Reluctant Horseman

Margaret Ballif Simon

   She's sent word, it's time. You have no choice.
   You approach the horse. They've had someone pick him for you, saddle him. All you have to do is mount. You can feel his heat, his heartbeat in the early morning air. He smells alien, heavy. You do not like this.
   His skin jerks to dismiss blood flies the size of your thumb. Tail slaps across back, whips again. Stings your cheek.
   You see his eye roll back to whites as he nips your arm but you pull yourself up, slap buttocks into saddle. You wish you were stoned. But it can't be this way, not this time. If things get too bad, you can always have a toke before you reach the cabin. Your heels urge his heaving sides into a trot until you enter the foothills.
   It's hot. You take off your hat, flapping the brim to cool your face.
   Monotony collects. All things repeated become dull. You try to imagine you're somewhere else. Anywhere but here, on this dumb beast, clumping up a narrow mountain trail to that forsaken Promised Land on the far side of the mountain.
    How inane, pathetic. Is this stupid sweaty gelding your Rosanante? What happened to your visions? Now only windmills, daydreams. Talent such as yours should have brought you power, wealth. But pursuit of self interests wasn't part of the plan they had for you. And this isn't your dream. No, not a bit of it.
   You find her by the stream. Her face is in shadow. She's stretched out reading a book, head propped against a tree stump. Strands of her silver hair catch the afternoon sunlight. You know she heard you approach, but she gives no notice until you dismount and stand to stretch.
   "It's me," you say, feeling rather lame about introductions. You know none is needed.
    "Yes," she answers, putting aside the book. She gets to her feet slowly, arranging her skirts. You notice she must have at least five of them underneath the overskirt. You wonder how she can stand this in the summer.
    The horse snorts and shuffles off munching the tall grasses by the bank.
    "Well," you say. May as well start this and get it over with, but you don't say that. Instead you say, "Well, now what?"
    "We will engage in the sex. After that, you go. This has been made clear, and this is our destiny. Let us proceed."
     You are surprised that she's literate. They told you so little about her. She leads you to a narrow footpath and you follow, saying nothing, for there's nothing more to say.
     Shortly you come to a small cabin. There is no light, but she pushes you towards a bed. You take off your boots, jeans, and find her lying there still in her many layered skirts. But they're pulled up. She's waiting.
     So you do what you must do. Once, she opens her eyes and you read her clearly, It is unbecoming for our spirits, but we must..try..again.
      You respond. You are wondering if she'll be offended, so you don't tell her that she smells foul, needs to do something to stimulate your reluctant passion. Eventually, though it was not a pleasant exercise, you succeed. You see her face relax.
     It's done. There will be a child.
     She lets down her skirts and gets off the bed. Looks back at you, a question in her eyes. He is waiting for you. You sigh, telesend. Admit it's time for acknowledgment, it's overdue. You find yourself feeling sorry for you both.
     Yes, it's done. I thank you on behalf of our Government, that we may preserve this gift, through union of our genes.
    You find the horse still knee deep in green, grab the reins, mount and give him a kick toward the trail leading home. You smile bitterly, sigh. Then she sends you a final message.
     Though our union was regrettable, it speaks well of our selflessness. I pray it  need never be repeated, so I wish you well.
    You don't look back and you're sure that she's disappeared by now into the forest.
    The evening settles as sunset fades, night creatures unfamiliar to your senses come alive to waken your mixed emotions. She's the only fertile female telepath on the continent. The only one that matched your genes and blood type. Your superiors made it clear that you were the Don Quixote of some mad geneticist's dream. When she agreed to this, it had to be done on her terms. You admire that, now. It might work out.
    You wonder why neither of you used your gifts between one another, other than the short exchange. Then you realize why.
    Duty and mutual loathing would have accomplished nothing. A mission best left to beasts of burden. You decide it's time for that joint. You fumble it from your pocket, light, take a long drag, cherishing the relief.
    Dimly you realize that like the Don's craziness, like all this misconstrued mess that humans do to one another for the sake of perpetuating a higher strain of sentient beings,  the Weed survives. You realize you're laughing about this. The ride back won't seem near as long. Or so you hope.

Art by Cathy Buburuz.
Background graphics by Silver Branch.