I figure what's the worst that could happen? I could fail. I've done that.
The next morning, Cu and three of the most awful looking "Navajo ponies" Despina has ever seen appear before her doorway at dawn. Cu sits impassively, heavily painted, moccasins in place, while the ponies tug restively on their tethers, trying to reach scraggly plants along the berm of the road.
Stepping around him on her way to the facilities at the hospital, she quips, "Your paint has run a bit."
Moving quickly, she hastens by, half expecting to feel his iron grip around her ankle.
Stoically, he stares straight ahead, unmoving. Not even his eyes track her.
When she returns, she thinks, I don't think he's moved a bit. The ponies appear to have given up trying to eat. Glancing around more carefully, she notes, That's sensible. Everything edible's been consumed.
She dresses for school and again steps over tether ropes to exit her hovel. Speaking kindly to him on her way to school, she inquires, "Another stunt to impress the tourists? It ought to bring in a lot of money."
His eyes widen, but he says nothing in return.
When she reaches school, Alberto says, "I sure hope my dad and the ponies don't get too hot sitting out in the sun like that."
Not recognizing the hint, she says, "I'm sure they'll be fine. They're all used to being out in all kinds of weather."
An hour later, Juan tries. "They can't leave to go get water. Don't you want to take some to them?"
"We need to finish up here." But, all morning, her eyes travel unbidden to his stiff, silently forbidding back. The sun beats down unmercifully.
"My daddy sure must be getting thirsty," remarks Alberto, looking down. "I thought you liked him."
What? Am I missing something here? His voice sounds accusing.
Ruffling his hair, she reasures him, "I do, Alberto, I do. Everyone on the reservation likes your dad."
Around 11:00, Juan whispers, "All you have to do is offer the ponies some water."
"That'd be a nice humanitarian gesture. Would you like to help me with the water can over the noon siesta?"
Eyes widening, back stiffening, Juan hesitates, then agrees.
Cu reacted the same way! What's going on here? Everyone's acting weird today.
Standing up swiftly, he grabs one side of the milk can while Miguel grabs the other, setting off for the river. On the return trip, her overeager water bearers stop at the point on the path closest to her hovel, suddenly finding their load too heavy to carry.
Noon arrives. As the mothers begin to pass out their repast, their normal cheerful banter is absent. Tension hangs in the air in a palpable form.
Finally catching on, Despina approaches Adriana. "So, if I am humane and water them, bam! I'm a squaw?"
Adriana nods numbly, refusing to meet her eyes.
Studying her, Despina realizes, She's jealous! She's probably been patiently waiting for him to offer those pathetic ponies to HER!
"What am I supposed to do with such mangy-looking creatures?"
"I bet if we turned on the radio, we'd hear one of those 'dead cow' warnings," pipes up Alberto, but this time, nobody ruffles his hair or smiles.
"I probably can't even lift the can alone. I can barely get it into the back of my truck empty," she mumbles querulously. "Whatever happened to a body's free will?"
In a harsh whisper, Juan says, "You could TRY. You have to do it alone."
Resolutely, she stalks over to the freshly filled can. Dropping in five Halizon tablets, she passes on into her hovel.
Dumping the apples out of a large plastic fruit bowl onto the chaise lounge, Despina scoops water into it for the first pony, who greedily drains the entire thing. Then she is stuck. The next bunch of water is now lower than her bowl can reach.
Climbing the fence of a nearby goat pen, she snatches up a flat pan. Then she plops it unceremoniously into the bed of Baby Blue Ram, fires up the engine and carefully dodges tethers to back up to the can. When the tailgate is touching the can, she inquires casually, "I presume it wouldn't go against tribal custom to have some boys set the can in the bed of my truck, would it?"
Immediately, Alberto, Juan and Miguel hoist the can to the edge of the truck without spilling a drop.
Maneuvering opposite the ponies, she unloads the pan, then dumps the can over with a tremendous effort. Some of the water splashes into the pan, where it is slurped up by all three before being hogged by the Pinto.
"At this rate, we'll be making trips back and forth all day. Is it kosher to ride them to the river once they've had a sip?"
Adriana gives a barely perceptible nod.
"Juan, would you lead my Pinto to the river for a REAL drink for me? Can I entrust him to your care?"
A rare, but beatific smile blooms on Juan's face. In a flash, he has the pony's tether and hops aboard, turning him toward the river.
"Alberto, can you take Midget?" she asks, having heard the name before, but being clueless as to which of the ponies was 'his'."
"He's still somewhere up in the mountains," Alberto replies, confused.
Soft laughter greets this.
Good. This is going right, at least, thinks Despina, relieved.
"Does anyone know the bay's name?"
"Toño," responds Sarita, shuffling her feet, but not daring to look up.
Peering intently into the can, she says, "No hay más agua."
Looking around, she settles her gaze on the outcast Enrique. "Would you be able to take Toño to water, do you think?"
Eyes aglow, he races to retrieve the proffered pony.
"Eduardo, who is this chestnut tobiano?"
"Do you fancy him? Would you care for him for me?"
Eduardo snatches up the last tether at once, hopping aboard and racing toward the river.
Tipping the can a bit more, she hears water slosh. Going into her hovel, she returns with a wide mouth plastic special promotion MacDonald's cup. Carefully, she tips the can until about a quarter inch of water dribbles out into the cup.
Holding it gingerly at arm's length, she offers it to Cu.
He sits motionless, starting straight ahead.
"What's this game called?" she asks expectantly. "Two can play at rejection? You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink?"
Singing to the tune of "My Dog's Bigger Than Your Dog", she croons, "I'm more stubborn than you are; I'm more stubborn than you..."
Exasperated when not even an eyelid flickers, she upends the cup over his head.
He remains motionless.
Last updated 3/17/10 Corrected Halizon. 2/4/10 Changed Cheryl to Adriana (Where’sMeKilt) 12/17/09 7/23/08 - correct spelling on reassures, McDonald's. 9/16/04. (Quote added.)
Word Count: 1133