Jean stared back, dumbfounded. Standing here, surrounded by horses, with Chopper nuzzling her neckâit all felt so right. Chopper lowered his head and nudged at Jean's side and Jean instinctively reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a lump of sugar. She must have put that there the last time she went out with Cracker. Once more the past rose up before her eyesâthe loud crack, then Cracker falling, whinnying in pain, the blood, and a blood-spattered Cathy looking on in horror. Could she let herself be near horses again? Stalling, she asked, “Whose horses are these?”
The woman pointed up at a sign over the entryway as she replied, “These are the New York Police Stables. Mounted Policewoman Midge O'Brien, at your service. So how about it?”
Jean's thoughts of reentering the world of horses were doused with cold water. She thought about the raids, about the times her friends would show up at the bar the next day with a black eye or a broken arm. Jean knew it was only a matter of time before she ended up in a paddy wagon. Back in Doylestown she'd really believed all that business about serving and protecting. Sheriff Taylor had even been a friend of the family. Then came that last night when he showed up at the house to warn her that if she didn't steer clear of Cathy, she'd find herself in jail.
Jean's throat tightened. “I'm not interested in working with horses,” she said quickly.
Midge looked quizzically at Jean. “Won't you reconsider? I've been trying to get rid of Tommy for months, but I could never come up with a suitable replacement.” Midge added with a wink, “ 'Til now!”
“I'm telling you, you've got the wrong woman,” said Jean desperately. She knew that now was the time to walk away, but she couldn't quite yet. Something held her in that peaceful stable. “What happened to your leg?” she asked, trying to change the subject.
The blue eyes darkened and looked away. “Trouble on the job,” Midge managed to get out before something caught in her throat.
Jean waited awkwardly, while Midge collected herself.
“Couple weeks back, me and Lucky, that's my . . . that was my partner, we went by a liquor store just as it was being robbed.” Midge turned away for a moment. When she turned back, she resumed her story in clipped tones. “The perpetrator fled the scene of the crime and Lucky and I pursued him. We cornered him in a blind alley and I ordered the perp to surrender. He drew a weapon and shot.” Again Midge paused. “The bullet would have hit me, but Lucky reared up and took the bullet himself. We went down with Lucky on top, and I ended up with a sprained ankle.” Midge gestured at her leg.
“And Lucky?” Jean asked.
“Lucky wasn't so lucky,” said Midge, her voice rough with emotion. “He never got up again. I'm officially off duty until my ankle heals up, but I spend most of my time down here, getting to know Chopper. He's my new partner.”
Jean didn't know what to say. This woman had lost her horse too, yet here she was, preparing to go back on the streets on a new mount. There was a courage to it that Jean had to admire. Chopper blew out his breath in a comfortable snort, and the sound went straight to Jean's heart. She looked at the horse, a tall light-colored chestnut with a white blaze down his face. Something in his sensitive, intelligent eyes made her feel as if she'd found a kindred spirit.
“You know, I'm kind of in the lurch, now that I've fired Tommy,” Midge said, watching Jean look at Chopper. “Me and my redheaded temper! You'd help me out a lot if you could fill inâjust temporarily, of course.”
Something in Jean that she could not control made her respond, “Well . . . just temporarily.”
The Stonewall Inn was hopping that night, and Jean had trouble keeping her eyes open as she sat on her stool by the door. Tony wrinkled his nose in disgust as he walked by. “Jean! Who the hell you hanging out with these days? You stink, kid.”
“Sorry, Tony,” Jean mumbled, embarrassed.
“What, are you fishing in the gutter these days? You used to run with such nice girls.”
Jean stopped herself from explaining. Better let Tony, let them all think the smell of the stables that lingered on her was the result of a sordid affair. Jean knew they could never understand her working for the police, any more than someone like Midge could ever understand Jean's Village life.
Jean had spent most of that afternoon working with Chopper. Midge had stayed around, making easy conversation. Despite her reservations, Jean found herself enjoying both Midge's company and the horse's.
“I thought I knew a lot about horses, but you're a real expert,” Midge had said admiringly at one point. Jean remembered the warm feeling it had given her.
“So, how'd you get into police work?” Jean had asked, hoping to find some way to reconcile her growing fondness for Midge with Midge's career choice.
“Never thought about doing anything else,” Midge had responded. “It's what my pop did, all my brothers. Family tradition.”
Jean had digested that in silence as she reached down to pick out one of Chopper's back hooves. That was when she'd seen them. All along the back of Chopper's legs were tiny scars, and Jean knew what they were from. Someone had tried to make a jumper out of Chopper, smacking his legs with a spiked two by four to make him jump higher.
“That's why he's so skittish,” Midge had said softly after Jean had explained.
“He was probably never meant to be a jumperâyou can't make a horse into something he isn't meant to be!” Jean had burst out. “With his balance, poise, and elegant step, he should have been trained for dressage!”
“Well, he's safe now,” Midge had said. “I'm sure we can make him happy here. Besides, I've always thought dressage was kind of a sissy style.”
But as Jean sat on the stool, thinking about Chopper, she wondered if being a police horse was the best thing for him. A police horse needed steady nerves, and with all his fine qualities, Chopper didn't have those. And it troubled her, what Midge had said about dressage. Why did she have to judge like that?
“Honey, I have a surprise for you.” Carmen kissed her on both cheeks, and handed her a beer. “A friend of yours is here to see you.” Jean looked up to see Louise coming toward her as Carmen dropped her voice a few octaves and added, “I explained about the horse trauma and she's not mad.” As Jean watched the raven-haired beauty approach, she felt again the desire of the night before. Somehow, Jean knew that the horse sculpture couldn't hurt her anymore.
