Book: From Horse Heaven

Jane Smiley

From Horse Heaven

From Horse Heaven

What she could tell when he was taking down her hair, and then unbuttoning her jacket and her blouse, was how many years he had spent with horses. His gestures were smooth and consistent, and once he had his hands on her body, he kept them there. But they weren't eager and hungry; they were quiet and reassuring, warm, dry, and knowledgeable, as if he could find out things about her by touching her, the way he would have to do with horses, the way, perhaps, he would do with Laurita tomorrow, running his hands down her legs looking for heat. His touch, in fact, belied the look on his face, which was disturbed and eager. His touch was almost idle. When he had his hand on her neck, she felt him probe a little knot there, press it and release it, the way her masseuse did, then move down to her shoulder, and do the same there. It was as if no degree of desire could interfere with his habit of taking care. They had been naked for ten minutes when she spoke for the first time. She said, "I bet the horses like you." Eileen, who had been lying curled on the bed, jumped down and went under the bedskirt.

"They seem to, actually."

"You have a nice touch."

"I get along well with dogs, too. Though Eileen hasn't really made up to me."

"And you don't get along with…?"

"Owners, maybe."

"Al likes you."

He looked her right in the eye. "Oh, they like me all right. I don't like them."

Rosalind threw back her head and laughed.

"And I don't get along with my wife."

"Is that why you look sad?"

"No doubt. Do I look sad, then?"

"You do to me."

He sighed. "I've been afraid it would get out."

"You looked happy after the race. Well, not happy, but excited. Almost happy."

"I was almost happy. Closest I've been in a pretty long time. She's a bombshell, that filly." Here was where Rosalind fell in love, because Dick had a whole different smile for this filly when he thought of her, a whole separate category of secret delight that crossed his face and pierced Rosalind for some reason she didn't begin to understand. She had been looking for mystery, hadn't she? Well, here it was.

Even so, they could still stop, get dressed, turn back. Their friendly conversation and her laugh showed that. In the atmosphere of the room, there was some levity, some detachment, some pure friendliness that they could build upon to get out of this. Rosalind knew it. But instead she put her fingertips on his lips and ran them gently around, a multitude of her nerve endings tickling a multitude of his. And then she leaned forward, letting her hair fall on his shoulders, and kissed him.

Maybe he wasn't getting along with his wife, but it was obvious that he had gotten along with her fine at some point, or with someone else, because his knowledge about what to do with Rosalind was instinctive and expert. First, he took her face between his hands and very gently and attentively ran his thumbs over her eyebrows, the planes of her cheeks, down the line of her jaw, bringing them to a rest upon her lips, where, after just a moment, he put the tips of them into her mouth. She could feel him touching her tongue and the inside of her lips. Then he smoothed that moisture into her cheeks and chin, over and over, until she was groaning. Then he ran one hand lightly down her throat, reminding her what a long and vulnerable throat it was. Then the other hand. Then he looked at her and kissed her, first just soft kissing, then firmer kissing, then tongue kissing, then gently biting her lips, kissing, biting, kissing, then kissing her neck, then biting, then kissing. Except the bites weren't bites, so careful and considerate were they, as if he were inside her skin and knew exactly what would be exciting and what would be painful. He bit her shoulders, left, then right. Meanwhile, his hands had found her breasts. Al's hands always happened upon her breasts as if he had never felt breasts before, but Dick's hands knew breasts perfectly well, and hers, it seemed, in particular. Pretty soon, but not too soon, his lips found them, too. She closed her eyes, because she didn't want to look at anything but his face now. His face was the only familiar thing in the room, and if she couldn't look at it, then what was happening in her body was too terrifying. Her body was already arching and shaking, but she wasn't orgasming. She was just responding to the lightness of his touch like iron filings to a magnet.

Now his hands moved downward, to her waist. She had not known the waist was an especially erogenous zone, but as he squeezed her waist and ran his thumbs and hands over her belly, she felt her whole lower body turn to fire, and sparks shoot out of her toes. It was as if there were some spot there, near her navel, that was sensitive and he knew it, he knew just where it was and how to activate it. She opened her eyes now and saw that his eyes were closed, and that, furthermore, she was participating unbeknownst to herself. She was rhythmically pinching his nipples, and he liked it. His hands fell away from her waist to her buttocks, and now he wasn't so gentle with her. He squeezed them hard, over and over, pinched them, too, but it didn't hurt. Always there was that quality in his touch of being unable to hurt living flesh. It was alluring, but, more than that, it was fascinating.

While this was going on, she opened her eyes again, and he was looking at her. He looked happy and fond. The look made her moan, because she didn't feel that she deserved fondness from him. Suddenly, and very very lightly, he touched her labia so that she cried out, and as she was crying out, he penetrated her, kindly but firmly, threw back his head, and closed his own eyes, seeming to pull her over himself as easily as a glove.

He penetrated her to the core, didn't he? He knew just how to do that, the way a racehorse knew how to find the finish line: wherever he penetrated her to, that was the core, and she felt it. He eased gently back and forth a time or two, and it wasn't so comfortable just then, but right when she was going to say something, or ask something, she got a wonderful feeling of moisture flooding her, and his penis turning to silk inside of her. She said, "What was that?"

And he said, "Sometimes it takes a moment or two for the foreskin to slide back." "You have a foreskin?"

"I do, indeed. I was born in Britain when my father was training horses there for some years."

"I'm sorry I didn't notice. I guess I was looking at your face." He smiled.

But then there was no time for talking, only for probing more and more deeply into this feeling she was having all through her body of melting around him as he went farther inside of her, and just when she orgasmed, he covered her face with his warm hands and made her go where he was inside her and she disappeared.

About two, Rosalind got up and put on a robe, and went over to the window and sat down, looking out over the beach and the dark ocean. There were stars everywhere, even in spite of the lights below. She hunched forward in her chair and looked down, then looked out again, taking her thick hair in her hands, hair that was her lifelong friend. She twisted it into a tail and curled it around her hand, then took a pencil out of a container on the desk and pinned it up. At that moment, she was thinking nothing. You could have asked her to swear, and she would have sworn, under oath, that she was thinking nothing. That she was utterly at peace and blank, well fucked, Al would have said, had said from time to time, referring to himself as well as to her. She put her hand between her legs and smelled her fingers, smelling the both of them together, then wiped her hand on the robe.

What was it that did it? She thought about this long afterward, obsessed about it, even. What was it that switched her so suddenly out of that blank, satisfied state? Perhaps it was the knowledge that the care he had taken of her was impersonal, nothing to do with her, only a quality of his that he brought to everything, something she responded to, but nothing she could claim. And she hadn't intended to claim anything, had she? This wasn't about claiming, it was about investigating. Nevertheless, whatever it was, whether something she thought or something she saw when she turned her head to glance at him on the bed, her blank satisfaction dissolved once and for all into pure longing. All her powers drained out of her then and there, as lost as if they had dissipated into the stars, and tears began to run down her cheeks. Eileen emerged from under the bedskirt and yawned, then stretched, first backward, then forward, with slow relish. Then she espied Rosalind at the window and crawled over to her, low crawl, pushing with her short back legs and swimming with her elbows. Her head was up and her eyes were bright, and she made a funny picture, but she didn't even begin to relieve Rosalind's sadness.


Jane Smiley is the author of ten works of fiction, including The Age of Grief, The Greenlanders, Ordinary hove Good Will, A. Thousand Acres (for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize), and Moo. She lives in northern California.


"From Horse Heaven," by Jane Smiley, © 2000 by Jane Smiley, photographs © Norman Mauskopf, first appeared in Horse Heaven, by Jane Smiley (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

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