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an unlikely romance between a Washington rancher and an illegal Mexican immigrant whom she rescues one snowy night.
When a saddled horse shows up riderless at Alice Anderson’s snowed-in ranch, she knows someone’s in danger—no one could survive long in the bitter Washington cold. Bundled up atop her best horse, Alice sets out to find the rider, preparing herself for the worst. But when Alice comes across a hunched figure in a snow bank and brings the man back to Standfast, she ...
an unlikely romance between a Washington rancher and an illegal Mexican immigrant whom she rescues one snowy night.
When a saddled horse shows up riderless at Alice Anderson’s snowed-in ranch, she knows someone’s in danger—no one could survive long in the bitter Washington cold. Bundled up atop her best horse, Alice sets out to find the rider, preparing herself for the worst. But when Alice comes across a hunched figure in a snow bank and brings the man back to Standfast, she realizes she wasn’t prepared for Domingo Rolodan. The Mexican raquero is on the run from immigration services—and harboring a deep secret. He and Alice slowly develop an abiding friendship that gradually blossoms into romance. Now, facing threats that include deportation, cultural misunderstandings, and the looming presence of a drug addict with claim to the ranch, can Alice and Domingo find a way to hold firm to their new love?
Through her warm and engaging prose Foster skillfully brings to life the pastoral landscape of Washington state, transporting readers into her breathtaking world.
It was dark, though white all around. He moved slowly, afoot because — ah. Because his horse was lame. The feeder steers traveled with them, he thought, sometimes. Their cloudy forms at the corner of his eye: ruddy Herefords and Limousins, white-face Angus crossbreds, pale Charolais. Hijos de puta, always tromping in where not wanted.
His thoughts formed and dissolved behind his eyes like mist. Lazy bastards, those others. Warming their butts in the break hut. They would lose everything. Though he too had — No, not everything. Not his best horse, his roping rig. Wallet and papers zipped in the pocket of his parka.
He wanted to touch the pocket. This did not happen. Nonetheless, they were there. Receipts; money, a little. People said the Foulks Brothers paid well, when they paid. He had been paid twelve times. Pressed his luck: stupid.
His weighted feet moved grudgingly, more slowly, stopped. That was all. Nothing hurt. He knelt, settled back. He wished to clear his left eye. This did not happen. Tug at his right hand. Slither. The rein slid away like a snake. A vague shape moved past, out of sight. Lost. Socorro. Socorro.
At eight thirty Alice Andison logged out of her spreadsheet program with a nervous shudder, went into the kitchen, and filled a Baggie with oat-and-molasses horse cookies. January's numbers looked good, which worried her more than if they had looked bad. Bad numbers at least gave you an idea where you stood with the gods, but good ones left you wondering when the lightning would strike. Was I born a pessimist? she thought. No, just a clear realist. The old joke about the rancher who won the lottery ("What will you do with the money?" "Keep on ranching till it's gone") barely scratched a smile out of her; it was just too near the bone. She pulled on her thermal coveralls.
The collie Bel lay against the kitchen door, whining. She wanted to stay inside, and Alice wanted to keep her in because she was old and stiff and felt the cold, but Bel couldn't stand it. Collies lived outside, she knew. The other two were out there, in the kennel in the carport. Suddenly she struggled up, and Alice heard the other dogs barrel out past the pickup, claws scratching the cement. A volley of barks, and something went creaking past the front of the house, paused, and then the whole circus moved on down the slope toward the shed yard. Bel cried and scraped at the door.
"What in hell?" muttered Alice, a Moon Boot half on. She hopped across the house, knelt on the window seat, and made a tunnel of her hands on the frost-knit window. Nothing. Immaculate snow, ice-chip stars, frowsy locust twigs hanging still. She could hear the dogs, but they weren't shrieking like they did for a bobcat or a porcupine. She pocketed her horse treats, stood for a moment with her thumb on her lip, and went and got a big flashlight from the utility closet. Its batteries wouldn't last in this cold, but it was long and heavy, weaponlike.
She went out; Bel shot away downhill toward the barns. No question about where the party was. The high-drifted snow of the front yard had been tossed by the skirmishing dogs and by — what? Powder snow, too cold and fine to keep a sharp imprint. She tramped slowly down the slope toward the diminishing noises, shining her flashlight from side to side, its beam turning yellow, then orange. No sound now but the squeak of her boots in the powder.
