Qualified Entry: Fiction Category
By: Iris Harrison
Kristy softly stepped into the dimly lit aisle of her family’s twenty-four stall horse barn. It smelled like fresh shavings and hay. A few rays of light streamed in from the afternoon sun and delicately lit a path for her. The air was crisp and clear. Fall was definitely on its way. As she glanced at the first stall, a large beautiful chestnut horse popped its head up to greet her. The nameplate on the horse’s worn brown leather halter was inscribed with the name Ovation. Kristy heart skipped a beat as she encountered her horse for the first time in four years. Memories of early morningss spent at the training oval, races at Churchill Downs, trophies in the winner’s circle, and lazy afternoons at the barn flooded into Kristy’s mind. She couldn’t believe that she had ever left it all. For four years, she had preoccupied herself with every aspect of life at Georgetown and never thought once about horse racing. Ovation’s shining coat was grown out as was his mane and forelock. This appearance contrasted with Kristy’s memory of her horse all trimmed and ready for the races. The change pained Kristy. As she timidly walked over to her horse and pat him, Ovation didn’t even appear to recognize her. His deep brown eyes looked right past her. Could he not recognize his rider and owner or remember the hours she had spent with him? Kristy held back a guilty sob and gave him a final pat. Then, she quietly strode down the breezeway into the barn office. There, she was overwhelmed by yet another stream of emotions as she saw all her past trophies and rosettes still hanging on the dark wooden walls. Framed newspaper articles, photographs, and certificates in stared back at Kristy. It was all too much for the girl, and she caught her breath by taking a seat on her dad’s leather chair behind the wooden desk. Looking around her, Kristy couldn’t help but wonder why she had left all this behind. She compared her life now to her life four years ago, and her current life looked meaningless and shallow compared to the life she once lived. She had given up everything to climb to the top of the racing world as a teen jockey, and she had made it there only to let one setback push her away from the life she loved. Instinctively, Kristy rose from the chair, made sure everything was exactly the way it had been, turned the brass doorknob of the office, and began making her way down to the front of the barn once again. As she approached Ovation’s stall, she dug through the pocket of her red down vest for a carrot. As she unveiled the treat, Ovation nickered at her and then chomped away at the carrot.
“Miss Kristy, well isn’t this one heck of a surprise!” exclaimed George, the sixty year old groom who had worked for Kristy’s parents for twenty years. “Do your parents know you are back here, missy? I’ll bet they’ll be might glad.”
“Actually, no one knows I’m here. And frankly, I don’t even know why I’m here” replied Kristy quietly.
“Well, it’s about time you come visit your horse. He has been missing you. Let’s go up to the house and let your folks know that you’re home. I hope you are planning on staying around for a bit. We are in need an exercise rider tomorrow morning for the younger horses.”
“No, I don’t ride anymore. I haven’t since…well, you know.”
“I understand. No problemo. Let’s not dwell on that stuff. The past is in the past. For now, let’s head up to the house. Supper should be served soon.” George led the way up the stone pathway up to the main house. For Kristy, it felt as if she was coming home from a long vacation. Home was home and there wasn’t any denying of that fact. As she scraped the mud off the bottom of her duck boots on the matt outside the front door, she took a deep breath and twisted the door handle. The room was warm, and bright. The smell of dinner rolls wafted into the foyer from the kitchen, and Kristy heard a mummer of voices coming from the dinning room. She glanced over to the right and saw the whiteboard schedule for the morning. The space provided for the extra exercise rider was blank, and a couple of names of prospective riders were listed below. Impulsively, Kristy wiped off the names of the other girls, took up the red expo marker, bit off the cap, and scribbled her name in. Then, she stepped back, looked at the board again, and smiled. She put the marker down and started walking into the kitchen.
“Mom? Dad? I’m home!”