Ed left Jal with the unnamed mare. Clarita should be the one to baptise her. The animal behaved itself on the journey. Nothing happened along the way to give credence to the Indian’s prophesying. The only curse the mare carried was her beauty.
I can’t bear these boots any longer, Ed told them as he entered the house.
Clarita, your father’s home, shouted Imabelle.
Ed slipped on some ankle boots.
Let’s go to the paddock, he suggested. The women followed him.
The mare was the picture of docility. She allowed Clarita to mount her without bucking. She was powerful yet delicate. The mirror of Clarita herself, Ed thought.
How much did this animal cost? Imabelle inquired.
Don’t ask questions you don’t really want to know the answers to, woman. Ed replied.
Yes, Mom, better not to know, Clarita added.
And what’s she called? Asked Imabelle.
She hasn’t got a name.
What! His wife was appalled. You dared bring an unnamed horse to our home?
Whose mare is this? Clarita’s, right? She should name her.
It’s bad luck, Ed.
Don’t start with all that occult stuff. Nor with Indian spell casting. Clarita’ll choose a name and that’s an end to it.
Sugar Lump, Pop, I’ll call her Sugar Lump.
You got an instinct for this, Clarita, Ed said. You saw the animal’s soul. This mare is as sweet as a Sugar Lump.
You’re a godless pair, said Imabelle said.
Great. I think I’ve earned a nap, said Ed and he went to lie down.
Clarita rode Sugar Lump all through that afternoon. Ed told Fran to look out for her. It wasn’t that he took the Indian’s words seriously, but the science of horses can be quite tricky. A good relationship between horse and rider can take minutes or hours to achieve, and whilst trust was being established then it was best to have his man on hand. There was no doubt however, Clarita was born to ride.
She’ll be a better rider than me, Ed predicted.
Sugar Lump’s nobility didn’t make her difficult.. Just like some people get on well with others, there is an abundance of good-natured horses. There was no mystery to their happy coexistence.
Ed awoke from his nap just before dinner. Clarita was still riding high on the mare.
Clarita, Ed ordered, it’s dinner time. Have you even stopped to give that animal some water?
His daughter dismounted and came into the house. The farm hand took the mare to the stables. Ed caught up with him.
What d’you think, Fran?
She’s a miracle, boss. The likes of her don’t grow on trees.
Ed felt reassured. Bad luck indeed! Quite the reverse. The mare was a gift from God.
What about the galloping? He interrogated Fran.
It comes and goes, said his man. Some nights you hear it. Others you don’t. Sometimes we can’t hear it ‘cause it gets lost in the rustling of the trees. But no sign of riders nor racehorses.
Keep an eye out. This joker is going to fall off his perch, said Ed. Go feed and water that beautiful animal.
Ed, your dinner’s getting cold, shouted Imabelle.
Throughout the meal, Clarita couldn’t stop singing the praises of the mare.
Ed finished his whisky and left the dining room in silence.
Clarita and Imabelle helped themselves to more dessert.
There’ll be no galloping tonight, Ed told himself as he went to bed. The journey to Jal will have exhausted it. Then, at three in the morning he heard it. He opened his eyes and thought, there it is.
Fran, he called to his man out of his bedroom window. You hear it?
D’you see anything?
Ed left the house and stopped in the middle of the road. He looked to left and right.
We’re going to hunt down this idiot, he said to Fran. I’ll stay and keep guard with you.
He went indoors to get a thick sweater and his shotgun. He wouldn’t let sleep get the better of him.
The phantom galloping, however, didn’t return. He thought about Mr. Mojo Risin.
Fran, what do you get from all the gossip in town about Mr. Mojo Risin? He asked his man.
That he’s Nahuas and all that?
Life in the country is dull, boss. People invent all kinds of stories to keep themselves entertained.
This damned galloping. Where does it come from?
Must be the work of some wise-guy. We’ll catch him, boss. You’ll see.
Ed and Fran passed the night together sharing a bottle of whiskey between them. Ed couldn’t remember the last time he’d smoked so much. But there was no other way to pass the time.
How was the fair, boss? He asked.
I saw the Indian.
Mr. Mojo Risin?
The very same.
And you, boss, what d’you think?
‘bout his magic?
I think they give that Indian too much credit. He’s been lucky, taming one or two horses, and because of that people think he’s got supernatural powers. But no-one can bring a horse back to life. To believe that, I’d have to see it with my own eyes.