On her left were long pens going down to the creek, the shadowy shapes of horses drifting uphill, sensing some entertainment. On her right the three hay sheds, with the flatbed wagon standing loaded and ready for the morning. Nothing and nobody inside, and anyway the collies weren't there. Ah, there — Sweep ran out the door of the foaling barn, caught sight of her, and ducked back in.
Gripping her flashlight right-handed, Alice slipped into the shed and flicked on the overheads. The big fluorescents flickered on, revealing the three dogs grinning in a circle around a horse that had just cleaned up a flake of grass hay left loose in the wheelbarrow. As she watched, the animal abandoned the barrow and limped urgently onward toward the stacked bales. Automatically, Alice registered breed, sex, and color: quarter-horse mare, spang-in-your-eye red chestnut. Carrying a roping saddle in good condition. And hopping lame, though not bleeding anywhere that Alice could see.
The bosal bridle on her head had no bit to get in the way of her eating. Not that anything less than a muzzle would have, it looked like. The collies looked from Alice to the mare and back, delighted withtheir prize. A bay colt, three years old, kept inside while a wire cut on his pastern healed, pointed an ear at Alice but kept his starting eyes on the foreign horse; even the cat Ike, high up in the bale stack with his paws tucked in, ogled her. But the mare spared nobody an ounce of attention, just went on jerking one starving mouthful after another out of the handiest bale of mixed grass.
Alice stood uncertain. Where had she come from? No saddlebags, no slicker or bedroll tied behind the cantle, so probably not a runaway from a pack string or hunting outfit — anyway, what lunatic would go hunting or camping in such weather? Forest Service horse? Same objection; furthermore, the rimfire roping rig with its two cinches, lariat neatly coiled and tied? That heavy Mexican bosal?
Her hands ached distractingly.
The rider: if not here, where?
"Anybody up there with you, Ike?"
"Mip," he replied, and licked his nose.
She walked out, thoughtful, and made her evening round of the pens, counted and observed the horses, checked that they had hay, dispensed cookies. Looked, for good measure and by the browning ray of her flashlight, into the machine shed and the covered arena. Nobody there, but anyway she was coming around to the belief that the chestnut mare's lameness and solitary state meant that she had had a fall somewhere up in the hills and parted from her rider there. Probably some time ago. Those ribs were pretty well covered, but her belly was drawn up from lack of water. (Though sprung in a suggestive way behind the cinch.) Could she have been lost for as much as three days, since before the blizzard and the deep freeze? Alice found herself calculating the rider's chance of survival, her own obligations.
She would have to try. Wouldn't she? Though it might mean miles, hours. And the rider might be, probably was, dead already. Or she might reasonably wait for morning and call the state police. Or call her sister in Waitsburg for advice. No, she couldn't; Janet would try to drive up, get stuck on the way, and freeze in a ditch. Pa, she thought longingly, as she deep-bedded the red mare in the second foaling box, untacked and blanketed her, supplied her with water and three flake — on second thought, four flake of grass hay. Pa, what should I do? But Allan was dead. And anyway, she knew what was right.
Come on, Alice. Cowboy up.
Catching up and saddling her mystified but biddable gray gelding, she led him up to the house and tied him to the porch while she went in to take her cell phone off the jack, stow it in a zipper pocket, and change her boots. Mounted, she looked down at the barns, debating with herself about the bolt-action twenty-two in the tack room. Decided against it.
"Glen: kennel. Bel: kennel. You, Glen! Kennel." The puppy crept dismally in with Bel. Alice cast across the yard a couple of times until she found the stray horse's back trail, a trench of plowed-up snow with a ribbonlike mark parallel where the mare had carried her head aside to keep from stepping on the trailing reins. Checked her watch: nine forty-five. She would give it two hours, she decided. In such cold and in knee-deep snow, that would be as much as she and her horse were worth.
The back trail led eastward from the house, into the gap through which, when not frozen solid, Dorothy Creek ran down off the high ground where the Standfast cows spent their summers. Tricky, the narrow trail along the creek. Again and again Alice brushed down drifts of powder off overhanging fir branches, so she guessed the mare must have been riderless when she passed through there. Slowly on up the gap, the gray horse Tom Fool puffing smoke, out of the gulch and onto the flat after a hard-slogging hour, and Sweep suddenly raced forward. Alice's stomach lurched. There he was, dead sure enough, and she had forgotten to bring a tarp to skid him in on. Damn. She wished she had not come.
