With a gilded finger the sun traced a lingering line up her leg, and her stomach, and across the brass mirror of her shoulder, so that she shone like a reclining Colossus on that dusty beach. All the men gazed on her, and all had to shield their eyes.
“Are you maybe like from Greece or something?” a babbling boy asked.
“No; I am from Montana,” she said, and the crowd hummed in disbelief.
“I didn’t know they had pretty girls in Montana,” another joked, from his seat behind the woman, where he could see down the top of her bikini. From there, he knew, he had no need to fear her frightful glare.
But she twisted her radiant body around like a lithesome cat’s amber tail on her stripèd towel, and fixed him to the spot with sunglass-lenses burning like twin suns: “The girls of the State of Montana are as beautiful as its horses,” she said. “That’s why the girls and the horses get along so well.”
“I’ll tell you all about it,” she said.
My parents were married in the silence of the desert. My first steps were on cool, green grass. I was born on a ranch called the Horses Galloping Flying Free Ranch.
I gelded my first horse when I was eight years old. I named him Horatio, for he was as true a friend as had the noble Prince. I rode him across deserts and mountains, and into cold caves by the light of an old-fashioned oil lamp. I slept with my head against his flank underneath the blazing stars of Montana, which shine more brightly and with a greater beauty than the stars that shine on any other State in our Union.
On Horatio’s naked back I rode to the Montana State Fair, where pretty Montana girls and their horses battle for golden trophies and for blue ribbons with a fury unmatched by the bloodiest gladiators. I rode Horatio as if he and I were one thing only. A winged angel in the air above the crowds were we; a Chinese dragon winding silken curves around the goggling heads of spectators. We jumped, as one, over fences tall as men.
That day we won a ribbon. It was as red as the blood that burnt in my veins like the Earth’s own blood as I stared at the girl and her horse who had won first place. Her eyes were like the thorns of a rose. Her neck was like a white tower.
With a calm face I hid my rage and my despair until Horatio had carried me back to the Horses Galloping Flying Free Ranch, and there in my bedroom I wept and thrashed, and called down curses on that girl’s head and on her horse’s head. My screaming filled all wide Montana as the ocean fills a man’s cupped hands. Then night came, and I slept.
In that sleep I had a dream, and in that dream my horse Horatio came to me, but he spoke with the voice of a human child, and he had a child’s hands. In his child’s voice Horatio told me that I would have my victory over the other girl, the girl who had won first place. He said that I would see a blue ribbon fly over my head; he said blue ribbons would fall over my shoulders, that blue ribbons would be tied in my hair. But he said that these things would come to pass only if I rode for three nights and three days to Glendive, Montana, where the girl who won first place had come from, and where she had returned with her arms full of prizes.
When I awoke it was as if no time had passed, for the stars hung outside my bedroom window in just the way they had before I closed my eyes. But my strength had been replenished, and my heart was full of a blossoming fire. I threw my body on top of Horatio’s and I rode east, toward Glendive, Montana.
The first day, we saw a horned lizard.
The second night, I shot and ate a cottontail rabbit.
The second day, we locked eyes with a mountain lion.
The third night, we slept beneath a box elder tree.
The third day, we arrived in Glendive, Montana.
On Horatio’s back I approached the home of the girl who had won first place. The fire that had been kindled in my heart on the night of that dream had forged in my breast a blade of the blackest steel, and with my mind’s right hand I clenched that blade until my mind’s knuckles turned white. I saw as I had seen across all those miles the majestic display of horsewomanship with which I would lay waste to this girl and to her horse, to the city of Glendive, Montana. My mind’s arm rose above me like Kali’s, and it bore that goddess’s bloody sword, and beneath my mind’s foot was the broken body of the girl who had won first place.
I knocked on the girl’s door, and she answered it with the perfect smile that all girls of Montana can smile—that only Montana girls can smile—and she hugged me on that stoop, and I hugged her back. The birds sang in Glendive, Montana; they sang all across the state.
That day we tied blue flowers in each other’s hair, and the cold blue streams of Montana flowed over our shoulders, and the blue Montana sky flew over our heads. We were friends from that day on, and so were our horses, and I was a friend to her horse as she was a friend to mine.
“For the beauty of Montana is the friendship between girls and horses, between the people and the land. All of Montana is beautiful, and all its girls are beautiful as well.”
It was with this that her story ended, and the boys and men in attendance were silent, for the story had been like a dream to them, and upon waking they could not be sure if the events in their minds were things that they had heard described to them or things that they had witnessed.
The sun pulled its fingers one last time through her hair, and softly across her cheek, and then was covered by a cloud. But the cloud was a horse, and the girl climbed on its back, and in her bikini she rode the horse over the sands and away from the beach, toward something else, in a different place.