They ate no-peek chicken, drank fresh cow’s milk, savored squares of cherry cobbler before taking to the porch for the Texas Two-Step, the Electric Slide, and the Dos-a-dos. Taren sat along the railing on a hard wood bench, her eyes following Danny’s cleaned-up boots and new plaid shirt as he swept Molly Lacey in and out of the dancing crowd. They were all there: the wranglers, the kitchen-help, and, like her, the dude ranch guests from California.
Danny had helped Taren with her stubborn horse that day, his cowboy charm making her blush, so she told herself she wasn’t jealous of the girl in pink Tony Lama boots dancing with him now. She had no expectations, her tiny place in any crowd all too familiar. She slipped from the porch.
Out in the night, the stars were masked in cloud. She could barely see, but still she ducked through the split-log fence to hike across the pasture toward her family’s unlit cabin, imagining its tin roof outlined against the mountain.
The ground was uneven. She slowed and felt the blackness pinch around her. Fear fluttered into her throat, into her stomach. Stupid, she thought, to do this. A sprained ankle would only bring an angry lecture from her father. She almost turned back, but a kind of defiance took hold. She kept going, one careful step at a time, weeds and grass tickling her calves.
Halfway there, she stopped and listened for crickets. “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” floated across the field from the distant porch; a horse neighed in the other meadow. She should turn around, go back to the dance, watch Molly Lacy snuggle against Danny’s chest, close her eyes and pretend, but no. This was good for her, an adventure, a test. She had to find inner strength, didn’t she?
Taren crept forward, arms out, feeling the lumpy ground beneath her feet. Cool night air rippled across her face, her bare arms, caressed her knees. A sweet grassy scent wafted up. She pulled it into her chest, letting it out slowly. Kept going.
She strained to make out the cabin. Sensed it was there, black against a fainter black. She smiled, laughed. She’d made it across the pasture.
Then her left hand smacked against something warm, coarse, solid—stopping her, making her gasp and snatch back her hand.
She sniffed animal odor. Felt the flick of a tail. A rasping moo filled the air. She squinted into the murk. It was a cow. She reached out and touched its rough hide. Gave it a pat. The dense air next to her formed and reformed itself as the beast moved off.
The cool darkness bloomed around her. She scanned the sky, the stars now bright between ribbons of cloud, the far-off main house quiet except the hum of voices. Closing her eyes, she let the moment settle over her. Then, with a deep-throated chuckle, she tromped on through the gloom to her cabin.
Gay Degani is the author of a full-length collection of short stories Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She’s had four flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11thGlass Woman Prize. She blogs at Words in Place.