It was a good flat piece of pasture, a long dogleg, in the middle of it the frozen rider upright as a dolmen in a waste of reflected starlight. Wanting none of this to be happening, Alice pressed forward. Sweep scurried up, crouched in front of the dark thing as if to drive it, leapt to one side. Came back and faced it, tail waving. Barked and pawed at it, dashed back to Alice.
"I'm coming. Leave it alone, Sweep." She could see the body clearly now, kneeling in the snow, arms clamped across itself and the long fur fringe of the parka's hood hiding its face. She halted her horse, dreading to look. Whereupon she realized that the rag of white vapor that passed at intervals across the front of the hood came not from the collie, but from the corpse.
At seven fifteen in the morning as usual, Alice got a call from her sister on the cell phone, the landlines being down. Janet Weston generally called twice a day, catering to her guilt about living comfortably in Waitsburg, leaving Alice alone at Standfast after their father's death. Janet called it a security measure, both of them knowing full well that between her daily calls lay time in abundance for awful things to happen to Alice: falls, tractor rolls, tramplings. Better than nothing, though. Also, the regular contact helped Janet judge her general mental and physical state. Janet harbored a belief that Alice would work herself into a breakdown if not carefully monitored. Alice harbored the same belief about Janet who spent more hours than not teaching at the local community college.
"Hey, Roan, what's up? You warm enough?"
"So far. You back at school yet?"
"Nope. At least another day, they're saying. Young'uns are going nuts; it's really too cold to be fun outdoors. They took the basketball out, but it sounded like they were bouncing a brick. Stock okay?"
"Yeah. But if it doesn't warm up in a couple of days, I'm getting them inside."
"Do it on Sunday, we'll come up and help. If I can get to the highway. Philip took the four-by-four to Portland," Janet's husband, a lawyer and labor arbitrator.
"Didn't get home, I take it?" Beautiful, that two-hundred-mile highway along the Gorge of the Columbia, but treacherous, a skate park in winter.
"Nope, stuck in Hood River, typing up his notes on the laptop and drinking up his fee. How are you fixed for supplies?"
"O-okay, I think."
Janet interpreted the stammer. "What's up?"
Drat! Alice thought. How to explain without launching Janet and kids onto these wicked roads — "Well, I have a — a visitor."
"This stray horse came in to the place last night, and I had to go back and dig the rider out."
"Yeah, alive, just barely, and I don't know yet — he may be badly hurt. So far he hasn't unfolded enough to tell."
Alice had had no idea how to get him onto Tom Fool, but it turned out to be fairly easy. For one thing, he was small and light, and for another, after she hassled him to his feet and positioned the gray gelding beside him, some kind of reflex took over: in infinitely slow motion, he got himself into the saddle. Once up, he stayed there, hugging himself, with a deep unconscious balance.
She also didn't quite remember how they got into the house — slowly, mobbed by collies, herself nearly at the end of her strength by then, and with her horse still to dry out and put away (and two more flake of hay to the chestnut mare). When she got back inside, the frozen man hadn't shifted a hair from where she'd left him in the wing chair, cradling his left elbow in a way that made her suspect it, or the arm or wrist, was damaged.
Clamped mouth, closed eye, marble hump of cheekbone: he looked dead though sitting up, and did not seem to breathe. To correct a superstitious tremor in herself, Alice stoked up the fire in the woodstove, poured herself two fingers of good highland malt, and settled into the sofa to await developments. To keep a vigil, she told herself grimly, or hold a wake.
Around midnight something happened. A buzz, chattering of teeth so rapid and refined it seemed electric. The same thing at three or so, and again at a little before six when dawn was paling the windows. Nothing else. Alice went out to her chores, came back, made coffee, ate oatmeal. No change. And then Janet's call.
"What do you mean, unfolded?"
"I mean he hasn't moved or opened his eyes since I sat him down in the big chair last night. For a while I thought he was dead."
"Are you sure he's not?"
Alice snorted, daylight having dispelled the illusion. "Well, he walked in here under his own steam, so...and his teeth chatter every once in a while. But he holds himself like he's hurt, and the horse is lame, I think shoulder lame."
"Like they fell?"
