His voice went sing-song when he threatened me. “Don’t you mess with those horses, now. Those horses are wild. They’ll stomp you into jelly.” He was on the porch and I was in the yard, squatting in the hot dirt. His whiskey smelled like burnt wood, so I scuttled back underneath the house through the crawl space.
I wasn’t messing with the horses. Never did. I was prospecting, my knees bent for hours underneath the groaning floorboards of the house we lived in that summer. Below the house was sand and buried in the sand was gold. Gemstones. Precious things buried long ago by someone who needed to hide her jewels. I knew what it was like to hide.
I used a pie tin poked through with holes to sift the sand and find the treasure. Bracelets, necklaces, brooches, rings. Each new trinket I would spit-shine, rubbing my dirty fingers in circles over each gritty piece until I could judge what I had. Some of it was plastic. Some of it wasn’t. I hid all of it, stuffed in my pockets so that he wouldn’t see, so no one could see.
I imagined where the jewelry had come from. From a belle, newly married. She could hear the drumming of the march, the beat of disciplined bootsteps. The sound of men approaching. It was just her there, her husband off fighting the war. She knew there would be gunshots, fire. Worse. She ran into the yard while it was still dark and buried her jewels, hoping she’d make it back for them but she never did.
Sometimes girls disappear.
Back out in the sun, I turned away from the empty porch and surveyed my haul. Black beads, plastic. A necklace, silver with a reddish gemstone. Carnelian, the color of dried blood.
I wasn’t doing anything bad when the horses jumped their fence. It wasn’t my fault they were wild, that their splintered fence needed patching, that they could easily escape into our yard lined with apricot trees. The air was sick with fruit, heavy with sweet.
I heard them before I saw them, two dozen hooves pounding on the sandy soil, a rumbling train coming up behind me. And then they were there, around me, and it was calm again. There was a mockingbird drilling, the shimmying of leaves in the breeze. The horses nickered and swished their tails as they pulled the apricots off the snapping branches.
It felt like magic. Like a blessing. Why shouldn’t they eat the fruit? Why shouldn’t they flee the men who meant to break them?
He was already coming down the steps when I heard him.
“Don’t you move,” he said. He looked at the horses and he looked at me. He stopped on the bottom step and crossed his arms. “What have you got in your pockets?”
Kristin Bonilla’s fiction appears in Cleaver Magazine, NPR: Three Minute Fiction, NANO Fiction, Smokelong Quarterly, online at Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. She’s an associate flash fiction editor at jmww. Read more at http://www.kristinbonilla.com and @kbonilla.