“He had a well-bred face,” her mother said, stirring a pot on the stove. “Or as my mama would say, a horsey face. He would have made a handsome horse in fact. Teeth that were a bit over-sized and looked real chompy, and a smile that showed too much of those clopper teeth. You know what I mean?”
Cassie nodded and pulled more of the old quilt about her shoulders. She was sitting in the low-slung cozy armchair in the corner of the kitchen. It was her favorite seat in the house.
“He looked cultured and a bit skittish, like a loud noise would make him bolt for the stables. I kept waiting for him to blow air through his nostrils, like a horse would do.”
Cassie laughed, and then coughed a bit. The phlegm in her lungs was getting worse.
“Hang in there, pudding,” her mother said. “Chicken soup will be coming your way soon.”
“It was the spring after Casper died and I was still looking for the glimpse of white out in the pasture. It took awhile for that to go away. I missed him something fierce. It was too quiet without his silly whinny antics. The other horses weren’t doing much, just being regular horses. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but oh that Casper.”
Her mother sighed. “It’s back when your dad was doing real poorly, with the cancer and all that. We weren’t sure if he was going to make it. He’s a tough onion and he pulled through but it was touch and go for a while there, and Peter was still in diapers. You came along pretty quick after he got better, but back then it was rough times.”
“I can only imagine,” Cassie said.
“So this Ricky started coming around, with his well-bred face and gentry manners. He lived in town and he’d heard about your dad and I think he had the notion that he’d be first in line with the new widow, if he hung around enough. It was appalling behavior through and through and your dad and I knew what he was doing. We hadn’t lost our sense of humor though, so we starting thinking up chores for Ricky to do while he was here secretly courting me. He’d ask if he could help and we gave him the worst things we could think of, like cleaning up after one of the horses had the runs, things like that. Oh, we were evil,” her mother said, laughing.
“In fact, I got into the habit of stopping into the downstairs bedroom where your dad was bed staying and I’d tell him the latest Ricky sweet talk and what horrible chore I made him do. Complete with doing a Ricky horse face, which made your dad laugh and laugh. It wasn’t nice, but what Ricky was doing wasn’t nice either, and I was beyond nice at that point. If I could make your father laugh, it was a good day. And we needed good days every chance we could get. We didn’t know how many good days we had left.”
Her mother ladled soup into two bowls and handed one to Cassie, with a spoon. She settled down at the kitchen table with the other.
“In the meantime, I’d hired a girl from town to come out and help with some of the household chores like laundry, so I could do some of the work your father would normally do, or oversee it at least. Her name was Nancee and she was a flirty little thing with an annoying giggle and she wore lipstick even while doing chores, which I couldn’t believe. I am sure the cows appreciated the lipstick when she milked them, but I didn’t ask the cows, so I don’t know for sure.”
“This is getting better and better,” Cassie said.
“I am sure you can imagine what happened. They started flirting with each other, thinking I wouldn’t notice, but of course I did. Then one day I sent him out to muck out the stables and I sent her to gather some early summer vegetables from the garden for our dinner, and they came back in together, which was stupid, first, and here’s where it gets good. She had tried, bless her heart, but she had made a poor job of hiding the damage. Her lipstick was smeared and her apron was twisted to one side, and best of all, she smelled like horse manure. He had a smear of lipstick under one ear and that big horsey grin, and I saw my chance.”
“How dare you! I said to him, and here I thought you were going to be my next husband! And YOU, I said to her. How dare you fool around with my new beau!”
Cassie sprayed out chicken soup in a huge laugh. “MA! Don’t make me laugh when I’m eating! Oh my GOSH!”
“Oh it’s just another thing in the laundry dear,” her mother said. “But here’s the best part. Your dad could hear some of the commotion from the bedroom and I told him the rest after I made them leave. He got out of bed, standing upright for the first time in days, still laughing, and said, “I can’t go off and die now. I have to see what you do next. You are a peach.” And he got a little better every day after that, until he was well again. So God bless Ricky. He’ll never know what a gift his silly antics were for us. Gifts come from all directions, Cassie. Never forget that.”
“I won’t, Ma,” Cassie said, and handed her mother the empty bowl. “More please.”