rusty horseshoeTitle: The Shed
Author: Elizabeth Wade
Category: Nonfiction
I should have known that it was going to be weird when Colin asked “Is it going to be weird?” I should have remembered how, in the days after the mammogram, he would run his fingers across my clavicle, then straight down the valley of my sternum, as if he feared that by touching the thing that felt like a seed in my breast, he would cause it to germinate and blossom inside my body. I should have remembered that I am not always the one who is reserved. But standing in the kitchen the night before, these things did not come to mind, and when the relative hosting our visit to Kentucky asked, “Wanna see a Derby winner?” I never considered saying no. So there we were, up at dawn on a Sunday morning, piling out of the cab of the horse van as our host unloaded his mare.

Like the Coast Guard, the teaser is always ready. He snorts and whinnies, bares his teeth, unsheathes and displays himself. Unlike the Coast Guard, he is never deployed. He has the worst job on any farm—testing to see if mares will be receptive to the stud’s advances. This mare proved eager, teasing so quickly that although Colin was watching, he did not seem to realize what had happened, how she had been led to a grate in the stall and placed nose to nose with the teaser, how her tail rose, how her breathing grew audible.

As the grooms washed the mare, we stood outside, watching the dappled Kentucky Derby winner trot down the lane that connected his paddock to the breeding shed, his neck arched, his erection bobbing with each stride. (When rigid, a Thoroughbred’s penis can measure approximately two feet long. I knew this from growing up around horses, but I had forgotten that it can seem sensational until I heard Colin whisper, “Fuck.”) I’d also forgotten the hobbling—how grooms put a leather strap around the mare’s front leg, holding it up so she cannot kick the stallion. And I’d forgotten the twitch—the rope or chain used to grab the mare’s upper lip, then to twist it, thus controlling her head and preventing her from bolting.

When it happened, it happened quickly. The stallion settled on the mare’s back, grunted and thrust. She stood, hobbled and twitched. The horses’ owners talked about sports. I explained to Colin, helpfully, I believed, that this was not properly called mating or coupling or even fucking; according to Jockey Club language, it was a cover. Colin did not comment. The stallion’s tail flagged, shooting up into the air and signaling ejaculation. His owner said, “Call me in the morning,” hopeful that the veterinarian would send a positive report, that this time the mare would catch, would harbor a foal that would stand and nurse some eleven months later, a colt that would win stakes races and bolster his sire’s stud fee.

On the way to the stallion farm, the mare’s hooves had drummed out a rhythm on the back wall of the trailer, registering her anger at being separated from her foal, perhaps, or her confusion from being tranquilized. Colin had leaned across my lap, straining to hear our host’s words. On the return trip, though, the mare was subdued, and I noticed a strip of cracked green vinyl visible on the seat between my right leg and Colin’s left thigh. Above the diesel’s hum I heard a peal of church bells sounding out across the Bluegrass hills, calling people to come and be cleansed.

Elizabeth Wade holds degrees from Davidson College and the University of Alabama. Her work appears in or is forthcoming from Kenyon Review Online, DIAGRAM, Oxford American, and others. She lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and teaches literature and writing courses at the University of Mary Washington.