"Rose," I said. "I brought you something good to eat."
The horse didn't stir as I came down the aisle, like she knew what I was up to. She's never liked being touched, but she usually lets me strap on the feedbag. I was hoping the taste of sweet corn would hide the bitterness of what I'd laced it with.
"You hungry?" It was hard to hear myself over the thudding of my heart. Part of me couldn't believe what I was doing. Maybe I was still in bed asleep.
Wild Rose took a few steps toward the front of the stall. I could hear her breath snuffling through the wet channels of her nostrils. Somehow, even before she charged, I knew that she had figured me out. She exploded out of the stall door as she had out of the trailer the first time I saw her, a storm of splintering wood and pounding hooves, with a scream that threatened to split my head in two. I dropped the feedbag and the flashlight and clapped my hands over my ears. I felt the hot passage of her body like a freight train in the dark, the force of it knocking me down. Then she was gone, out the barn opening and across the hills, leaving me to lie in a mess of spilled corn and bloodroot.
When I was a girl I lived across another mountain in a place called Chickweed Holler. Until I was ten years old, me and Mammy lived with Grandmaw Ruth, and two of Grandmaw's sisters, Della and Myrtle. I used to crawl up in Grandmaw's lap to study her face and follow its lines with my finger. She stayed slim and feisty up until the day she died of a stroke, walking home in the heat after birthing somebody's baby. Myrtle had hair soft and white as dandelion fluff that she liked for me to comb out and roll for her. They was all good-looking women, but Della was the prettiest. Her hair stayed black right up to the end of her life, and she didn't have as many wrinkles as Grandmaw. I reckon it's because she didn't have to work as much in the sun. She was the youngest and Myrtle and Grandmaw still babied her, old as all three of them was.
It was just me and Mammy after my daddy passed away, so Grandmaw took us in. We lived in a little cabin with a porch up on stilts. I liked to play under there, where they kept mason jars and rusty baling wire and all manner of junk for me to mess in. Chickweed Holler was a wild place with the mountains rising steep on both sides. From Grandmaw's doorstep you could see a long ways, wildflower fields waving when the summer winds blowed. That land was in our family for generations and Grandmaw and my great-aunts loved it as good as they did any of their kin.
All the neighbors thought the world of Grandmaw and her sisters. They was what you call granny women, and the people of Chickweed Holler relied on them for any kind of help you can think of. Each one of them had different gifts. Myrtle was what I've heard called a water witch. She could find a well on anybody's land with her dowsing rod. People sent for her from a long ways off. Sometimes they'd come to get her and she'd fetch the forked branch she kept under her bed and hop in their wagon. She'd be gone for days at a time, depending on how hard of a trip it was. Della was the best one at mixing up cures. She could name any root and herb and flower you pointed at. Another thing she was good for was healing animals. She could set the broke leg of the orneriest hunting dog and it wouldn't even bite her. One day I seen her in the yard bent over the washtub scrubbing and a bird lit on her shoulder. It stayed for a long time. If she noticed, she didn't let on. I stood still, trying not to scare it away. When I told Grandmaw about it later, she said animals are attracted to our kind of people, and so are other people of our kind. She winked and said, "Don't be surprised if the feller you marry has the touch. People with the touch draws one another." I've always remembered that, but I don't reckon Macon had none of the gifts Grandmaw and her sisters had. I didn't either. It's odd how the touch moves in a family. You never can tell who'll turn up with it.
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