"Oh, boy." Alice heard that sharp determined sigh. "Roan, do you want me to come up? Nick and Nan and I together can probably — "
"No, don't you dare think about it. If I thought I could get the pickup out, I would. But they haven't even plowed Highway 12, so imagine the county road. By the way" — this just occurring to her — "he might be one of your students."
Janet made a complicated sound. "You mean, like, what, is he Latino?"
"Yeah. Or maybe Indian. No, must be Mexican; I think he said something in Spanish."
"He did? What?"
"Well, I'm so bad at it — something like 'zorro' or 'scorro'?"
"Yeah, okay. Which means, like, help or rescue?"
"Well, that would figure, wouldn't it? I wonder — you know, you never see a saddle tramp anymore. But he's got a sure 'nough wrangler's rig on that mare, and, I dunno — he looks like a cowboy."
A snort of derision: "Stetson, belt buckle, spurs?"
"Not a rodeo-team cowboy. Well, yeah, spurs. I dunno. Maybe it's the horse. There's a good Cactus rope on the saddle, I'll say that." Alice didn't know what cues she was picking up, but she felt pretty sure of her ground. Janet thought of other possibilities: small-time cattle thief, drug mule, serial killer.
"What are you going to do? Be careful, darlin'."
"Yeah. Just watch him, I guess. Don't you worry, though; he's small, and not in the most robust condition. I think I'm okay."
"Keep the dogs with you," said Janet, not much reassured. "You know, if he's really...if it looks like he might need medical attention, the staters have that helicopter."
"That's a thought."
"They've been taking people up out of the river resorts and ski lodges in the Blues, the TV said."
"That's an idea. Kinda hate to bother the cops, though, unless..."
"Well, true." Another plosive sigh. "Okay, take care. Talk to you later." She knew Janet would have a think; would have other suggestions when she called back.
Alice checked: still no change. As she stood hesitating in the kitchen in her stockinged feet, a cow on the triangle pasture moaned and moaned again. This decided her, and she dragged on her outdoor clothes. Her team had to be caught up and harnessed to the hay wagon, the cows on the Triangle fed, hay dragged out to the rough pastures where the racehorses were letting down, the wagon reloaded with bales for tomorrow's feeds. The bay colt's pastern dressed. Trough warmers checked, grain doled out to the working horses, the iced-up drinking holes in the creek chopped out. The collies and barn cats fed. By the kitchen door the thermometer read seven degrees Fahrenheit, the barometer 29.96. She tapped it with her fingernail and it creaked up a tenth. Lawsy, she thought, pulling on her ski gloves, let it be a sign.
She peered at the kid again: not a quiver. She went out.
For a time before his eye opened, he thought he was dead. Because of the music. It was faint and slow and harplike, and although he only heard it at intervals when the machinery stopped, he began to believe it went on all the while. Sometimes, though, music and machinery and everything faded away. Then when he came back everything was there again, stronger. Everything: the music and the machinery and the pain. So he concluded he must be alive. Death did not come and go, he believed, nor heaven and hell intermingle. Light swam in, finally, revealing a greenish room, fire, a white man in shirtsleeves who whispered. There was something terrible about the man, a pattern on his face. Beard? No. It mottled the whole face and head, hideous. The man came close and crooned. Nausea, panic rose. A red maw swallowed him.
"Well," warned Janet on the phone, "even if he doesn't die, he's going to swell up." The question being, should Alice pull off the frozen stranger's boots and gloves?
"I know," she agreed. "But it seems kinda...personal."
"Well, yeah. But anyway, you don't want his dang boots on your rug. And if you don't take his gloves off now, some medic will probably have to cut them off later. Have you got Bag Balm?"
"A big new tin. So what do you think? Hot water bottles, heating pad?"
"Oh jeez. Call Vera Jane. She's smarter about that stuff than my Red Cross manual."
"Okay, I will. Philip not back yet, I take it?"
"He got as far as Walla Walla, stayed over at the Pony Soldier. He's betting they'll plow us out tomorrow."
Alice called her neighbor Robey Whyte and asked her question, which Robey incuriously relayed to his wife Vera Jane, who did not cotton to the cell phone.
"She says no, leave him lay under a quilt for another day, just keep the room warm," Robey repeated, "and give him warm — say what? — warm broth, and warm coffee with sugar. She says, who the hell is it, and where the hell did he come from?" Nothing incurious about Vera Jane. By the time Alice clicked off the phone, the Mexican boy's one visible eye was open.