In a few weeks the bond between Clarita and Sugar Lump became unbreakable. Clarita rode the mare whenever she fancied, without the careful oversight of the farm hand. The galloping hooves arrived some nights but not others. One day, as Ed was drinking a glass of water, he realised he hadn’t thought about Mr. Mojo Risin for several days. Whilst he was slaking his thirst, Clarita came into the kitchen.
Pop, now I’m fifteen, can I go the barn.
Every Saturday afternoon the teenagers in the town would all meet up at the Gallaghers’ barn, mostly to drink sodas and stare at each other endlessly. They seemed to be scrutinising the horizon, not expecting anything, their eyes blinded by the sun and unable to see past the Coca-Cola bottle they were holding. They were too young to overcome their shyness and dance. It was a harmless pastime. The Gallaghers kept an eye on the youngsters boring themselves to death.
Ask your mother, Ed parried.
Mom, shouted Clarita.
What’s that? Said Imabelle from the living room.
Tell Pop that he’s to give me permission to go to the barn.
Imabelle came into the kitchen.
I say no, Ed said defensively. Dance with me, you won’t get a dance there.
You can’t stop this, Ed, replied Imabelle.
Ok, ok, Ed spat. This Saturday, go, and let that bunch of waiting vultures get a whiff of you.
Ed, Imabelle scolded him.
What else is that damn barn for, Ed said as he left the house.
Time passed slowly for Clarita. The week went by so quietly, even the galloping hooves seemed to have tired of their games.
What could have happened to that pain-in-the-ass joker, Ed wondered.
He didn’t let his guard down though. Every night he posted one of his men on the boundary of his ranch. If he fell asleep, Ed wouldn’t have known because he himself was sleeping like a log. He didn’t much like the idea of his daughter spending time at the barn. It was all too easy for him to imagine how all the parents in town must be advising their sons. Catch yourself the girl with the fattest dowry. Clarita would be the sole heir to all Ed Williamson’s property.
On Saturday morning Clarita and Imabelle made such a fuss that Ed commented:
I don’t even want to imagine her wedding day!
It was a thought that assailed Ed quite often. To spend his whole life slaving away so that some gold-digger would inherit it by marrying his daughter.
Come on sweetheart, you must eat, Ed said to his daughter as they sat at the table. This is no big deal. There won’t be any two-headed cows there, just a bunch of wasters.
The excitement didn’t die down until five in the afternoon. At this point, Clarita emerged from her bedroom in her cow-girl outfit. Boots, denim jeans and check shirt.
Doesn’t she look good enough to eat? Asked Imabelle.
Do me a favour and shut up. Grunted Ed.
This is a crazy idea, Ed remarked, thinking about whether the layabout who’d ask him for his daughter’s hand would be able to look after his property.
Sugar Lump was saddled and waiting ready outside. Clarita climbed into the saddle.
Be back by seven this evening, Ed warned her.
The sky was overcast.
Hurry up, it’s going to rain, Imabelle said.
It’s less than six kilometres, Clarita protested.
Wait, Ed intervened. It’s better if I take you.
I’d rather walk.
Pop! Shouted Clarita as she spurred the horse into motion.
Halfway along the road the storm broke. The rain didn’t bother Clarita. She couldn’t think of anything other than Billy Priest, the blacksmith’s son. The rain came down in sheets. The thunder sounded louder than ever. Sugar Lump remained calm. Her pace was steady.
Good girl, Clarita encouraged her.
The mare was unshakeable. Then lightning struck just two meters from Sugar Lump. An intense streak of light. The lightning stopped them in their tracks. The mare whinnied and reared onto her hind legs, throwing Clarita. The reins slithered through her fingers. Horses can be reluctant one moment, the next they break. Clarita lay unconscious on the ground as the animal set off at a frightened trot.
Minutes later, in the pouring rain, Sugar Lump arrived back at the Williamson ranch.
What the hell, said Ed, seeing her through the window.
The rain had stopped. Ed and Fran found Clarita and took her home.
Imabelle, call the doctor, Ed ordered
What took you so long? Ed wanted to know when Paul appeared.
This damned rain, replied the doctor. It’s a disaster zone out there. A pick-up tipped over and there were four wounded.
Clarita’s had an accident, said Imabelle.
She fell from her horse, Ed continued.
Where is she?
Let’s take a look at her.