Carmen continued in an excited whisper, “Now you hang on to this oneâshe's very talented, has all sorts of connections to the art scene, not to mention a very wealthy family out on Long Island.” Jean smiled at Carmen's mothering, and then shooed her away as Louise reached them. Jean didn't need a mother to tell her what to do now. As she felt Louise's lips burning into her own, her body recalled the unfulfilled passions of last night. Closing time couldn't come soon enough.
Jean sat up in bed, wondering what time it was. She was in a strange bed under a scarlet comforter. Finally she spotted a small clock on top of an orange crate. The hands pointed to 9:30âand she'd told Midge she'd get to the stables at 10:00! She wanted to work Chopper as much as possible, to steady him before Midge started taking him out. Hurriedly, she grabbed her clothes and headed for the bathroom.
“Morning,” called a voice when she emerged. She made her way through the forest of sculptures until she came upon a small kitchen in the corner of the loft, where Louise was pouring mugs of coffee.
“I'm sorry, Louise, I've got to run,” she began.
“I'm sure you have time for coffee,” said Louise with a wide smile. She handed the steaming brew to Jean.
Jean eyed Louise as she sipped her coffee. Her hair was piled up on her head this morning in a kind of bird's nest tangle, with paintbrushes stuck through to hold it in place. Louise's next words caught Jean off guard.
“So this horse thing of yoursâI understand
what you're going through. I've been in psychoanalysis for years and my analyst is an expert in this sort of thing.” Jean listened with interest as Louise told her about the intricate theory which explained the ties between lesbians and horses. Jean admired Louise's openness, but she still couldn't talk about what had happened that day in the hollow. It was too painful. Instead she wondered aloud about the complex psychological drives that had led them to their unconventional lifestyle. Louise listened knowingly as Jean told her how Pa had taught her to run the tractor and how Ma would never let Jean into the kitchen until she'd wiped the mud off her shoes. Finally, Louise just smiled and shrugged her shoulders. “I don't know. Sometimes I wonder why we even have to ask these questions.”
It was nice talking like this, but as much as Jean liked Louise, she knew it couldn't last. It could never lastânot as long as Cathy still had a hold on her heart. Jean knew there would never be another love like Cathy. It was time to make her usual speech. “Louise, you're an awfully great girl, and we've had a wonderful time, but I'm not much for domesticityâ”
“Neither am I,” said Louise. “It's really too bourgeois!”
“What I'm trying to tell you, Louise,” Jean continued, “I'm not the settling-down type.”
Louise just laughed and shook her head. “Help yourself to more coffee. I have to meet my friend AndyâI told him I'd help him with his movie. Make sure the door latches behind you.”
Jean and Midge spent the morning putting Chopper through his paces, with Midge in the saddle and Jean keeping a close eye out for any of Chopper's antics that might threaten Midge's bad ankle. Jean admired Midge's firm, yet gentle manner with Chopper. Midge might be wrong about Chopper's future as a police horse, but she was a fine horsewoman, no question. From remarks Midge let drop, about rapists apprehended and lost children restored to their parents, Jean began to see that Midge was quite different from the kind of policemen she'd come to know working at the Stonewall.
Jean's admiration for Midge had not stopped there. Midge had arrived at the stables straight from the precinct, where she'd been filling out paperwork, still in her crisp blue uniform. The uniform, which was so repellent on the men who raided the bar, had a strangely unsettling effect on Jean. She found herself noticing the swell of Midge's breasts beneath the shiny brass buttons and the way the holster rested on Midge's full hips. From the first, Jean had suspected that Midge and she had more in common than just horses, and now she had to know. But how to find out in this straight world, where she had to watch her words?
“Midge, have you ever had a best friend?” Jean began.
“Well, sure. All kids have best friends.”
“What about when you weren't a kid anymore? Did you ever have a friend then who was just . . . somehow . . . special?”
“I've certainly known a lot of people in my life who were very special,” Midge responded carefully.
Frustrated, Jean dropped the topic. What was she thinkingâeven if Midge was a lesbian, she was clearly butch, and Jean bridled at the thought that she might be kiki. But she'd learned to look at so many things differently in the last week that she began to wonder if these roles really mattered.
As she lay in bed that night, smelling the garlic wafting up from Luigi's below, Jean felt a new kind of hope growing within her. She was learning to be around horses again, and she'd made some new friends: first Chopper, and then Midge and Louise. Maybe she'd go back to school. Louise had loaned her a book about abstract art, which reminded Jean how she missed the routine of studying. And Midgeâmaybe Jean could find a way to talk to her about what had happened with Cathy and Cracker. Midge would understand in a way Carmen never could. As she turned over in bed, struggling for a comfortable position on the hard mattress, the old images came to her, Cracker, rolling on the ground whinnying in pain; Cathy, her blond hair tousled around her face, her cornflower blue eyes filled with horror. Resolutely Jean summoned up an image of Chopper, so different from Cracker but with the same affectionate personality. Tomorrow she'd manage to break through Midge's caution.
But Midge was all business the next morning, working Chopper in the ring until Jean protested. “Midge, I think Chopper needs a little more time and patience . . .”
“I know, Jean, but I'm scheduled to go back on patrol tomorrow. Chopper will be fine, don't you worry.”
But Jean did worry, as she saw the nervous way Chopper tossed his head when they trotted past one of the hurdles. She hoped Midge was right.
When it was time for lunch, Midge went for sandwiches, beef brisket, “the best in town,” Midge said. Chopper was quietly munching hay in his stall, and even Midge relaxed as she looked out at the Manhattan skyline, chewing her beef brisket.
“This is nice, isn't it?” she asked Jean with a smile.
“It sure is,” said Jean. She took a deep breath. “Say, Midge, I wanted to talk to youâ” But before she could finish her sentence, an older man in a uniform approached them.