"Hey, kiddo. Feel like facing the public? Prob'ly not just yet." Lights are on, she thought, but nobody's home. She found herself treating him like a damaged horse: no bright lights, quick movements, or loud sounds. And food. If the mare was any clue, food first.
Standing behind him, she held a napkin under his chin and a cup of noodle soup under his nose. For a while, nothing happened. Then a kind of jar went through the whole thin frame. A hard, hard swallow, and the split and blackened lips parted. After that, things went forward smoothly: a little soup, a little cleanup, a little more soup. Gradual, that's the best way back to life, thought Alice.
The hood of the parka, when she examined it, proved to be stuck to his face with blood, the watch cap under it as well. Soaked off, they revealed a great raw abrasion from temple to jawbone, blood dried in the channels of his ear, clotted in his hair. The left eye swollen shut. Yes. A bad fall, on the ice of the creek probably, among the rocks, and what this meant for the rest of him she was afraid to think. Separated shoulder, broken elbow, ribs askew; all far beyond the therapeutic scope of noodle soup and Bag Balm. However, except for the scrape on his face, she found no blood. She fed him a little more soup, which seemed to go down gratefully, then knelt to unbuckle his spurs, and carefully worked his boots off.
She was his best horse ever, that chestnut. A true Music Mount. It was partly fear of losing her that made him run. Partly his luck in spotting the bus as it emerged from the gap in the snow-veined rimrock where the ranch road came through. An olive-green Immigration Service bus. Thanks to God for his good eyes.
And for the white vapor rising off the mass of steers on the feedlot: good cover.
And for the lever of the outgate to the railroad siding, right beside him where he sat his horse at the high end of the muddy, teeming lot. He had lain against the red mare's shoulder, pulled the lever over, eased her sideways through the gate. Closed the gate to keep steers from following, perverse sons of whores, to draw attention to him.
He had to pass four more gates. Two of them stood open. One of the others gave a ghost wail as it swung, but by this time the racket from the other side covered it: bawled orders, raw yells, cursing in English and Spanish as the Migra-men turned out the break hut. Avoiding the loading chutes, still flat along the horse's shoulder, he passed through the last gate and turned right along the tracks. Within ten strides they were below the edge of the bluff. Out of sight of the law. He sat up and sent the horse scrambling down the slope toward the river.
But there was nowhere to go. No road on this side of the Snake. No town in either direction, in any direction, for thirty miles. Only Tumac, almost a ghost town, no kind of a place for a man to hide himself in, much less a valuable stock horse.
If he could have gone back, if he had had any warning. If he had taken his pay and quit on Friday, he would have been somewhere else in his aged Silverado pickup, pulling the red mare and his new young gray in the bald-tired trailer. Maybe closer to his girl in Yakima, Wapato, wherever that was. On the move anyway, safe, more or less, from the immigration police. But no, he had pushed his luck, always a bad thing.
So, with nowhere to go on the Idaho side, he had to turn the horse back up the embankment and chance the railroad bridge, hoping for a road or a ranch or a town close to the river in Washington. Hoping for no train.
The mare was afraid. She touched the first cross tie with her toe. She could see the river down below; between each pair of timbers, open air. One foot misplaced — he didn't urge her, didn't touch her with the spurs. He too was afraid. But she had an eagle's heart. She stepped. Stepped again.
Perhaps he should not have run. But he had assumed that he could return. It was only as they passed the middle span of the bridge that he had known he could not. That if they did not die on the bridge, he must never so abuse his luck again. And that was while they still had a quarter mile to go, treading from tie to tie, with the Snake coiling like cold oil below. So when lathered and trembling she finally sidestepped down off the steep ramp on the Washington side, he did not even wait for his heart to return to its customary place, but turned her down the gully by the tracks, looking for a way out.
And then came the snow-squall, and then the freeze, and more and still more snow. And the fall on the iced-up creek.
The ching of spur rowels roused him to despair. Here it came, the tugging at his feet, at his hands, swift fingers rifling his clothes; all would be taken, all lost. He would be naked to the cold, alone, finished. It was a relief, almost a relief, giving up. If these pains will let me, he thought, I can die.
Unfortunately, the reverse happened. The pains increased, a skewer of fire in every joint, his fingers like bunches of salchichas, feet like campfire rocks. His stomach ached and gnawed. When he was fed, the napkin snagged on his bearded chin. He knew himself bloody and filthy, stinking. Finally, appallingly, he realized he needed the baño, pronto.