How long’s she been unconscious?
Must be two hours by now.
Paul examined Clarita.
Ed, your daughter has suffered a concussion because of the blow. She’s not in a coma, she’s not in danger. We’ll have to wait until she wakes up before making a proper evaluation. Call me when she regains consciousness.
No, Paul, said Ed. You’re not leaving here until my daughter opens her eyes.
That might not be until tomorrow, Ed.
Imabelle, ordered Ed, make us some coffee.
Around dawn, Clarita gave a moan.
Imabelle! Imabelle! Ed shouted. Water!
And Sugar Lump? Asked Clarita.
In the stable.
What are you waiting for, Paul. Go on and check her!
The doctor shone a light into her pupils.
I want to go to the bathroom, Clarita asked.
Wait a bit, the doctor cautioned.
Mom! She shrieked. I can’t move my legs.
What’s wrong, Clarita.
My legs won’t do what I tell them.
We’ll have to get her to hospital, Paul concluded.
Fran, get the wagon ready, Ed began organising things.
Clarita was admitted to hospital by day break.
I won’t sleep until I have a diagnosis for you Ed, Paul promised.
Look me in the eyes, Paul. Tell me the truth. Will she recover?
I can’t answer that, Ed. It could be a temporary paralysis due to the impact. It would be irresponsible to frighten you.
Ed, Imabelle and Fran kept a vigil in the waiting room. Then, there it was again. The galloping resounded through the walls of the hospital.
Today no, Ed said, Not today.
He went to the wagon and loaded his shotgun. He climbed onto the roof of the vehicle and kept watch.
You’re gonna pay for this, son of a bitch.
Morning came, and Ed remained on his perch. Paul called the family together. The test results were ready.
How embarrassing, said Imabelle. Fran, go get him down from there.
Ed, Imabelle and Fran went into the room. Clarita was eating Jell-O for breakfast.
As a doctor I must give it to you straight, Paul began. Clarita will never walk again.
Imabelle let out a wail.
That damned mare, Ed said, and left the room.
No, Pop, cried Clarita. Not Sugar Lump. Pop, Pop!
But Ed didn’t hear her. He was on his way – a man on the most important mission of his life.
He drove back to the ranch at break-neck speed. He went into the house and took another shotgun from the wardrobe. He loaded it and went out to the paddock. He’d not wept since the death of his brother. He got Sugar Lump from her stall and lead her some way off. He lit a cigarette. He was possessed by the icy detachment of a hired gun. He tied the mare to a tree branch. Then, like a professional, he aimed his gun at the animal’s head and blew its brains out. One clean shot. It was like the snap as a porcelain figurine breaks as the horse collapsed like brushwood on a bonfire.
He dug the grave himself.
The Indian warned me not to buy that stupid mare, he reproached himself with every blow of his pickaxe.
It took hours to dig the hole.
Killers get no thanks for their trouble, he thought bitterly.
He didn’t seem to be getting anywhere Now he really knew how hard the ground was. It was as if he were digging it with his nails. He sweated like he’d not sweated in twenty years. When he decided the hole was deep enough for its purpose he threw his pick aside and collapsed onto the ground, gazing at the sky.
The Indian warned me, he repeated.
Although he’d dug the pit right next to the beast, he couldn’t manage to push it in by himself. He went back to the ranch to get his own horse. He tied some ropes to the saddle and hauled the dead mare into her tomb. The animal slid into the hole. He caught himself thinking about the Indian. He’d kept him out of his thoughts since Jal. He dismounted and began the slow and arduous task of covering the mare. Sacrificing the animal and scratching out the pit had been easy. But throwing earth onto her overwhelmed him with desolation. He’d never buried anything. With every spade-full the animal seemed to grow larger. It was the size of an elephant. He was seized with the feeling that this labour would never end.
Clarita had refused to talk to her father ever since she’d been let out of hospital. After burying the mare, Ed had holed up in the house to await his daughter’s return. However, the day he saw the wheel chair and heard it scraping over every step up to the house he couldn’t bear it. He looked for refuge and found it in drink.
He avoided his family. In the mornings he went out to work, he ate out on the ranch and at the end of the day he hid in the bar. He only went home at nightfall.
Hey, Pedro! Does Ed live here now? People would ask the bartender.
Leave him alone, he’s my best customer, he’d reply
Thought the Indian was your best customer?
