Losing an arm wasn’t a problem, the Army told her. Look up the names: Horatio Nelson, Álvaro Obregón, Stonewall Jackson. All of them men, but never mind. There was a nice desk job waiting, not to worry.
Well, of course inside.
That was how she came to be holding the halter, tramping the woodland paths with her military career far behind. Her companion, the horse, lolloped behind with a steady but uneven gait, the result of a near-fatal racetrack injury. Retired and retrained, it too preferred the woodland paths.
Some riders showed good seat, others writhed and shook. This was only to be expected, given the warnings that accompanied their medical referrals. Woman and horse did what they could, which is to say they continued their woodland journey.
You’re coming along…
…the footfalls said.
Every patient had something lodged within, something that hurt. After a while, the woman began to feel that the horse possessed an ability not merely to sooth but to dislodge the lodger. The back-and-forth motion of the saddle edged around, enticing it to depart.
She told no one of this.
Not even the horse.
As their success rate grew, so too did the severity of the assigned cases. Among them was a schoolboy who refused to sit with his back to a door, compulsively switched off ceiling lights, and frantically glanced around.
A stranger’s face…
…a hiding place.
At once the woman felt a stiffness in the halter. The steady rhythm of the walk, the sounds of the woodland creatures, the canopy above, all these should ordinarily effect some positive change. But this time was different.
The woman looked at the horse.
The horse looked at the woman.
A single turn was usual, two turns the maximum. Halfway through the third, the horse began to limp. There followed a lurching stop, a sudden pull downward, a yell from the rider – the first sound he’d made since arriving.
All things pass.
Boy and woman would long recall this moment. For one of them, the attempt to find help would matter more, over time, than its effectiveness upon arrival. This was healing. For the other, an invisible but wrenching amputation:
Flash Fiction by Daniel McKay
Daniel McKay teaches at Doshisha University, Japan. He is no good at writing catchy bios, preferring instead to horse around and watch the world go by. He neighs objectionably when politicians make asses of themselves, but, against the odds, does not believe the world is going to hell in a haybasket.