What happened next, as far as Willow and Bernard are concerned, is something I have to accept on hearsay. I wasn’t there, Bernard’s mind was necessarily muddled and Willow wasn’t talking.
What I’m told is that he sat down and she took off, bucking and writhing in as good an imitation of a saddle bronc as a horse who’s never been one can give. She played her part better than Bernard, who definitely did not make it to the 8-second buzzer the way a professional rodeo cowboy would. The heaving, pitching thousand pounds of horse flesh took him on a free roller coaster ride around the corral and within a few seconds had him off her back and on the ground.
When I saw Bernard, he was carrying his saddle to the barn. At first I was suspicious, because he looked a tad dusty. Then I noticed he was stepping gingerly, in slow and crooked fashion.
“What’ve you been doing?” I asked innocently.
“I went to ride Willow. I just wanted to get on her for a little bit,” he said, as if he’d invited a best friend over to play and they’d said ‘No.‘ Then he added, “She bucked me off.” He was terse about it, wouldn’t look at me. When he said, “God damn it!” I knew he was hurting, because Bernard never swears.
He declined to go to the clinic and I didn’t push it. If ribs were broken there’d be nothing to do but wait out the healing period. If something important, like a lung, were punctured, we’d know soon enough.
Bernard lived in the corner of not knowingness for 8 weeks during which he suffered continuously from pain around his chest. He wasn’t stoic about it, complaining to me about how this or that part of his body still ached. The doctor he eventually saw–out of intellectual curiosity, Bernard said, nothing more–confirmed that he’d severely bruised many ribs and the cartilage in between. Time, along with judiciously swallowed Advil, would do the trick.
The long-term side effect of being bucked off was more damaging. Willow’s betrayal seemed to have bruised more than Bernard’s ribs. Though Bernard survived the drubbing, it fatally damaged his bond with horses. He was loathe to admit it, instead presenting one logical reason or another for not getting on a horse. But the fact is, he was never again very excited about joining me for a ride.
More distressing still is that we sent Willow back to prison. She was too settled in her wild ways to make it in the human world, a loose cannon masquerading as a marshmallow. I didn’t feel competent to help her get over her people phobia. Besides, I had Scout to deal with.
Continue on to Part 3!