Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Hardly a Horse Kiss

   I’ve been writing about horses and the love of them lately… and the problems and accomplishments this has historically led to in the Pliers family.  
   But I promise this should be the last for awhile. 
   It’s another story about horses and love. 
   Only it’s not about loving horses, exactly.
   Nor even kissing them, which we can all, including the horses, be thankful for.

   It’s a story about a boy and a girl …
   And love’s first kiss. 

   In 1967 Stephanie P. was the flutist of the Olive Vista Junior High School orchestra.
   I was in the orchestra too, playing second trumpet.
   It may surprise you to learn that the second trumpet in a junior high school orchestra doesn’t toot his instrument constantly during a song. Not even if he’s any good. There are many times where you just sit and wait. 
   It was then that I would look longingly at Stephanie. 
   My eyes had no will of their own, and when not actually doing something to help me play the trumpet, they would wander over to Stephanie. She sat opposite the brass section, at the front with the woodwinds. She looked so serious as she waited to play, a little frown of concentration marring her perfect features. Even seated she was taller than those around her, like I was. She was so beautiful! Her strawberry-blonde hair was long and straight, which she pulled back behind her ear before she lifted her chin and began to play. How graceful she was! She was a good player, too, with a strong, sweet tone.
  We had become friends while in the orchestra together, both liking to laugh but taking it seriously enough. She lived in the foothills of San Fernando on a ranch, where on this day I was visiting her. 
   It was a warm, dry afternoon, with a dragon’s breath of hot wind trailing through the air, as they often have in southern California. After a light lunch which her mother made Stephanie and I went outside. We slowly walked along beside a fenced-in pasture which held horses. They caught my eye as they pranced and galloped in the sunshine. To my amazement, they trotted over at Stephanie’s call. 
   “I thought only dogs could do that,” I said.
   “Don’t be silly,” replied Stephanie. “Horses are way smarter than dogs.” 
   The horses snuffled up the treats she held out for them and nodded their thanks. I didn’t particularly care for horses at this stage of my life, but I tried to hide my distaste from Stephanie as we stood together in the sunshine. 
   Disappointed when the treats ran out, the horses eyed me jealously, snorting their contempt. Their giant muscular bodies glistened in the sunlight.
  “I love horses,” I fibbed, hoping both Stephanie and the horses would overlook my obvious insincerity.
   “Really?” answered Stephanie. “Barbara said you said you hated them. Big, stupid, smelly things, she said you said.”
   That sounded like something I would say. 
   “On, no, not me. Honest,” I insisted. I put my hand over my heart and continued, “That wasn’t me. Why, I love horses. They’re so… so big and strong.”
   It was an autumn afternoon, with dusty light beaming through the trees and the buzz of insects everywhere. Some flowering shrubs nearby gave off a heady scent. We stepped away from the horses in the pasture and strolled over to an ancient oak tree with large, spreading limbs. 
   Stephanie and I strolled together under the tree, circling round its massive trunk, holding hands and talking. She forgave me for my lack of equine love, but suggested I was wrong to feel that way. I said horses were okay, but I liked motorcycles, which was probably a dumb thing to say to a girl but I was a fourteen-year-old boy and couldn’t get it right all the time.    
   Stephanie was wise for her age, and was sweet and patient to all kinds of big, dumb animals.
   We laughed together and watched as grey squirrels froliced in the oak tree’s dappled limbs.
   After awhile we walked back into the sunshine and returned to the paddock. 
   The sun felt good on my skin after the cool shade beneath the tree. 
   The horses were on the other side of the pasture and were grazing with heads down.
   We stopped at a corner fencepost, turning to face each other. I looked into Stephanie’s eyes. The pupils were green with flecks of bronze. Her hair played about her face in the warm breeze, and some strands of it caught in her mouth. With a laugh she reached up and hooked them away. 
   I asked if I could kiss her.
   “Okay,” she said. “If you want to.” She closed her eyes, puckered her pink lips and lifted her chin. Her eyelashes were golden in the sunlight. Perfect little freckles dotted her nose and cheeks. Her lips parted slightly. 
   “I want to!”
   “Wait a minute!” said Stephanie. 
   She took the gum out of her mouth and stuck it on the fencepost. 
   “Okay,” she said, and resumed her former position.
    I leaned forward to kiss her, closing my eyes as our lips touched. As we kissed the breeze blew those strands of strawberry hair gently against my cheek. She tasted of Wriggly’s gum and smelled of horses and leather. It was a good kiss, spearminty and sweet and somehow musical, like she was. Her lips were soft and warm. Something inspired me and I nibbled her lips gently. I heard her sigh, whether from love or from boredom I couldn’t tell then and will never know now, for her father caught us kissing and boy, did he give me a chewing out! 
   What language! I’d never heard such words! Obviously, he came from a home where swear words were permitted, perhaps even encouraged!
   “Go to your room, young lady!” he ordered Stephanie.
   “Stay right where you are, buster!” he ordered me. 
   He phoned home and my mother was despatched to collect me. I waited by myself in the kitchen, sitting at the table with the leftovers from lunch. It was a very lonely forty-five minutes waiting for my mom to arrive.
   “You’re too young to be kissing anybody that way,” said my mom, driving me home. “That comes later, honey, with love.”
   “We weren’t doing anything wrong,” I answered, hoping in my heart it wasn’t completely true.
   Love. That was my mother’s cornball idea. 
   I wanted romance and adventure! 

   Stephanie seemed to lose interest in me after our interrupted first kiss.
   I blame her father for that. Him and his ferocious cursing.
   Although for awhile I wondered if it was because of faulty kissing on my part.
   As you can imagine Music class wasn’t as much fun anymore. During rehearsals all I could do was sigh and watch Stephanie from my place in the brass section while I awaited my turn to play, an impossible chasm yawning between us. 
   Geez I thought, it was just like Romeo and Juliet …
   “Rusty!” barked Mr Olinski, the music teacher. “Wake up! Please pay attention.”
   “I wasn’t asleep, sir,” I objected.
   Maybe I hadn’t been asleep, but I had been dreaming.  
   “You were giving a pretty good imitation of it,” snapped Mr O. 
   The class laughed. Everybody liked Mr Olinski.
   “Now, give me an f sharp,” he ordered.
   Alas, my tootling lips went wanting for warm human contact that semester and I had to make do with the cold, indifferent, brassy mouthpiece of my b flat King Cleveland student trumpet.
   I gave Mr Olinski an f sharp. 
   We moved to New Zealand at the end of the school year and I never saw Stephanie again.

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