by Lauren Gale
Horses tell a little girl a secret
|In the city where I grew up there was a big park, three blocks long. It had playgrounds, picnic areas, and ball fields. On the weekends carnival booths opened and a carousel ran.
The horses on the carousel got along about as well as the members of any big family. They had their good days and their bad days. Sometimes they fought, but usually they got along and chatted together to make the time pass while they worked.
How in the world they were able to hear each other over the sound of the calliope is a genuine mystery. Real horses would never have been able to carry on a conversation and make themselves heard with such noise going on. Maybe it was the type of wood that they were carved out of, or maybe it was because they were born on the carousel so they had developed a special skill, like wild animals who adapt to their environment.
Their favorite pastime was making predictions about the children and parents who would climb aboard. They had gotten very good at knowing when trouble was coming.
“Uh, oh. Look over there. See that kid? I only hope that when he gets on, he chooses Picket, because I don’t think I can take another rascal today,” moaned Grouch.
This had not always been his name, but the horses on this carousel had never known him by any other. He was far older than any of them. He’d been freshly painted so he looked new and young, but he’d been around for many, many years. He’d felt thousands of bottoms on his back, from the tiny ones that he could barely tell were there, to the big ones that left him aching.
Sadly for Grouch, the boy did climb up on him, settling into the slick blue saddle where his mother strapped him in snugly. He kicked the sides of the horse with every beat of the calliope.
“If I didn’t have such a stiff neck, I’d reach around and bite his foot,” Grouch told Thunder, who was contentedly moving UP and DOWN with a little girl who hummed quietly.
Thunder knew this was not an entirely empty threat. None of them would ever forget the day when Grouch had reached his limit. It was at the end of a long, hard day for the carousel. A teenage boy mounted the exhausted Grouch and kicked and turned backwards and laid sideways and stood up and bounced. The thing that occurred next happened so fast no one except the other horses actually saw it, but the teenager found himself suddenly on the floor of the carousel, dazed.
Even Giant gave Grouch his space when he was feeling edgy.
Giant was the largest and most popular horse of all. His mane and tail were carved into perfect waves; his saddle and blanket were painted with the most beautiful metallic colors. He took pride in the fact that he was on the Outside and loved to tease Pinky, who was stuck on the Inside.
“Hey, Pinky, look at that man in the hat over there.” He knew this would rile her because she loved more than anything to watch the people who stood around the carousel waving and taking pictures. But she only got to see them when she was UP and he was DOWN. In this case, the man with the hat was on the side where Giant was always UP.
“Well, if your big head wasn’t in the way all the time, I could look.” Pinky sulked, which is what she always did when something interesting was out there and she missed it.
While Pinky struggled to catch a glimpse of the man with the hat, another man sat on a bench watching his daughter play on the playground. He sketched his four year old child as she swung and bounced on the springy frog. She got off the frog and climbed aboard the playground gym while he continued working on the finishing touches of his drawings. He was concentrating on his work so he didn’t see when she got bumped off the steps by a bigger boy, but he was made aware of the event by her cries. She came to him with tears in her eyes, so he put away his pad and pencil and took her up onto his lap.
“Would you like to go on the carousel?” He asked. She nodded.
He stood by her as she rode Pinky and watched her pay close attention to the horses, moving her eyes from one to the other and back again. He was glad that she was happy and had forgotten the earlier insult.
He prepared himself for the usual request, “Daddy, can I go again?”
What she said was, “Daddy, take me somewhere.”
“Where do you want to go, honey?”
“Pick me up and I’ll show you.”
This was a very unusual request, but he did what she wanted, curious about what she intended. She directed him though the crowd and down the length of the park to a deserted parking lot in the far corner.
“Why did you want to come here?” he asked his youngster.
“That’s why!” She pointed to a large van that was pulling up into the lot.
The driver parked the van and within a few minutes had unloaded an elephant.
“How did you know this was going to be here?”
“The horses told me.”
Her father laughed, wanting to play along with her game of make believe.
“This is Sadie,” the driver, who was also her trainer, told them.
“Hello, little girl,” Sadie said. “I’ll bet the horses told you to meet me here, didn’t they?”
“Would you like to see my umbrella?” Sadie used her trunk to nudge an umbrella that was among props which had been unloaded from the van. The trainer opened the umbrella and handed it to Sadie, who took it gingerly in her trunk.
“I really love this umbrella, isn’t it a beautiful pink?”
The child nodded.
“Of course I can only shade one eye at a time, as you can see, but the way the sun looks as it shines through the pink makes me feel happy. Don’t you think I look stunning?”
“Would you like to have my umbrella?”
She nodded vigorously.
Sadie stretched out her trunk and offered the umbrella to the little girl.
“Well, I’ll be,” said the trainer. “I’ve never seen the like. An elephant giving away her umbrella. I guess since Sadie is making the offer you can keep it, if you want.”
The little girl took the umbrella. “Thank you, sir. Thank you, Sadie.” Sadie waved her trunk.
That pink umbrella is wrapped in tissue and lies on a shelf in my closet. I take it down several times a year, whenever my grandchildren ask to hear the story of the talking horses and the elephant with an umbrella.