Thursday, February 21, 2013

Prompt: All dressed up and not going anywhere

The donkey stumbled to a halt, barely flinching when the weight of her small cart rocked in its braces. It hung its head low and flicked its long ears, but it would not budge. Her guide shouted and hit it with his walking stick until she protested.

“Please, it’s so very hot. Perhaps if you could find a little water, it would continue?”

He stared at her for a long time, and she could read his expression quite clearly, though he didn’t say a word. Finally, he sighed and shrugged. “Si, señorita. Wait.” He turned off the path and began to climb the dusty ridge they had followed for almost two hours.

Vanessa sat in the cart, holding her parasol to escape the sun’s rays. She longed to untie the ribbons of her bonnet and use it as a fan, instead of feeling the sweat collecting in her hair and trickling down her neck. The lace at her throat and wrists prickled her skin, and she could feel every stay in her corset. Travelling alone, she hadn’t tightened it as much as her mother would have done. She had been embarrassed after dressing herself this morning, but now she was grateful for any relief. Little enough, as the tight whale bones curved in and pinched on both sides of her ribcage. 

The donkey stood so still, she worried about it until it twitched one of those ridiculously long ears. She’d never seen a donkey in Westbridge, only delicate riding Arabians, working thoroughbreds and quarterhorses, and enormous draft horses. She’d seen a lot of new things since she hugged her twin brother George goodbye and boarded the train eight days ago.

George hadn’t liked sending her alone, but since Papa died, he had so much to do with the business and rest of the family. They had never been apart for more than three nights, and they were inseparable best friends as well as twins. Every night, she closed her eyes and remembered every detail of her day, so she could dream it for him, even if he couldn’t be there in person.

She looked to the top of the ridge, hoping to see some sign of her guide returning. She was parched, too, and only had a small flask filled with water instead of her brother’s usual whisky. She felt oddly guilty about drinking when the donkey couldn’t, so she kept it tucked in her travel bag. There were a few vultures circling high overhead, and a roadrunner sped from the shade of a small rock to the shade of a slightly larger rock. But no guide. No water.

Vanessa was afraid to climb down. She had watched the guide tap his walking stick and knock several snakes out of their path, and she was convinced they lay every few feet. And scorpions…she shuddered to think of the one that had climbed up her stockinged leg. The guide had seen much more of her petticoats than was proper as he helped her to flush it out and stomp on it. He had pulled up the remains of the stinger and showed her how it curled and twitched even when mangled. “Cuidado. Muy peligroso.”

Peligroso? Gros? Fat? Large? Oh, dangerous, she remembered, nodding agreement. He dropped the stinger and spat on the ground. Vanessa turned away.

Looking down now, Vanessa gasped. Three large-clawed scorpions had taken shelter in the meager shade of her cart, and they danced around each other in a threatening display. Her heart thundered, and she forced herself to take slow, shallow breaths to keep from fainting or screaming. There she sat, stuck in the confines of the tiny cart, hoping with every shallow breath to see her guide’s floppy sombrero crest the ridge.

Instead, she heard the fast beat of horse hooves behind her, and she turned in alarm. A single rider cantered toward her on the most beautiful horse she had seen since leaving home, a chestnut thoroughbred that poured over the road with astonishing power and speed. It thundered toward her and pulled short next to the donkey. It twitched an ear in greeting, but made no other indication that it cared about the newcomers.

Vanessa peered up at the rider, briefly hoping it was her guide. It was not. He was tall and powerfully built. He held the reins loosely above the horse’s neck, and she guessed from his easy command of the horse that he was a vaquero, a cowboy. Vanessa was quite sure she should not be so glad to see him.

He regarded her as silently as she did him. She wondered how he had earned the scar that stretched from the side of his right eye down his cheek to his jawbone. She shifted uncomfortably on the cart, aware for the millionth time in the past eight days how very alone she was.

Buenos dias, señorita hermosa,” he finally drawled, tipping the brim of his hat.

Buenos dias, señor,” she replied in her halting Spanish. “Mi guía vuelve pronto,” she said in what she hoped was a firm tone. She wanted him to think someone was coming for her any minute. She wanted to think that.

He smiled, and it lit up his face, even under the shaded brim of his hat. “I will be your guide now, señorita hermosa,” he replied. Vanessa’s heart sank.

Thanks again to <> for the great image prompt!

Dogs in house:

Saint-Saëns, Carnival Of The Animals

February word count:

No comments:

Post a Comment