It is South Texas in the 1970s when quarter horse racing was still done on dirt tracks, and into this tactile and sometimes dangerous world comes city-bred Shannon Murphy to manage her father’s ranch and help him train up a promising filly. Shannon takes to the work with a fervor. When a tragedy occurs on the ranch and some blame Shannon, she self-exiles into the Davis Mountains to struggle with issues of life, love and this Texas notion of family.
The wide, flat acreage gave Shannon Murphy an easy view of the dying sunset, but it wasn’t as if she had that all-seeing eye of providence. There were drop-offs into gullies and dry arroyas, and a thousand acres of growing darkness — ample space for two-and four-legged creatures to hide and cause mischief.
Shannon crouched below the truck’s fender, leaning on the rifle stock, alert. She could feel her chest rise and fall, but she contained the rale of her breathing. Something had been stalking her calves. A coyote most likely, maybe a wild dog. A canine yipped in the distance, somewhere across the Brazos.
Todd Murphy fretted some about Shannon’s isolation on the ranch at night, him being a full hour away in Houston. He cautioned her about wicked men lurking in the shadows. Shannon shrugged off her father’s warning. She noticed his grimace, accepted the sincerity of his concern, but ranching meant riding every inch of your land, despite the hour. She was dogged about that responsibility and she welcomed the solid world stretching out before her.
Of course, there were fewer solitary evenings, now that Hayden aimed to be at
Tio Lobo often. At this passing thought, Shannon conjured up a pleasing vision of Hayden Aldred, a tall, not-quite-meaty man with rusty hair that curled below the brim of his Stetson. After a year of persistent courting, the Brenham veterinarian had been able to break through Shannon’s resistance, and now they fit together with a heat and an ease that suited them both.
Rising, Shannon let out a low whistle. A ragged collie mix pulled his nose out of a tree stump he was rooting and jumped into the back of the truck despite lame hind quarters. “Nothing to hunt tonight—he’s back across the river.” Shannon pounded on Dog’s sides, then climbed into the cab. She started up the engine and took a slow wide turn, alert for movement, a stray calf, a predator.
and past the year mark, Shannon calculated. Thirteen months managing the ranch and learning more every day, just by doing. Her early years spent in Highland Park society had not prepared her for this job, but every Texas girl grew up on a horse—owned one or had friends that did. She had country cousins on her father’s side who had taken her bareback riding; two handsome boys she called kissing cousins though she had never kissed them. Just mooned over their beauty and pined their absence when they grew into men and moved west.
. . . .
She liked the physicality of this world. There was always something to do, something to shovel or brand or plant or bale. The work felt grounded; chores that called upon a strong body and a willing heart, and when it was done, she could see the result of her effort. Shannon breathed in the sweet memories of the past year, of trying and doing, mixed with the pungent odors of loam and dung and sweat trickling through the layers of grit.
There was more than the work, of course. There was Hayden, no small part of her happiness. And the close relationship with her dad, making up for some of the patchy years of separation after her parents’ divorce. Recently there had been a new turn—a shared vision to train up a quarter horse named Lady Caliente and make a mark in bush track racing, about the only game going in Texas in the mid-1970’s.
Jonnie Martin is a native Texan, city-bred like the lead character in WRANGLE, but still attached to the land. Early in her career she was a journalist with a Texas newspaper and continues to write about the western culture in her current home in Waller County. Martin has a BA in Literature and Creative Writing and an MFA in Fiction. She writes a weekly blog (Westerly Notes) on her website, www.jonniemartin.com.
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