She fell off her horse.
Thinking about it later, the old man didn’t remember ever learning to ride a horse. He had always known. His father had put him on his horse while he was still in nappies. And Jimmy Wirraway who was only eleven or twelve sat him up on his horse and they rode all over Margany. The old man, as a boy, would sit behind Jimmy Wirraway and hold onto his belt at the back of Jimmy’s trousers. The old man could ride a horse before he could walk.
One day when he was about six or seven he went to the orphan yard to look at the calves. The calves had lost their mothers or the mothers had lost the calves and they were hand reared on the bottle. Jimmy Wirraway’s mother did the rearing and she was given every third one she raised. That’s how she made extra money and often she would top the sale when she sold her steers.
Nobody was around the yards the day the old man tried to ride the calf. It took him quite a while to catch one and he swung his legs over the calf and held on tight and the calf ran and ran around and around the yard and eventually the little boy, who was to become the old man, fell off. He fell right onto a feed bowl. The bowl was an old five-gallon oil drum cut in half and the edge turned down to make a lip. But as luck would have it there was one sharp edge left and the old man nearly cut his little finger off. He looked at his old wrinkled hands and the scar was still there. Every time he cut his fingernails he saw the scar and he thought about riding that calf. Every time he cut them he remembered back to falling off that calf. And he was proud. It was his first ever scar. He looked at his hands and his legs and he counted the scars and he countered the stitches that he’d earned. Twenty on the big one under his right knee and five under the left knee when he fell out of a tree instead of going to Sunday School. And the other ones. A story for each.
But it was his little girl that scratched the scar off his memory. She’s grown now. Lives on the coast and has kids of her own. But she was little once. A little nervous. But she really loved horses. When she was young the old man would take her with him when he rode around the station. If he put an American stockman’s saddle on the grey pony she would ride on her own. The pommel gave her a sense of security. But she didn’t like the Australian saddle and that was when the trouble happened.
They were riding through the scrub out by the fence close to where the red sand desert began and her horse stopped abruptly and she fell forward and landed flat on her face. The old man remembers still what happened next. He laughed because he knew she had not hurt herself. It did look quite comical as the horse nudged her as she lay on the ground and he was not sensitive to the fact that she was crying. He remembered still that he had dealt with it badly.
“Come on Girl. On your feet. You aren’t hurt.”
But she got up and turned to him and the look of sheer anger on her face as the tears marked a line down each dust covered cheek speared through him. They were only about a mile from the house and he told her once more to get on the horse. She looked at him again, in anger and frustration and walked away.
The old man was angry and called for her to come back but she ignored him. He looked at her and called again, “All right then. Walk home.” And he rode back to the house leaving his daughter, his little girl, to walk home with her pony walking along behind her.
She never rode a horse again and it was his fault. Fifty something years ago it would have been. He had never said he was sorry. He never spoke to her about it and he always regretted the day he showed that hard uncaring side to himself.
That night in his small room across the other side of the world the old man sat at his desk and sent a letter to his daughter. It was much, much too late. But never too late and the old man said he was sorry.