Some Kind of Story
LATE ON THE THIRD AFTERNOON, California’s suffocating heat roared off the pavement and slammed with a punch through Betsy’s open windows. Tresa had her head hanging out again, looking like a fish too long off the ice. Her freckles were turning green too, but I was too sweaty and miserable to bother warning her.
Mum plucked her map off the dash. We’d gone west into rumpled and fuzzy hills—looking like Paul Bunyan had shaken his bedding and let the blankets fall willy-nilly—and were now driving north for a change. Clear Lake popped in and out of view on Dad’s side. On mine, the rumpled hills sloped up in waves, thick with yellow grass and spotted through with oak trees, a soft and lazy land I decided—though a bit lonely in the gathering shadows. . .
“We’re nearly there, girls,” said Mum.
We threw ourselves over the front seat.
“Keep your eyes peeled. On the left should be a sign for the ranch. We turn in there— You take an immediate right, Roy, into a long drive that should take us up to the ranch.”
“I see it! I see it!” I hollered, jumping up and down, curled over the front seat and pointing out a long dusty lane that angled away from the highway in a gentle rise and fall that gradually climbed to a plateau tabled against the horizon. High trees lined the drive. Colossal trees. Beautiful trees I’d never seen before: leaves the color of sage, white trunks, strips of cinnamon-colored bark peeling off like party ribbons. The trees themselves were so huge and so high and so close together their gigantic limbs tickled each other across the drive, forging a cool shady tunnel.
“That can’t be it,” said Mum. “It looks too much like a storybook.”
But it has to be Meteor Ranch, I thought, unable to break my gaze as we moseyed on. That perfectly lovely lane headed into some kind of story!
...Dad tossed me a smile and veered into the hairpin turn, in under the incredible trees. Their loveliness took my breath. Suddenly my whole body rattled so hard my bones clanked. “What’s that?”
“Cattle guard.” Dad slowed Betsy way down and the three of us crammed our heads out the windows.
“What’s a cattle guard?” Linda asked.
“A row of pipes over a ditch.” Dad checked his side mirror. “Animals can’t get through. Their feet go down between the pipes and get stuck.”
“Well, that’s mean,” I told him.
“Saves the trouble of putting in a gate, opening and shutting it all the time.”
I could see his point. “It’s still mean,” I said.
“Hey!” said Linda, scrambling around me to get to Tresa’s side of the car. “I thought she said this was a horse ranch, Daddy!”
A pond shaped like a gigantic Indian arrowhead rested in a wrinkle of land, glimmering pink in the day’s late afternoon sunlight. Sheep milled about and Bible verses and nursery rhymes danced a hokey-pokey in the outback of my mind: The Lord is my shepherd— Little Bo Peep— Mary had a little lamb— Like lambs, we are led to the slaughter—
“Daddy, I don’t see any horses,” said Linda again.
Maybe, I thought, I’d get to feed a lamb from a milk bottle. Like in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
“They’ve been jumping the fence,” said Mum. “Look. They’ve left tufts of wool all over the barbs. Do you suppose they’re hungry?”
Dad hunched over the steering wheel to see around Mum. “Hungry and needing to be sheared,” he said, his voice heavy with concern.
“Roy! The fence is electric,” Mum gasped. "Look. See that skinny wire running along the top?”
What I saw was Nicky Begg’s head half burned up and jerked away from the window.
“Roy,” Mum badgered, “do you think it’s safe? What if Timmy gets caught on it?”
I went back to staring at the sheep. They did need shearing, and now that I was paying attention, I could see clumps of poo stuck to their bums. Nothing like the fluffy white sheep of Sunday School pictures or school projects. And Linda was right. This was supposed to be a horse ranch.
Mum stuck her nose out the window and sniffed.
I did the same. A strange smell. A tingling, bitter kind of smell.
“I think it’s the trees,” said Mum.
Ahead lay the dusty drive, rising and falling and rising again, straight as an arrow through low-slung hills that were taking us into some kind of story that despite the heat suddenly gave me the chills.