off the rack, and I put the bridle back together as fast as I could. He was still ready before I was and he stood real close while I tried to make Shock behave and get tacked up and tried not to let me hands shake when I fastened the buckles.
Then we were out in the late sunshine and it was like he’d never left, except this time he was galloping before he hit the end of the driveway.
“Let’s see that horse run,” he called to me, and Jesse shot across the road and the creek trail and plunged right through the middle of the wheat field. The wheat was so tall I could barely see Zeke’s head, but the footing was good and Shock was gaining on him. I thought about the farmer who’d shoot us if he saw us, and I thought about all the hours I’d spent on Jesse keeping him in shape so that Zeke could come home and win another race. The sky was black to the west and coming in fast, and I tried to remember if I’d heard a forecast and to feel if there was any direction to the wind. Then we were out in a hay field that had just been cut and rolled, and it smelled so strong and sweet it made me light-headed and I thought maybe we weren’t touching ground at all but flying along above it, buoyed up by the fragrance and the swirl of the wind. I drove Shock straight at a couple of bales that were tied together and made her take them, and she did but by the time we hit the irrigation ditch we’d lost another couple of seconds on Zeke.
I felt the first drops of rain and tried to yell up to Zeke, but the wind came up suddenly and blasted my voice back into my mouth. I knew there was no chance of catching him then, but I dug my heels in and yipped a little and Shock dug in even harder, but then I felt her front hoof hit a gopher hole and the bottom dropped out and she went down and I went forward over her neck and then she came down over me. My face hit first and I tasted blood and a hoof came down on the back of my head and I heard reins snap and waited for another hoof to hit, but then it was quiet and I knew she had cleared me. At least I’m not dead, I thought, but my head hurt too bad to even move.
I felt the grit inside my mouth and thought of Zeke galloping on across the prairie, enclosed in the motion, oblivious to my fall. It would be a mile, maybe two, before he slowed down and looked behind him, another before he’d stop, aware of my absence, and come back for me.
I opened one eye and saw Shock grazing nearby, broken reins hanging uneven below her belly. If she’d re-pulled the tendon in her fetlock it would be weeks, maybe months, before I could ride with him again. My mouth was full of blood and my lips were swelling so much it was running out the sides, though I kept my jaw clamped and my head down. The wind was coming in little gusts now, interrupted by longer and longer periods of calm, but the sky was getting darker and I lifted my head to look for Zeke. I got dizzy, and I closed my eyes and tried to breathe regularly. In what seemed like a long time I started to hear a rhythm in my head in my head and I pressed my ear into the dust and I knew it was Zeke coming back across the field at a gallop, balanced and steady, around the holes and over them. Then I heard his boots hit ground. He tied Jesse first, and then caught Shock, which was smart, I guess, and then he knelt next to my head and I opened the eye that wasn’t in the dirt and he smiled and put his hands on his knees.
“Your mouth,” he said, without laughing, but I knew what I must’ve looked like, so I raised up on one elbow and started to tell him I was okay and he said,
“Don’t talk. It’ll hurt.”
And he was right, it did, but I kept on talking and soon I was telling him about the pain in my mouth and the back of my head and what Billy had done that day in the barn, and the ghosts I carry with me. Blood was coming out with the words and pieces of tooth, and I kept talking till I told him everything, but when I looked at his face I knew all I’d done was make the gap wider with the words I’d picked so carefully that he didn’t want to hear. The wind started up again and the rain was getting steady.
I was crying then, but not hard, and you couldn’t tell through all the dirt and blood, and the rain and the noise the wind was making. I was crying, I think, but I wanted to laugh because he would have said there weren’t any words for what I didn’t tell him, and that was that I loved him and even more I loved the prairie that wouldn’t let you hide anything, even if you wanted to.