By Chris Garson

Copyright 2013 Chris Garson

Dust cakes the woman’s jodhpurs.  The khaki pants hug her thighs tight like Charles hugged Lady Di before the divorce.  Once shiny boots, black and genuine leather, with thick heels and ankle straps latched onto silver rings come up to her knees.  A wrinkly white Oxford is mostly tucked in at the waist.  She has that winded look, tired as a worn down mountain with jagged crags smoothed into glass.

I imagine her riding the trail hard, grinding fallen saguaro and desert flowers into pulp beneath galloping hoof and crunching hastily abandoned beer cans into aluminum croutons to top the sandy desert.  She follows a rainbow hawk overhead to an airstrip used by drug runners from the Mexican cartel until they ran into DEA sharpshooters.

Mr. Rudolph gallops up a cloud of dust, shell casings and bits of rubber from a prop plane’s tires.  She named the horse for the adagio dancer, not the more famous reindeer.  As a little girl, she fell in love with Valentino after watching The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with Grandpa Chappy over a year of Saturdays, always with Billie Holiday playing in the background.

She practices dressage, leaping over wing, fuselage and broken landing gear like an Olympian, refusing to let her western saddle interfere.  She learned to ride at Cowboy Joe’s, trotting and bouncing across the desert.  Posting came later, after she and Davey played hooky and learned the difference between boys and girls.  When they found out, her parents sent her to an all girl boarding school back East, where the saddles had no horns.

Mr. Rudolph prances like his namesake and flicks his tail in pride after hurdling over a wrecked cockpit buttressed by tumbleweeds.  She leans over, pets his sweaty neck, and whispers.  I strain to hear.

“Table or booth?” she asks.

I blink.  The crowded restaurant patio coalesces into vision like a mirage.  The crash of glass slipping from a busboy’s hand shatters what remains of the illusion.  “I beg your pardon?” I crack.  My voice is dry and parched, like I’d spent the day in the desert.

“Table or booth?” she says again.

“Either’s fine,” I answer, wishing I still had my daydream.  “How long a wait?”

“Shouldn’t be more than five or ten minutes.”  She flashes a toothy grin, the same one I imagined her wearing when she and Mr. Rudolph won gold.  “You can wait here or at the bar.”

“Nice boots,” I say.  “And those pants!  Are they comfortable?”

“They’re called jodhpurs.”  She twists her hips, showing them off perfectly.  “I got them on sale at TJ Maxx.”

“Do they help when you’re riding?”

“Riding?”  Her face wrinkles like a chubby kid learning that low-fat food contains calories.  “Never been on a horse.”

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