Near sundown she came back down the mountain trail on Bell. At this time of evening, with the sun low in the west, Lucy knew an old shadow of rider and horse followed them along the rock walls. And she knew sunset’s pinks and purples colored the ridges and peaks all around them.
But with labored breathing, Bell had struggled to make it up the hill and now the old mare had trouble with her footing on the way down, so Lucy kept her eyes on her horse and patted her and pushed out on the stirrups to give Bell some relief. Lucy’s own knees ached to do that, and even though they had ached for thirty years worth of evening rides, ever since her forties, Lucy knew this evening held something different in it.
“It’s our last ride, sweetie,” she said aloud.
Bell’s loud breathing quieted. She turned her head around as though to playfully bite Lucy’s foot. Funny, Lucy thought, I rid her of that habit long ago. And a few minutes later, when they came to a wide and level stretch of the trail, Lucy felt Bell step out briefly with the prance she used to make, her little bit of Arabian blood showing off one more time.
The little girl in her would have liked to cry but it wouldn’t have been decent for two old ladies like Lucy and Bell to start blubbering on any trail, much less their last one, which ended well after dark and into Bell’s stable where Lucy took the saddle off for the final time.
Lucy visited Bell several times a day for the next two years until Bell’s death. Their saddle is shared by Lucy’s granddaughters, and so most evenings the shadow of rider and horse can still be seen ghosting down the mountain trail.