My second-best customer.
Every evening when he entered the bar, Ed saw Mr. Mojo Risin sitting alone at the farthest table.
Each dreary night, Ed came to bed hoping his wife was already asleep. But no.
The child won’t eat.
Here we go again with your nagging.
Why did you have to go and shoot the mare?
I need to sleep.
She loved her Sugar Lump.
And that stupid mare left her paralysed. That’s why I shot it.
The child is going to starve to death.
Your daughter is stubborn. This would all blow over if I bought her another horse. But she won’t listen.
The child will die of sorrow. There’s no cure for that.
Ed was hurt by his wife’s reprimands. It was heart-break enough that his daughter could no longer walk without her also pining for the horse. If one nail can knock out another, Ed was convinced one horse could replace another. But Clarita wouldn’t hear of it.
Do you believe in reincarnation? Ed asked his wife.
Shut up, you’re drunk.
Ed couldn’t get to sleep. The bed was a total mess with all his tossing and turning. Imabelle would wake up every hour and tell him off.
Why are you so restless?
Just go to sleep, woman.
Stop thrashing about.
But Ed had stopped listening to his wife’s complaining. He was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that nothing could reach him. Only one thing occupied his mind: the Indian.
Ed ordered Fran to saddle up his horse. He galloped to the neighbouring ranch. There was no turning back. He was taking charge with the same cold-blooded determination as he had shot the mare.
Hey, there! Augusto called when he saw him.
Ed dismounted and let himself be embraced in welcome. These men had never ever embraced but they hadn’t seen each other since Clarita’s accident. They exchanged a few words and then Augusto shouted:
Mr. Mojo Risin! Ed wants to talk to you.
The Indian came over.
Fact is, I want you to bring a horse back to life, said Ed.
The Indian stepped back without saying a word. When he had retreated a good two yards he called Augusto over with a sign. Ed watched them whispering. The Indian gesticulated.
Mr. Mojo Risin says no, Ed. Augusto informed him.
Why, he asked.
Says it’s dangerous.
I’m ready to pay whatever he wants.
He says that this type of thing only brings tragedy.
My daughter’s in pieces.
Yes, Ed. I understand. But the country here is full of horses. Why do you want to bring one back from the other side?
I’ve already paid a heavy price, said Ed. What more have I got to lose?
To tell you the truth, Augusto went on, Mr. Mojo Risin knows how to break a horse but I don’t think even he can bring one back from the dead.
That’s not what people say.
Yes, but those are ignorant people. And you, Ed, have you completely lost it? Are you ready to swallow any old gossip now? Soon you’ll be telling me coyotes can fly.
Augusto, go and tell the Indian that, if he does as I ask, he can have my horse.
Mr. Mojo Risin heard him. Augusto went up to the Indian. They argued. Augusto turned back to Ed and shook his head.
Ed walked over to them. He took the Indian by the arm saying: Please.
Mr. Mojo Risin took a few steps back. Once again, he waved to call Augusto over.
It’ll be at your own risk, Augusto told Ed. Do you accept?
You mustn’t blame the Indian for anything that happens to you or any of your family. Agreed?
You sure, Ed?
Yes, I do. Damn it.
Ok then, there’s one piece of advice: he says that you mustn’t ride the mare if the sky is overcast.
Clarita was in the habit of sitting on the porch, embroidering, until it was time for dinner. That evening she spied the figure of a man and a horse. It was Mr. Mojo Risin and the mare coming toward the Williamson ranch. The Indian was walking slowly, leading her by the reins. At that distance she seemed to be the same magnificent beast of always.
Mom! Pop! Shouted Clarita. Sugar Lump, it’s Sugar Lump.
Ed and Imabelle came out of the house and looked. The horse Ed had blown away with his shotgun was coming towards them. But the animal’s beauty had vanished.. It was a hollow shell, without soul, but it was Sugar Lump. No vigour, no glow of health. There was nothing left of the animal that Ed had shot.
The Indian tethered the creature to the porch rail and started on his return journey. Clarita stroked Sugar Lump.
What’s she got in her eyes? Imabelle asked.
Ed went over to the horse and looked it over. There were two egg shells where her eyes should have been.
She’s blind, he said.
It’s not Sugar Lump. Imabelle said. It’s a demon horse.
Ed looked up but Mr. Mojo Risin had vanished into the distance. Why would he have brought her back blind? He asked himself.
