Excerpt from Cool Nation

This is the seventh section from the fourth chapter. All other excerpts are on the sidebar.

Lives Forming

When in summer the pasture grass grew thin and brown, Dad would occasionally ride one of the horses to the end of the block, to a vacant lot there that was bordered on one side by a stream. The lot was rarely mowed and the grass was lush and Dad would stake the horse, whether Nancy or Blaze or Shasta, and leave it to graze for the night.
We would sometimes follow on our bikes and watch as Dad drove the stake and tied off the horse. The horse would pull on the rope until it was taut, the rope stretching out straight in mid-air, then the horse would begin to graze. As it grazed Dad would take a five-gallon bucket down to the stream, fill it, and place it at the edge of the field, just within reach of the rope. Then we would stand back and Stephanie and Jean would go in and kiss the horse goodnight�whether Nancy or Blaze or Shasta�and we would all start back up the hill to the house.
When I was eight we took Blaze one evening and staked him in the lot. The girls kissed him, Allen and I kissed him, and we all went back up the hill toward home.
In the morning Dad, Stephanie and I went down in the station wagon to get him, but when we got to the lot he wasn�t there. Dad stopped the car and we looked out across the grass but he wasn�t there, nor in any of the other yards, nor anywhere else that we could see. Then Dad saw the rope. He saw it at the same time we did.
The rope was stretched as tight as a piano wire, going straight across the lot and over the bank of the stream. It was stretched so tight you couldn�t have picked it up. It ran right across the lot and out of sight down the bank, and it wasn�t moving.
Stephanie, already crying, opened the door but Dad grabbed her and said, �No.�
She shook loose and ran crying through the grass, following the line of the rope, where at the little bluff she stood and put her hands to her head and screamed. I watched her scream, then Dad was there, sweeping her up in his massive embrace, carrying her like nothing back to the car. I had gotten out and come up behind them, and without looking at me he said, �Go back.�
I didn�t go back. I stood at bluff�s edge and looked down to where Blaze lay, neck stretched out, blood-covered nostrils, eyes bulged open, the rope burned into his flesh. Blood had sprayed all over the ivy and grass along the steep of the bank, and his hind hooves had gouged out jagged holes in the mud where he�d tried to raise up.
�Russell Peter! Russell Peter Durrand! Now. Right now!�
I turned and went back to the car, where my sister huddled against my father as we drove up the hill to the house, where she went inside under the shelter of his arm and up to her room and back to bed, he sitting on the bed beside her.
Dad didn�t go to work that day. In all my life that is only day I ever recall that he did not go to work. Instead he stayed home with my sisters, and held them as they cried, nursing them all day through this, their first brush with death; nursing them and nursing them until, by day�s end, he knew they would endure it, even though for years he had a hard time doing the same. My mother nursed them beside him. Mom was also the one who called Doc Carter to come and dispose of the body.
Blaze had pulled the rope its full length in trying to reach the green shoots above the creek. The bank had given way, and he had fallen, dying of strangulation. No one could believe that my father, who ran one of the most successful contracting businesses in the city, who owned and flew his own plane, and who had come so far from so little, had allowed such a thing to occur. But he was human, as that day I realized for the first time. I also realized, when he told the girls over and over that it was his fault, his fault, his fault, that he was also a man, and that I would be lucky if I were ever half the man he was.

We stood at the fence beneath a blue October sky, and in silence watched him. Indifferent to us, or anyone, he stood across the pasture grazing, forelegs askance, tail swishing, he ripping the grass loose with a sideways jerk of the head. Nancy and Shasta grazed at the other end, still nervous and unsure in his presence, both having been kicked and bitten already. Nobody rode the new horse but Dad. He was half Arabian and half quarter and stood sixteen hands at the shoulder and his name was Rex.
�You couldn�t either,� Jean said.
�I could too.�
�You couldn�t. You�d better not anyway. Dad�ll kill you.�
�He�ll never know. Unless you tell.�
�But they�ll see you,� Seth said.
�No they won�t. They�re both upstairs in Mom�s room.�
Allen looked up at me. �Why do they always go up to Mom�s room on Sundays?�
Jean and I looked down at him. �Never mind.� Then I went off to the barn for some oats.
I stood on the split-rail fence and called him, the oats cupped in my hand. He looked up, his reddish hide twitching, looked at the other horses, who were looking up also, then in a slow walk came over. Other kids who had been playing on the rope swing were watching now too. They were mostly the D�Agostino�s kids, little ones all.
Rex came over, his hide rippling, and ate from my hand. I guided him parallel to the fence, and after I felt the relaxing of his guard I climbed on.
It was like sitting in a treehouse, except it moved. I took him by the mane and turned him, and as I did all those kids burst out and came screaming toward the fence, leaping up on the rail with a suddenness and a shrillness that no one foresaw and no one could stop.
The far end of the pasture came racing toward me with a neck-snapping velocity that was surreal in its violence and speed. Then I was airborne, then the split-rail fence came rushing up, and that was all.
It was after a long time, and through a strange darkness, that later I heard Mom weeping, felt the cold damp of the washcloth on my head. Through the darkness I heard Dad say, �Hush now. He�s not dying. I tell you he�s not.�
�But he is he is!�
�Hush. He isn�t either. I won�t let him.�
Slowly I came through the darkness and opened my eyes and saw half the neighborhood crammed into our den: all those kids, a scattering of adults, Seth, Jean and my parents (but not Stephanie, as she was out chasing boys). I was lying on the sofa with them gathered around in a half-circle, Dad damping my forehead, Mom beside me, her face in her hands.
�Helen,� Dad said softly. Shirtless, he was dressed only in jeans, and she had about her the appearance of someone who had thrown on her clothes in a panic.
She looked up, saw my opened eyes, and started weeping again. �You little fool you little fool!� Hugging me now. �What were you doing on that horse? Tell me. What?�
I said nothing, but only stared up at the neat bouffant of her golden hair as she held me, as I smelled her perfume, and as Mrs. D�Agostino, who had been a triage nurse in Normandy, came forward to check for broken bones.
Dad continued to damp my forehead, which before had been numb but was now starting to throb There was blood on the washcloth and on my shirt. I stared at it as though it had come from someone else. I kept wanting to get up, but a strange weight in my head held me down.
After awhile Dad carried me out to the car, and took me to the hospital.
In the end it cost me a concussion, twelve stitches and a broken collarbone�a fair enough price for glory.
The next night, as I lay on the naugahyde sofa wearing my brace and watching Gunsmoke, Seth came over with a copy of �We Can Work It Out.� We set it at the bottom of the stack of forty-fives�their other forty-fives followed. After that we played The Stones, The Dave Clark Five, and The Hollies. We listened to the whole stack, then flipped it over and listened to the other sides too. Then we flipped it over again and went back to the ones we�d listened to first.
Seth stayed with me, playing the records and fetching us bottles of Vess Soda, until his mother called for him home.

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