His third day on the place, Alice came in at noon to find him sitting at the dinette table.
"¿Usted tiene hambre?" she asked, proud of her español.
"Sí, patrón." It came out hoarsely, but politely. A mannerly croak. Alice hid a grin, standing on the bootjack by the front door, peeling off her thermal gear. Hungry as a wolverine, he was, pretty clearly, and looking like hell on a plate. But would he eat a radish in this house without being offered it? Not on his tintype.
She was starting to worry about her supplies, though. She made egg sandwiches since she had eggs, and tomato soup with canned milk, being out of fresh, making it a little sharp with pico de gallo. She cut the sandwiches in fours and piled them on a plate to encourage the boy to fill up. And she set the table. She had inherited high domestic standards. "I hold by the blood of my clan," her mother used to say when opposed in questions of propriety, taking her father, the real Scot, aback.
She bade the kid eat, and they ate. Afterward, she induced him to let her apply Bag Balm to his hands and feet and Neosporin to his face. That was it for him; he fell asleep in the big chair by the woodstove, so she got out her notepad and went through her stores. Tea, milk, spuds. Lettuce, carrots. A chicken. Toothpaste, an ink cartridge for the printer, chocolate grahams, kibble for the cats. Today would have been a good day to replenish, but six inches of new snow had fallen during the night, so the state highway through Waitsburg was blocked again. Iwalu village? She might have made it on horseback, but the likelihood was great that the little store there would be as bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard. No mail, no newspaper. Luckily, the electricity had never gone out, and the phone lines were up again.
But Janet and her kids had not been able to make it up to Standfast from their home in Waitsburg, even with the Jeep. Alice and the three collies would have to spend the afternoon wrangling thirty-seven pregnant cows up off the pasture and into the covered arena, where they'd be out of the wind and easily fed, watered, and watched. The calves would start to come in about ten days, give or take.
Sitting on the stepladder, her pad and pen in her lap, she suddenly felt swept away by the sinking exhaustion that for a single-hand stock raiser was the essence of calving. It seemed to Alice that she had barely, just barely survived last spring's bearing season. And here she was, a year older and tireder, facing it on her own again. She rested her forehead on her knees, suppressing a groan. Worse still, this year she had an extra horse to look after, and this kid — unless he moved on. Which he certainly did not seem fit to do yet, any more than his horse. Though the mare's lameness was easing.
Alice sat up. It occurred to her that the boy might not realize about the horse.
He knew after the first day that the man was not scarred but freckled, his hair close-curled and grizzled. He knew his own hurts were being tended, his things not stolen. Yet confusion persisted. The man spoke absurd Spanish, quite fluent but hilariously wrong — was he doing it on purpose? If so, why? Then, too, since he had been able to feed himself, the man had required him to admit hunger — very crude. Yet the food came anyway, without stint. Again, the food, though odd, was tasty, and served with a kind of flourish. And the man himself was the cook and cleaner-up. As well as working, when outside (one could not be mistaken about this) with cattle and horses. A young dog that sometimes slipped into the house with the man — the smell of his coat confirmed this. And now this dazzling, gratuitous, totally unexpected stroke of good luck! It was true, then, the proverb: to one born to eat tamal, the corn shucks fall from the sky.
The red mare pressed into the Mexican boy, chuckling and snuffing, pushed her nose inside his coat, into his hair. He held her long face against his belly, risking a nip, and stroked her neck and tugged her ears. Bent his head to take in her breath, let her take in his. A regular old fairy-tale reunion, Alice thought, a little bit choked up. The boy threw back the blanket, touched and pressed the thickened shoulder muscles, following the swelling down the leg. He turned to her, still unsteady on his pins, and said in Spanish, gravely ceremonious, "Sir, I am entirely obliged to you."
"Que no mencionar," responded Alice, charmed. "In any case, whatever obligation exists is to your steed, for she preserved your existence, certainly."
"Truly? She carried me here?" ' "She came here lonely, making loud, brave tracks in the snow. These we read backwards in order to effect a rescue."
It hurt to smile, and anyway was impolite. "You, sir, and other people?"
"I and my horse and my dog. This large clever dog, Sweep." The collie came into the stall and sat on her foot, laughing. Alice thought of something. "She got a baby in there?"
