The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock


There was no better way on earth to start the day than by riding full tilt across that blessed landscape.

Girls are riding by on horses. It’s evening. In packs of four, three, sometimes two, horses paired with girls, every day. Girls with long limbs and dusty skin. Girls whose voices carry from the road, across the yard, through the kitchen window, meeting me where I stand at the kitchen sink, spraying water into a greasy pan that I used this morning to make French toast. The girls’ voices arch over the spray and suds and fly around the kitchen. I can’t make out the words, can’t make out individual owners, am simply treated to a cloud of girls’ voices diving and carving the air like so many dragonflies.

Girls are riding by on horses. Girls who know what it’s like to ride until your legs are weak and strong, until your back is square and straight, until your mind is on and off, until you and the horse are in agreement, alignment, communion. Girls who used to be me. Girls who share stories and questions over pitchforks and saddle soap, buckets soapy with warm water that slowly cools until someone (it’s a waiting game) has to replace it. Girls who talk about the meaning of life, the presence of—lack of—God, the utility of other people. Girls who realize there are futures ahead but are fine with occupying the present, for the moment, until. I squeeze the sponge, wipe the counters free of the crumbs that fell when I made sandwiches for camp lunch bags ten hours ago. I scrub the surface of the stove, still sticky with grease from last night’s hamburgers. I snap the lid closed on the compost. I dry my hands. Girls are riding by on horses and planning to live lives of far-reaching bravery and effectiveness. Behind me, I know, the house is the normal explosion of family, but the view in front of me is clean, organized, and waiting.

Girls are riding by on horses. Girls who know the tangy smell of sweaty flanks and damp saddle pads, who are familiar with the feel of leather under their thighs, who are bolted to their age and place right now with tactile details that require them to be unafraid of power, speed, dirt, and the illusion of control. There are more girls on horses this year than other years. A barn must’ve opened nearby. A barn that smells of pine shavings and fly spray. And hay. And dust. And sun. And large-animal breath. And routine. And longing.

The kitchen is clean. The youngest boy needs a shower. The dogs need a walk. There is work to be done.

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