I don’t want this animal anywhere near the house, Imabelle protested.
Despite her appearance, however, Sugar Lump proved to be docile – perhaps even more so than before.
It’s a blessing, said Ed. Like you said, the Indian is a miracle worker.
That ghoul has come straight from hell, said his wife.
God Almighty, what have I gone and done, Ed reproached himself.
The walking corpse that had been Sugar Lump restored some peace in the Williamson home. Clarita stopped starving herself. Ed resisted the drink. Imabelle on the other hand took it badly. She prayed from dawn to dusk.
How long will this horse live? Ed wondered constantly.
Imabelle sent for a priest to bless the house.
That’s not Sugar Lump, the priest told Imabelle, that’s simply a mare that looks like her. Only God has the power to give life. You know what cunning swindlers these Indians are. Oh, and always beware of gypsies.
For the first few weeks they were extremely cautious. Clarita wasn’t allowed to stroke the mare or ride her.
Every night, when they were in bed, Imabelle asked Ed the same question.
Is that shell really Sugar Lump?
No, woman, Ed took the priest’s line, It’s one of the Indian’s tricks.
He managed to smooth over his wife’s concerns. He repeated the lie so often over so many nights that even he began to believe it himself.
Nobody can raise a horse from the dead. That Indian is very clever. He found a beast that looks just like Sugar Lump.
Their nervousness of the beast didn’t last. The animal behaved so angelically that they couldn’t help but trust her. Clarita began to ride her again, with the help of Ed’s man.
Since you can’t use your legs, Fran told her, you’ll have to be freer with the whip.
I don’t want to hurt her, Clarita would say.
Several months passed. Bad luck settled over the region. Several crops failed. A river burst its banks, flooding a ranch. Ed’s cattle grew sick. A coyote started stealing their chickens. One night, Ed and Fran went out to hunt it down. At some point they separated. Ed wandered off aimlessly. He had no particular direction in mind. His steps took him to Sugar Lump’s grave. That vile ditch he himself had caved out of the earth. It was empty. He gazed at the abandoned hole for a while then continued his search. They didn’t get the vermin. That night Ed couldn’t sleep. All he could think of was that plundered grave.
At daybreak, Ed saddled his horse and set off for Jal as he did every year.
Two days later he sent for Fran. He’d bought four horses and needed his help.
Why have you gone and bought so many animals, Augusto asked him. The region’s going through a tough time.
While Ed was sealing his deals, Imabelle took it into her head to go into town to get Clarita some yarn. Sugar Lump was the only horse ready saddled. By now, she was no longer afraid of the creature. She mounted and set off for town.
The sky was overcast. Half way to town a rainstorm broke. A bolt of lightning struck the ground two meters from Sugar Lump. The animal reared onto her hind legs, throwing Imabelle and killing her.
The priest gave him the news. He was waiting on the way into town. Ed went off at a gallop to his ranch. He leaped from his horse and went inside for his shotgun and some cartridges.
No Pop! Cried Clarita.
But he didn’t stop.
After killing Imabelle, the mare had returned to the ranch on her own. He found her grazing in the paddock. He took the reins and lead her to her grave.
Well at least it’s already dug, he thought as he took aim. You recognise your own tomb, he said to the mare as he pulled the trigger.
The animal didn’t fall. He reloaded his weapon and fired again. The beast still didn’t fall.
How many lives do horses have?? He groaned.
He emptied the shotgun into the mare a third time, but she still didn’t topple.
Devil’s daughter! He screamed. In a panic he sped back to the ranch. He was scared the mare might run away. He picked up a gallon of petrol and mounted his horse. He galloped desperately. When he reached the grave, the mare was still there. He drenched her in petrol and flung a lighted match. The animal went up in flames, then cantered off into the distance, where she disappeared.
They buried Imabelle in Sugar Lump’s grave.
I want her close to the ranch, Ed begged.
Several nights later, Clarita and Ed were eating dinner in silence. They went to their beds without exchanging a single word. At midnight Ed heard galloping. He sprang out of bed and fired round after round out of the window. He went into the living room. When he switched on the lights he found Clarita looking out of a window.
You heard it?
Yes, Pop, I heard it.
The phantom horse, Ed said. When’s it gonna leave us in peace.
It’s not a horse, Pop, said Clarita. It’s Mom’s spirit.
Translated by Hebe Powell and Nick Caistor