Made that way, p.1

Made That Way, page 1


Made That Way

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Made That Way




  Susan Ketchen




  Copyright © 2010 by SUSAN KETCHEN ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without prior written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper or magazine or broadcast on radio or television; or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from ACCESS COPYRIGHT, 6 Adelaide Street East, Suite 900, Toronto, Ontario M5C 1H6.

  Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

  Ketchen, Susan

  Made that way / by Susan Ketchen.

  ISBN 978-0-88982-270-2

  I. Title.

  PS8621.E893M33 2010------ jC813’.6------C2010-907156-5

  We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Columbia Arts Council through the BC Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and the Arts, and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund, for our publishing activities.

  Published by

  Oolichan Books

  P.O. Box 2278

  Fernie, British Columbia

  Canada V0B 1M0

  Printed in Canada on 100% post consumer recycled FSC-certified paper.

  Cover Photo by Isobel Springett,

  eBook development by

  For Mike


  I am galloping. I’m riding a cross-country course, like the top riders do in the Olympics, and I only do in my dreams. I feel the wind on my face and the power of the horse beneath me. We head down a hill, which isn’t easy without a saddle or bridle. I steer by shifting my balance and the horse responds as if he’s part of me or I’m part of him, I can’t say which.

  At the bottom of the hill there’s room for two strides, then there’s a log, and then a pond. We’re splashing through the pond when the scene changes—in an abrupt and disorienting way, like it does when I’m watching TV with my dad and he has the remote control channel-changer. Now a truck and horse trailer are crawling up my friend Kansas’s driveway. The truck has Saskatchewan plates so I know this is my new horse arriving, the one Grandpa found for me. But I also know that I shouldn’t be able to read the license plate from this far away, and that the truck is moving in slow motion, so even if I hadn’t noticed before, this proves that I must be dreaming again, one of those lucid dreams where I know I’m dreaming and sometimes I can influence how things happen.

  Then the truck transforms into my mom’s car, which explains its slow progress. My mom says her car is on its last legs. I have told her this is an inappropriate metaphor for a car but she says it all the time anyway.

  Kansas is beside me, shaking her head. “Everyone knows you need at least a three-quarter-ton to pull a horse trailer,” she says. “Especially a heavy old steel one like that.”

  The horse trailer is rusty and a window is open and hanging lop-sided from one hinge. I can see a shadow moving inside, and hear a bugled Ha Ha Ha which doesn’t sound at all like a horse whinny. It sounds more like that stupid unicorn that wrecks so many of my dreams. I don’t even believe in unicorns, so I get kind of annoyed when he barges into my night-life. Plus he’s always grumpy and says things to upset me. Well, most of the time. Occasionally he’s sensible.

  I decide to try to make him sensible for this dream, though usually I have no control over what the unicorn does. Generally my control is limited to things like the clothes I’m wearing. I check out my feet. I’m wearing sandals, which Kansas does not approve of. She insists that anyone walking around her boarding stable has to wear boots, preferably with steel toes. She says you never know what’s going to happen around horses. I concentrate and my sandals transform into my Ariat Junior Performer Paddock Boots.

  Kansas still isn’t happy. “Lord knows what we’re going to find here,” she says. “I really wanted to pick out the right horse for you, maybe next year, when your seat is established and your hands are steady. You could have leased Electra and taken lessons . . . .” She trails off in disgust. I’ve never heard Kansas talk this way before, but I’ve suspected for a long time that this is how she feels. I hate disappointing Kansas, but this isn’t my fault. It’s not even really Grandpa’s fault. I think it’s just life.

  Kansas is right, I’m not ready. So I try to make the trailer disappear. I try to make the whole rig back away down the driveway, but it keeps on coming. There’s more yelling from the trailer, and then a white nose with flaring nostrils appears at the open window. It’s the unicorn alright. I try to make it brown, or bay with a white blaze and then in total desperation pink with sparkles like the stick ponies in Toys R Us, but nothing works.

  The unicorn is trying to get his entire head out the window, but something keeps catching. I know it’s his horn, or what’s left of it. For some reason it’s been getting shorter and shorter with every dream—I don’t know why, and I sure don’t want to ask him.

  “What’s with him?” says Kansas.

  “His horn is caught,” I mumble.

  “His what?”

  The unicorn pushes again, I hear something snap and his head is outside the window. There’s a red patch in the middle of his forehead. Blood is running down his nose, down the side of the trailer, down the driveway. There’s blood everywhere and that’s when I make myself wake up.

  I have my usual headache. Today is the day my new horse arrives so it would have been nice if, for a change, my skull didn’t feel like it was going to explode, but no such luck.

  Mom is tapping lightly on my door. “Wake up, Sugarplum. It’s time for your injection.”