"¿Está embarazada?" making a big-belly motion.
The boy nodded soberly. "She keep it, you think?" his first words in English, and Alice did not know whether he meant, "Will she resorb the fetus because of the trauma of her journey?" or, "Will she carry the fetus to term?" In any case his teeth were chattering like a keyboard now, so she made him go indoors. But he pursued the question while she made a lunch of cheese toast (last of the cheese), beans, and tomato salad (last of the tomatoes).
"Patrón, you think she gonna carry the baby?" the question coming oddly tender from that scabbed, bearded, slit-eyed face.
"Well," she said, putting things on plates, "I doubt she's lost it yet." More slowly, "I don't believe she has lost the baby yet, but I am not a veterinarian. When is she due to drop it? ¿Cuándo va a dar a luz?" Pleased at having the idiom handy.
Though it was the wrong idiom. But the boy figured it out: "Abril."
"Well, she won't resorb it at this stage." She might abort, however; time would tell. "Are you ready? Get it while it's hot." Then when his mouth was full and his sausage-like fingers awkwardly occupied, "You must have used her very hard, up in the hills."
Used her hard, holy God. He had done his best to kill her with cold and snow and icy going and no shelter and no food and no water. And still she had saved his life. He felt honored to own her. She had more cow sense than any horse or even any man he had ever known. Once she was bred, he had bought the second horse to spare her. But still she had put in her six or seven hours on the sale lots and pens every day. And her eagle courage on the railroad bridge! He could not have expressed this in English, maybe not even in Spanish.
And then the güero asked him a deeply insulting question, as if he were a skill-less, horseless man, as if he might have stolen her: "Does that horse belong to you, or to somebody you work for?"
"Belong?" he muttered, actually tangled up in "to somebody you."
"¿La yegua le pertenece a usted?"
He stood up a little too quickly for politeness, got the bill of sale out of his wallet, and dropped it on the table without a word. The white man, as if unaware of any offense, studied the paper for a long time, both the sale side and the bloodline side. Indeed, there was a great deal of information in the document. He began to fear that he had allowed his pride to stampede him into trouble. It would have been better merely to have answered, "Mine," and let the insult pass. If it was an insult; the whites often said foul things out of ignorance. He wished the paper back in his pocket.
Eventually it was handed back. "Royally bred on the dam side," incomprehensibly. And then, "Would you drink coffee if I made some?"
See! There again, that coarseness.
Alice beat Janet to the punch, calling her on the cell phone from the tack room at four fifteen. She had left the Mexican kid asleep on the couch, but she guessed he slept light, given the pain he was in, and that his English comprehension was pretty good. She had a few items for Janet's ears only, and it would have been rude to discuss him in his hearing. Janet, in her office at school, searched her memory, which was extensive, and came up blank. "Guys!" hailing her officemates, "Have we ever had a student named Juan Roque or Domingo Roque or Juan Domingo Roque? R-O-Q-U-E?" They thought not. She would check the files, but didn't expect to find anything. It was not that common a surname; somebody would have remembered.
"I'm pretty sure it's on the level because it was on the bill of sale for the horse."
"So it's his horse?"
"Think so. He got a tad porky when I asked, and showed me the paper. Bought her in Idaho five years ago, dang cheap. Her sire's nothing special, but her dam side's right royal, Poco and Vandy lines, and Music Mount, far back."
"Yes indeedy. Plus, she's in foal, due in April if she doesn't abort."
"To who? Why would she?"
"Dunno, some Idaho horse, I would guess. I think they must have had a pretty bad time back in the hills during the storm and the freeze. Seems like they were lost up there for three or four days. You know how lovely it isn't, back in there, at the best of times. He's real worried about her."
"Is she less lame, though?"
"Yeah, she is. Looks worse, of course, 'cause the edema is going south, but she's moving better. Her eyes are bright; her coat's good. You should have seen them, when he went down there to the barn today. It was a real old mother-and-child reunion."
"No kidding? Aww. How'd he get down there, though?"
"In Dad's Moon Boots and Nick's gloves. It wasn't the least bit good for him. However, nothing's broken, looks like. He looks horrid and he smells high. But I guess I can stand that for another week or so."
"But Roan, how are your supplies?"
"Running low. But Robey said he'd get the Ski-Doo out tomorrow and try to get in to Iwalu. If the store's even open. If the Ski-Doo will even run. If I had a sledge, I'd try it with the Clydes."
