Steeplechase

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  • Published 20101207
  • ISBN: 9781921656187
  • Extent: 264 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

MY SISTER LIKES ponies and showjumping and arenas. Sometimes I jump with her because she wants me to. I throw my head back and make the horse’s sound but it is never the right sound. She corrects me with her perfect whinnying, neck exposed, knees kicking high, a canter. I am not a good horse. I have not studied them as she has, reading every book where the beasts gallop, turning the pages of photography collections thick with taut flanks and staring eyes. I jump over the obstacles that she sets for me but I never receive a ribbon for my effort. Sometimes she whips me with a hickory stick which is not made of hickory at all, but a branch fallen from the ghost gum in the corner of the yard. She tells me that I am a bad horse, a lazy horse, a slow horse, and I take the whipping silently because it is true. I am a bad horse. I am not any kind of horse at all.

After the show is over and the imaginary audience has trudged home, I check to see that no one is looking. The place I have found is secret. It is a hollow where the fence between our yard and our neighbour’s yard has fallen away. My sister’s world is the bright open arena, but this is the place where I like to play. The hollow smells of damp earth and honeysuckle. I have to push through a curtain of the vine to enter. I pull off the white and yellow flowers and bite their stems and suck them. I like the yellow ones best, although there is probably little difference between one flower and the next. Sometimes I have to race the bees to the nectar. I am never stung. The bees hang heavy and fat, a buzz in the air. I watch the pollen collecting on their legs. I imagine that I am becoming drunk on flowers, like the bees, although I know I would have to drink a vat of pollen to feel so heavy with juice that I would sway as they sway, and crash into the leaves as if I had lost the ability to fly.

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