I recently went to watch my wife ride a horse on a smallholding in the countryside. It was an act of bravery on my part. I wanted to impress Mia by going even though we both knew how afraid I was. My mother had instilled in me a deep and irrational fear of horses. She classified them as carnivores.
“Horses have teeth the size of cigarette boxes,” she always said. “They can bite your arm clean off.”
“What’s more,” she continued, “when you meet a horse, it already knows you. It’s heard about you from other horses.”
As a kid, I believed that. As an adult, of course, I still believed it.
“That’s bullshit,” Mia said. “Their teeth aren’t that big and they don’t talk to one another. Also, you don’t have to ride just yet. You only have to watch me trot around the pen.”
I watched from a safe distance, from outside the pen. Mia sat on a Trojan-sized black stallion who seemed to have a lot of free will. His muscles, moving on their own, bulged and shuddered under his skin. He looked like a vacuum-packed horse.
Before they got started Mia brought him along the inside of the fence so I could meet him.
“This is Casanova,” she said.
The stallion nodded slowly. I got the distinct sense that he already knew my name.
“Why must he have a name like that?” I asked. “He sounds untrustworthy.”
Casanova neighed and eyed me over the fence.
“You’re untrustworthy,” Mia said. “Come, touch him. He won’t bite.”
I reached through the fence and gave his vast jaw a quick pat. Nothing happened.
“See?” Mia said.
“Perhaps he’s patient,” I said.
They trotted around the pen and jumped over a few things. Casanova looked less savage from farther away. He was almost picturesque. His teeth seemed smaller too. But every time they came past I could see that he eyed me. After a while I got used to that too, and got bored. I called Mia over, but Casanova came with her.
“I’m going to read in the car,” I said to them.
“You can’t go,” Mia protested. “We’re not done.”
She and Casanova towered over me. Casanova strained against his reins and moved from side to side.
“You promised,” Mia said.
They went in circles again but after a few minutes I gave up. Nothing spectacular was going to happen and it seemed silly to just stand around watching them. I started to walk across the lawn between the pen and the car.
“Wait!” Mia called.
I waved above my head and walked on. She called again, but this time she sounded closer. There had been a certain comfort in how the landscape was arranged when I watched them trotting in the pen—there was a fence, a horse beyond it, and then another fence beyond the horse. Now, as I turned to face her, it was clear that both the fences were beyond the horse.
They trotted toward me.
“Go away,” I squeaked when Mia and Casanova towered over me once more.
“Just stand still,” Mia said. “Don’t be such a pussy.”
Casanova pawed at the ground and tried to eat the metal thing in his mouth.
“Why does he do that?” I asked.
“Chew that metal thing.”
Mia shrieked with laughter.
“That’s the bit, you idiot.”
I looked at the bit. I also saw the stout hairs on Casanova’s lips. I imagined my arm as the bit, and I imagined Casanova biting it clean off.
“Why must everything have a special name when there’s a horse attached to it?” I asked.
Mia and Casanova circled me impatiently while she lectured me on horse words. The circle had a shrinking radius.
“When he does that, he’s champing,” she explained. “This,” she said and held up her little whip, “is the crop.”
“I don’t care what you call it,” I said. “You sound like a naval academy.”
As they moved around me, the saddle groaned and creaked and Casanova snorted in agreement with everything Mia said.
“This is the pommel,” she continued.
“It looks like a dildo,” I said. “Please let me go.”
At this, Casanova stepped forward and put his hoof on the rim of my flip-flop. I was trapped near his chest. He smelled of leather and gunpowder and other horse-like things. I was suddenly jealous at the thought of Mia sitting astride this monster of manliness.
“Stand still,” Mia cautioned somewhere above me.
“He’s standing on my foot!” I cried.
Casanova shifted his hoof, probably to get a better purchase, and by accident released me. I ran out of my flip-flops and made a dash for the car. Behind me I could hear them closing in—thundering hooves and rows of snapping teeth—but I made it to the car just in time.
“You’re a pussy,” Mia announced from her lofty seat. “Get out of there. I’ll teach you to ride.”
Casanova nodded slowly.
“I’d rather sit in this car,” I declared, “even if it was on fire, than come near that thing.”
Mia leant down and patted Casanova’s powerful neck.
“You’re not just a thing,” she purred while Casanova eyed me, “are you my boy?”