The Law of Moses
Author:Amy Harmon

I had never been to a rodeo before. I had no idea how crazy white people could be. Considering I had been abandoned by a white, crack addict mother, I should have known.


But I actually enjoyed myself. There was a wholesomeness about the entertainment—lots of families and flag waving and music that made me wish I’d worn a cowboy hat, no matter how stupid I would have looked in it. I ate six rodeo burgers, which may have been the best thing I’d ever eaten in my life. Grandma hooted like she’d just been called down on The Price is Right and stomped her feet and generally acted like she was eighteen instead of eighty, which I also enjoyed. Roping, riding, cowboys being flung like rag dolls from bucking horses and twisting bulls, and girls like Georgia, riding like they’d been born in a saddle. I was pretty sure Georgia had. I’d seen her ride plenty of times when she thought I wasn’t watching.


I’d avoided Georgia since the incident in the barn. I didn’t know what to do with her. She was a wild card. She was a small town girl with a simple way of speaking and thinking, a frank way of being that turned me on and turned me off at the same time. I wanted to run from her. But at the same time, I spent all my time thinking about her.


I watched Georgia fly into the arena on her pale horse, dust swirling, hair streaming out behind her, hugging the strategically placed barrels with a grin so huge I knew she was enjoying her flirtation with death. I knew horses were to her what painting was to me, and as I watched her fly, I desperately wanted to paint her. Just like that, full of life and motion, completely unbound. I usually painted when the images in my head became too much to contain and then spilled out in furious frustration. I had rarely painted pictures just for the joy of it, just for the pleasure of painting something that appealed to me. And Georgia, in front of a screaming crowd, hurtling around a dusty arena, had somehow become something that appealed to me.


I left before it was all over, Grandma assuring me she was riding with the Stephensons and didn’t need me to stay. I drove around aimlessly, with no desire to brush up against people at the carnival, ride the Ferris wheel, or watch Georgia with her friends, celebrating her winning ride. I was sure she had friends. And I was sure I was nothing like them.


I drove and drove and then I felt it coming on, the warning that rose in my veins and made my neck and ears throb with heat. I turned up the radio, trying to use sound to drown out sight. It didn’t work very well. Within a few seconds I saw a man by the side of the road. He just stood, looking at me. I shouldn’t have been able to see him. It was dark. And it was a country road, lit only by moonlight and the headlights of my Jeep. But he stood illuminated, as if he’d borrowed light from the moon and wrapped himself in it.


I recognized him almost immediately. And the images started to flood my brain. They were all of Georgia: Georgia with her horse, Georgia leaping fences, Georgia falling to the ground in the barn when I’d spooked her horse.


The image kept repeating—Georgia falling, Georgia falling, Georgia falling. It didn’t scare me. I’d seen her fall. It was in the past. And she was fine. But then I wondered if maybe she wasn’t. I wondered if this man—the man on the side of the road, the same man I’d seen in Georgia’s barn when Sackett reared up and kicked Georgia, the man I’d painted on the side of that same barn because he kept coming back—I wondered if he was trying to tell me something. Not about his life, but about Georgia’s.


And so I turned the Jeep around and went to the fairgrounds. I didn’t park in the lot, but crept around from the side, weaving around the outbuildings and the horse trailers as if I had any idea where I was going. I thought I caught another glimpse of the shadowy man—or was it just a flash of light, a cowboy needing a smoke? I came to a stop, stepped out of my Jeep, and called Georgia’s name. I felt ridiculous, and I stayed still for a minute, unsure, unwilling to join the masses that moved beneath the colorful carnival lights a hundred yards away. I was more comfortable watching from the dark.


Someone ran into me from behind, making me lurch forward and stumble, careening into me and then away from me, disappearing into the night without apology and without giving me a chance to push back. Drunk cowboy. But after that there was silence, peppered only with the stomp and snort of the animals penned and quartered nearby. I didn’t want to go any closer to the animals; I might cause a stampede of my own.


I headed toward the carnival and walked the perimeter, searching for Georgia from the sidelines. And then I saw the man again. Georgia’s grandfather. He was standing by the darkened entrance to the arena. He didn’t call to me. They never did. They just filled my head with their memories. But no images came. He just stood in a swath of pearly moonlight. And I walked toward him until I was back to where I’d started. He disappeared as I approached, but something gleamed at my left, disappearing around the chutes, beneath the grandstands, closer to the animals. And that’s when I found Georgia.