  My doctors tell me that I have Turner Syndrome. I’m missing an X chromosome, and my ovaries are atrophying even though I’m not even fifteen yet, and I’m short—really really short. The injection is Human Growth Hormone. If I don’t take it I will never reach five feet. Not that this matters so much now. Getting to five feet used to be my entire reason for living, because that was the height I had to reach before Grandpa would buy me a horse. Now he’s bought me one anyway, and my parents have gone along with it, probably because everyone has been overwhelmed with guilt for not noticing there was something seriously wrong with me since I was born. They even ignored me when I said that I didn’t want my own horse right now, that I’m happy riding Electra, Kansas’s lesson pony. Grandpa phoned last week and announced that he’d found the perfect horse for me back there in Saskatchewan and wanted to know how to ship it out. Grandpa doesn’t always think things through properly. I think he’s suffering from senile dementia. But I figured my parents would get involved and tell him to forget it, and instead they were all for it. They’re too young for senile dementia, so I think it’s just the guilt at work on them.

  Now I feel guilty too. You’d think that maybe with missing a chromosome I might not have inherited the guilt gene, but somehow I did. I feel guilty about all the trouble people are going to for something I don’t want. I feel guilty for letting down Kansas. But most of the time, when I feel guilty, it’s about what I’ve done to my cousin, Taylor.

  Mom opens my curtains. I sit on the side of my bed and peel back my nightshirt, then stare blearily at my puny thigh muscle.

  “Mom, I don’t like this.”

  “Honey, it’s nothing, not even a little prick.” She rips open the packet for the alcohol swab. I catch a whiff of it and the
pain increases in my forehead and then seeps around behind my ears.

  “Mom, I have a headache. I always have a headache.”

  “You don’t always have a headache, Sweetheart,” says Mom swabbing my leg.

  Okay, she’s right, I’m exaggerating. I try to remember when the headaches started. I didn’t have them at school last year, that’s for sure. I had enough trouble at school without adding headaches to the list, what with everyone teasing me. Well, maybe not everyone. Logan Losino was nice. So the headaches must have started during the summer holidays.

  “Maybe your riding helmet is too tight,” says Mom. “Can you ask Kansas to check that for you? But I’ll bet that today you’re just excited about getting your new horse, aren’t you, Honey? And you want to grow, don’t you?” She positions the auto-injector over my thigh and presses the button to administer the dose. It stings. “There, you didn’t even feel it, did you? Now I’ve got to go, Dad’s already left.” She kisses my cheek. “I love you, Sweetie. I wish I could be there with you today, but I’m fully booked. That new employee assistance contract I landed is keeping me so swamped.” She shakes her head sadly but at the same time she has a smile on her face, as if there’s something about being swamped that she likes. As if she doesn’t really care if she’s there when my horse arrives. Still, it’s nice that she trusts Kansas. I know she’s been struggling for months to build up her counselling practice, and I know she needs a new car. Plus we need money to pay for boarding my horse.

  I sigh. Who am I to wreck her day?

  “You be careful on your bike,” says Mom from the doorway. “Have a good breakfast, and pack a lunch for yourself, you need to keep your strength up.” Then even though she’s out of time she lists all the nutritious things she’s stocked in the kitchen that I can choose from when I pack my lunch. She goes on and on and when she starts working her way through all the yoghurt flavours I stop listening. I’m glad my mom is happy and that her practice is getting busy and that she’s a conscientious parent who attends well to my nutritional needs. If she hadn’t fed me so well since birth, maybe I’d be even shorter than I am now. For the most part I don’t want her involved with my riding activities because she has a tendency to become too interested in my life and then offers lots of wacko opinions even if she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, like that horseback riding is an early adolescent phallic activity.

  But still, this is an important day for me, and I’m nervous, and I’m not feeling well.

  “Mom, do you think . . . ”

  “Oh lord,” she says looking at her watch. “I have to go. Phone if you need me, any time. Leave a message, I’ll call you back between sessions.”

  She whirls off down the hallway. I sit on the bed for a while. I hadn’t had time to recover from that awful dream, and now I also have to recover from my mom, and my injection. I feel like Hurricane Katrina has swept through my bedroom . . . and my life.

  Through my window I can hear Mom outside trying to start the car. The ignition whines and complains but eventually catches. I listen as her car rattles and wheezes into the distance.

  I should be happy but I’m not. I should be more than happy, I should be ecstatic and over the moon with joy. Instead I feel sick. I wish I was more like Kansas. Kansas says she’s in pain all the time from some “riding adventures” but she never lets it get her down. She says pain is just a thing of the mind, and you have a choice to either get over it or stay in bed and eat bonbons, whatever they are.

  The phone rings in the kitchen and I walk as quickly as I can to get it without jarring my head. It’s Kansas. She’s just heard from the driver of the shipping company. He’s on the ferry with the horses. They’ll be here in two hours. I should get over to the stable as soon as I can on my bike.

  “Horses?” I say. “Grandpa sent me two?” One was bad enough. Two would be impossible.

  “Oh no,” says Kansas. “Didn’t I tell you? Kelly Cleveland’s horse is coming in the same trailer. They picked him up in Alberta on the way through. Everything worked out perfectly.”