"Oh, well, not to worry," said Janet blithely, "it's going to thaw. Chinook tonight." And she was right.
Robey Whyte called Alice in the neighborly way to ask, supposing that the snow machine got him as far as the crossroads store, what could he bring her? Alice gave him a five-item list. She thought he would do better on horseback but didn't say so. Robey loved his cranky machine. She comforted herself that the old crate probably wouldn't start up in the dead cold. She also thought that Robey should not go alone, tough old root though he was, but she could imagine the short sharp discussion that would follow her mentioning this or offering to ride along. Anyway, the fact was that if the cold kept its clamp on the hills, and if the Ski-Doo started, and if Robey actually got as far as the Iwalu store and back, it would be all Alice could do to cover on horseback the seven miles by road or four miles across country over the ridges to the Whytes' place to pick up whatever he might bring her.
Robey wondered on the phone how the folks up at the Hashknife place were doing. Alice didn't know, she said, aware when she hung up that she had been commissioned to find out. She tried, mentally, to fend this off. The Hashknife was closer to Standfast than to the Whytes at Robey Grade, but only in terms of time, not of effort. Besides, Alice disapproved of those people, whose lousy farming allowed yellow star thistle and vetch to invade other folks' pastures and hay ground, whose stupid hunting endangered other folks' livestock, and whose flagrant dope-selling brought a lot of short-stop traffic to the neighborhood as well as smearing the fame of the proud old Texas trail-driving outfit whose name they had appropriated. In terms of marijuana production, the nickname was apt, but that didn't any more endear them to Alice; secretly, she thought it good that they freeze and starve themselves out of the county, if only they would. However, there were children and animals up there who were innocent, who might also be freezing and starving even as she stoked her woodstove and reheated her leftover cornbread for lunch.
A couple of hours' hard traveling later, she sat her steaming horse at the top of a shale slide and peered down into the little valley where the Hashknife house nestled among junk cars and broken-backed sheds. Exponential increase in trash on the place since she had last ridden by, she noted, the house hedged round by a range of little snow-covered alps made of something that bled red into the surrounding snow. Antifreeze containers? Were they winterizing all those old junkers? A waste of time and money. Better to raise chickens in them.
She was happy to see smoke creeping from both chimneys and pale lamplight shining from at least one window. Blue evening already, down there. A pack of mutts came barreling up the hill toward her but ran out of gumption at the bottom of the slide, sat down and barked and bayed like the consciously bold, secretly cowardly brutes they knew themselves to be. Sweep and Glen ignored them. Alice checked them out, though, squinting under her hand, and thought that their bones were well upholstered. Well, folks, you've got heat, you've got light, and if you get real hungry, she thought, you can eat the dogs.
Copyright © 2009 by Kennedy Foster
Posted July 21, 2009
In Washington State by the foothills of the Blue Mountains, the blizzard is nasty so Alice Anderson plans to stay inside on her ranch Standfast. That is until she sees a saddled quarter horse wandering aimlessly in the snow. She knows whomever was riding it is in trouble from exposure to the icy weather. Reluctantly after placing the horse in a barn, Alice searches for the missing rider although she fears she will bring home a frozen corpse. She finds him alive so Alice manages to get Domingo Roque on her sled and to the safety of her ranch.
Domingo proves to be an expert vaquero as he helps Alice work her ranch. However, he is also an illegal with the authorities seeking to return him to Mexico. As Alice and Domingo work together respect and friendship grows between the padrona and the vaquero; love soon follows. However Immigration is closing in on him and vile part owner Jerry Graeme makes demands of Alice or else the ICE will bring a colder reception than the blizzard did.
This is a fabulous contemporary romance that uses ranching to bring alive the impact on people of the immigration policy, which in its current manner is like the war on drugs: a failure. Fascinatingly Domingo at first struggles with working for a female, as women are not typically heads of ranches in Mexico or in the states. The story line is fast-paced from the onset as the reader anticipates the ranching couple to fall in love, but like each of them also expects it is just a matter of time before he is deported. Alice's antagonist is a unique villain while Domingo's foe will remind the audience of Javert from Les Miserables. ALL ROADS LEAD ME BACK TO YOU is a super modern day romance.
Posted October 17, 2012
No text was provided for this review.
Posted October 24, 2010
No text was provided for this review.