Horses: Everything You Never Wanted to Know
Author: Reb Hay

Chapter 16
They Can Swim

‘No shit?!’

            We’ve made it to the river and Jenny points out where the water is deep enough for the horses to swim. ‘On a hot day, they love it.’

            ‘Do they just go in by themselves?’

            ‘Usually the kids ride them in. If you come back in summer, you could ride Ben in.’

            ‘No way,’ I laugh. ‘I’d drown him.’

            ‘He’s a good swimmer.’

            ‘Yeah, but—’ I don’t want to state the bleeding obvious but she’s forcing me down that slippery slope. ‘I’m not exactly a featherweight. Maybe with little kids …’ I let the conversation trail away. It’s not rocket science. And I don’t want to talk about it. I crouch by the water’s edge. The water chills my trailing fingers.

            ‘It’ll go straight to your hips,’ was one of Mum’s favourite refrains. This was yet another good reason to rarely eat at home. You should try eating with constant commentary on how fat and ugly you are. It does wonders for your appetite. Not.

            I realise Jenny is looking at me; it’s like she’s considering me, inspecting me for fault.

            I shift my position and ease my foot to the side. I study the impression it has left in the wet sand.

            ‘What do you mean “you’d drown him”?’ Jenny asks. ‘There’s no way Ben would ever have trouble carrying you. You’re so slim. You’re the perfect size.’

            I catch my breath and my body freezes. This totally inappropriate comment has just dropped from Instructor Woman’s mouth. The only movement is the flow of water over my now numb fingers. If I turn to stone maybe she’ll go away? The only other person who has ever complimented me on how I look is Shithead #4 and I was stupid enough to let it matter.

I guess to be honest Todd used to say nice things about my appearance. But nice people say nice things, they can’t help themselves, so it doesn’t really count. Shithead #4 made it sound like it counted, like I counted, like I meant something.

            I start doing sums in my head—the sort of sums I always flunked at school and never understood the point of until now. You know the type I mean—If person A runs for 1km at a speed of 10km/hour, how long will it take her to reach her destination? I can’t work it out. I have no frigging idea and I keep getting distracted by other more pressing thoughts such as: Where is she now? Am I stronger than her? Could I fight her off? Why didn’t Mum ever send me to karate classes like I’d wanted?

            By this time I realise I’m going dizzy and I have to breathe. I also realise Jenny has moved away from me and is sitting on a rock about 10 metres away. I breathe. She is just an old woman; they are forever saying outrageous things. Doesn’t have to mean anything. Doesn’t mean she’s—

            I splash water on my face and stand up. 

‘Ready to go?’ Jenny asks.

I don’t look at her and I keep my distance on the walk back up the hill. When the path narrows or whatever crazy shit happens, I drop behind. And I just deal with the silence. It’s less confusing that way.


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