This short story was written for a "word challenge" which members of the Uxbridge Writers' Circle often participate in.
We select words at our meeting and then read our stories which incorporate all these words at the following meeting, a month later.
The chosen words are in italics.
What would you have written?
Photo by Gene Devine on Unsplash
A fat rat scampers under the rusty but sturdy metal shed which houses the hay for the five horses I train. The pests are the only ones doing well around here. This racetrack has lost a lot of its dignity, and so have most of the people involved in the horse-racing business.
Where the horses are stabled is the place you notice it the most. If there is any paint left, it’s peeling and flaking, and the old neon lights are flickering - if they work at all. There isn’t a tap that doesn’t leak, and the doors to each barn either won’t move at all or get stuck every other day, requiring a team effort to open or close them.
The race purses have diminished and costs have increased. Foreign workers are hard to come by since the new regulations have come in. Not many locals want to clean out stalls, walk hot horses or groom them, or even ride them.
Every day I ask myself why I’m still in this business, scraping a living, barely making it through each racing season.
That’s not true.
I haven’t examined my reasons for hanging in here until today. And I wish I hadn’t started to think about it: it’s as if my thoughts have entered a labyrinth so complicated and confusing that I’m more conflicted than when I started. I should know better than to try to analyse, in a rational way, why I train racehorses. Horseracing defies logic.
I chuck my empty cup into the garbage and walk down the shedrow past several pairs of bright eyes and large nostrils, towards my area of the barn. One of my five horses whinnies. I like to think that it’s a greeting but I suspect it’s a plea for his grain. Bertie’s racing this afternoon, so hasn’t been fed his lunch. His whinny is half-hearted, though, because he understands he’s going to run. He knows the ropes probably just as well as I do.
I talk to each of them in turn, offering mints which are grabbed by soft, fuzzy muzzles from my outreached palm. I take out the empty feed buckets and as I’m scrubbing them under a tap which refuses to ever be shut off, my thoughts delve back into the labyrinth. My lips are dry and my stomach unsettled. Perhaps I need to get out of this business. The fact that I’m asking questions probably means that my heart isn’t in it any more.
But I can’t think of what I’d do instead. My father was a racehorse trainer. I was immersed in this world from a young age.
When Dad was injured in a car accident, I got my trainer’s licence, graduating from assistant trainer. So, it’s as if this is my heritage.
Dad had been a private trainer for a wealthy family, but I had a falling out with the grandfather, the patriarch. His ideas of horse management and horse care didn’t come up to my standards. So, I became a public trainer. But I only have five horses so far. I’d like twenty. But to get twenty you have to have success. You have to win races and get noticed.
Bertie doesn’t have much of a chance today. The competition has come up tough.
I can hear Sally, my horses’ groom, humming. She dumps a cracked laundry basket on the rubber mat near to the tap and picks up a clean saddle pad. As she folds, she glances at me and asks why I look so glum. Ever the optimist, Sally gets excited about every race. I shrug and put the feed buckets on their hooks handy for later use.
We get Bertie ready and take him over to the paddock for saddling up. I give the jockey a leg-up and Bertie trots almost on the spot, in anticipation. Sally hands him off to the pony who escorts him, in the company of the other nine horses with their ponies, through to the post parade, and on to the starting gate.
I’m at the rail near the finish line and Bertie’s coming around the last turn. Sally and I scream at him, although I doubt he can hear anything of our impassioned encouragement over the thunderous pounding of thirty-six hooves and the explosive puffing of eighteen flared nostrils, all on his tail.
If Bertie wins, I’m staying in this business: and that’s my final decision.