Sunday Stories: “American Paint”


American Paint
by Olivia Walton

I probably told you, but two years ago I got us a real nice horse, a mare with a blonde mane and shot-straight back who I called Ethel after Sallie’s mother’s mother. Ethel was only fourteen hands high so she was a good ride for Sallie, just a waif of a thing, but was still big enough that I could take her to and from the river each day, and into town when we ran low on condensed milk and potatoes and Sallie’s woman-type things. Point is, Sallie loved that horse like it was a lapdog, always braiding its hair and slipping it bits of orange, even when I was between jobs. Sometimes I’d kid her, remind her we weren’t supposed to have any Gods before our God, but she’d just laugh and tell me that as long as dinner was still on the table when it was supposed to be I had nothing to worry about, so I didn’t.     

One night, maybe ten months after I’d brought Ethel home from the auction, God came to me and snuggled right up on my chest. My heart went ba-boom, ba-boom, so loud I sat straight up, still half asleep, and He told me to take Ethel up to the Cimarrons at dawn and let her loose. Then my heart stopped its ba-booms and my breath settled and He was gone. I looked to my left and Sallie was awake, her eyes wide and her lips open, and she asked me what happened and I told her what God told me, even though I thought her heart would break at the thought of Ethel out on the mountains alone. But – and this is the important part – I hardly had time to blink before she was out of our bed and ripping a pair of my jeans up over her hips.

Let’s go, she said. Before it gets light. So I put on pants of my own, and Sallie parted herself over Ethel’s back and cooed sweet words to her and rubbed her nose, and I led them both up the path in the pitch black and brittle cold.

We had hiked a ways and I was short of breath, so we stopped for a drink of water. As we drank the sun started to rise and the brush and the dirt and the gnarled trees all took on this gold-like colour, and everywhere you looked was so beautiful it made your lungs burn, and God didn’t have to say a word because I knew this was where He wanted us to leave Ethel. 

Do you feel Him, she said. She was looking at me like I’d never seen before, her cheeks flushed high up on the bone, and I nodded, and she slid down off Ethel and came to me and kissed me with tongue, and by the time we got through Ethel had gone off, and we never talked about her again. 



Olivia Walton is a Canadian writer and literary publicist living in New York City.

Photo: Silje Midtgård/Unsplash

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