  “You mean Dr. Cleveland?” I ask, and Kansas says yes. Dr. Cleveland is my psychiatrist and I like her a lot. She’s the one who first suspected I had Turner Syndrome when my mom dragged me to see her because Mom thought I was a bisexual (it’s a long story). Dr. Cleveland also said that there’s nothing psychiatrically wrong with me unless “horse-nut” becomes an official clinical diagnosis. Dr. Cleveland was wearing Ariat paddock boots, so I knew right away she was a member of the herd, I knew she was a horsewoman, but I didn’t know she was shipping her horse out from Alberta, and I didn’t know she’d be boarding with Kansas. This is exciting news. This should make me even more ecstatically happy, and maybe it would if I didn’t still have the stupid headache or hadn’t had that stupid dream.

  My mom has left a note for me on the kitchen table. I try to read it but I can’t. Her handwriting is always impossible, but today it seems worse, even if I squint. It probably wasn’t important. It probably wasn’t anything she hasn’t told me a million times already.

  I grab a blueberry yoghurt from the fridge and rip off the foil cover, then stare at it. I know if I eat it I’ll throw up. I take it to the bathroom and flush it down the toilet so mom doesn’t find it in the garbage. Then I throw up anyway.

  I decide there isn’t much point in packing a lunch.

  I have a quick shower and get dressed. I put on my breeches and my Ariat Junior Performer Paddock Boots even though I probably won’t be riding today. Usually it makes me feel better to wear my riding clothes. But today nothing helps, even when I buckle on my riding helmet and hop on my bike. Somehow I know I’m doomed.


  When I arrive, Kansas is raking the stable yard with one of her plastic mucking forks. The place is already immaculate, as it always is, but still she’s raking. She even rakes over the line in the gravel left by my bike tires.

  “Hey, Sylvia, that was quick.” She picks up near-invisible pieces of hay and horse manure and deposits them in the wheelbarrow, though most of the bits are so small they fall through the tines of the fork before it gets a foot off the ground. Usually she is only this over-the-top fussy when Declan is on his way to shoe her horses, so I know she must be nervous. I hope it has nothing to do with me, I hope she’s just nervous because Dr. Cleveland’s horse is arriving, but this probably isn’t the case.

  She smiles at me but her lips are stiff, like they’re made of skin-tone Styrofoam. “Pretty exciting, isn’t it—your first horse arriving! And don’t you look great!”

  She’s trying too hard. I can’t disappoint her, so I nod, which makes my head hurt, but I’m not going to say anything because if I’m going to be a real horsewoman I have to learn to live with the pain. Kansas can usually tell when I’m not feeling right, but today she hardly looks me in the eye, and then she goes back to raking the gravel. She must be distracted too, like my mom but for different reasons. When I’m an adult, I hope I remember not to be distracted by anything, especially around young people who are feeling vulnerable.

  I tell Kansas I’m going to check my horse’s stall even though we both know it will already be perfect. I’m hoping I’ll feel better if I’m out of the sun.

  The barn is cool and dark and sharply scented from fresh shavings. The stall for my horse is clean and the water bucket is full. There’s a flake of hay fluffed up in one corner on top of a patch of bare rubber matt. Unfortunately there’s not a thing for me to do here, so I head out again, but before I leave the barn I notice that one of my bootlaces is loose, so I re-tie it and when I stand up everything goes fuzzy. I flip a bucket upside-down and sit on it just inside the main door. Pain is just a thing of the mind. I can deal with this.

  Dr. Cleveland pulls up and parks beside Kansas’s old truck. Dr. Cleveland drives a shiny silver-grey SUV with no dints or scratches in it, kind of like m
y dad’s, though his SUV is black because he says that’s a business-like colour. When she opens the door I catch a glimpse of a console that looks like something out of a spaceship. I didn’t think women cared about automotive stuff—Kansas says her truck has purely functional value, and my mom’s car doesn’t even have that. So I thought having fancy vehicles was more a guy thing. As usual I’m left thinking I have a lot to learn about adult life.

  Dr. Cleveland leaps out, looking around wildly. “Are they here yet? Did I miss the trailer?” She hasn’t done up her shirt properly, so the buttons are misaligned.

  I have never seen her like this. In her office she is subdued and dignified. Now she looks like a very tall kid with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

  Kansas says, “I didn’t think you’d be coming until after work.”

  “I booked the afternoon off. I said there was a family emergency—which there is of course.”

  Kansas rakes away the tire marks left by Dr. Cleveland’s car. “I could have handled this for you, Kelly,” she says.

  “Are you kidding?” says Dr. Cleveland. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.” She spies me sitting in the doorway to the barn, waves and says hi. “Exciting day, eh Sylvia?” But she turns and pops open the back hatch before I can answer. She’s distracted too. Maybe being distracted is part of being an adult. Maybe it’s something they teach you at university.

  The back of Dr. Cleveland’s vehicle is cram-packed with gear. I don’t know how she’s going to stuff it all in her locker in the tack room. Kansas must be wondering the same thing. She’s stopped raking and is staring at what could almost be a small tack shop on wheels. Without even standing up I can see a stack of three saddle pads in different shades of blue. In plastic bags beside them are perfectly coordinated polo wraps for her horse’s legs.

  Dr. Cleveland smiles sheepishly for Kansas. “I have matchy-matchy disease.”

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