The King of Kindness

It wasn’t the best day to go to the Orange County Fair, what with the temperature predicted to be in the hot as hell range, but it was our last chance to see the Budweiser Clydesdales so we had to go. Well, that’s why I had to go. Lisa wanted chocolate-covered bacon, Elaine wanted to buy things and Mark…I’m not sure what Mark wanted to do. But there we were, way too early on a Sunday morning, going to the fair.

You know it’s a hot day when the kabob place runs out of water at 11 am.

But we muddled through, hiding in the air-conditioned exhibit halls, chugging down more water than would usually be humanly possible, watching Elaine buy this and that as we stood drenched in sweat from the uncharacteristically humid effects of the monsoonal moisture. By 3:30, we were dragging.

Unfortunately, the Clydesdales weren’t going to parade until 5.

Mark, totally aware that I was not going to leave that hellhole without seeing the Clydesdales, suggested that we go look at them in their stalls, pre-parade as it were. That way I could see the Clydesdales and we could leave earlier.

This worked for me.

So we made our way over to a huge white building with open sides where the horses were getting ready for their close-ups.

There’s a lot of work involved in getting a Clydesdale primped and ready to parade. Manes have to be braided with red and white ribbons, tails have to be pulled up into a bun and that huge beer wagon has to be pushed out of the shadows into the bright sunshine of the staging area before the horses can be led over in the order they will be hitched, rear horses first. I found it all fascinating.

Mark fell asleep on a picnic table.

An impromptu line of spectators formed to watch the horses walk by on their way to the harness truck. At the far end of the row was a wheelchair with a young boy in it. He sat there, face expressionless, arms and legs askew like a doll that had been tossed aside. Someone was speaking to him, but he gave no sign he had heard.

The first horse went by, huge hooves clicking on the concrete, coat glistening as he stepped out into the sun. A few minutes later, a second Clydesdale was led out of his stall, click-clacking his way down the line of curious onlookers, calmly going about his business.

But the groom stopped when he reached the boy in the wheelchair, the huge gelding coming to a halt behind him. After a moment, he led the horse forward, tugging his towering companion within reach of the vacant-eyed boy. The Clydesdale gently lowered his massive nose, nuzzling the boy’s dark hair with soft white lips almost as wide as the child’s head. The boy reacted to this unexpected contact, raising his small hands and slowly, tentatively, drawing them down both sides of the horse’s face. The gelding nudged him in acknowledgement and stepped back, but the boy lifted his hand again, stroking the end of the freckled nose before the groom smiled and led the immense horse away.

The boy collapsed back into his seat, the distant look returning, lost in his own world again.

Maybe this time it involved horses.

I don’t think that’s what Mark was dreaming of.

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