I remember that moment as if it were today. I was standing by the stable gates. The stable was suffused with sunlight. Flies chased one another playfully around a flypaper. Rays of sun transformed their wings into semiprecious stones. Horses dozed in the afternoon heat, mechanically fanning their bellies with their tails. A soft velvety dust settled on their fur turning it into pure gold. Leila, July, Pearl and Lombard stood to the left, Hakim, Ambal, Yaga and Cecil to the right. I remember the personality of each and every one of them. I can recall exactly what would make each of them buck and what might scare them. There was nothing that gave me more pleasure than to press my lips against their soft horse nostrils. The sensation that I enjoyed most of all was lying down on Cecil’s back. I would close my eyes and listen to him breathe. I heard the rumbling of his bowels and his powerful heartbeat. Sometimes he would move, which made his joints crackle. He would give a loud snort. Eyes half closed, I dangled my legs without a worry in the world. I lay on his back like a rag doll, just chilling out. Cecil was very gentle. As he slowly turned into his box, he would gingerly shift his weight from one foot to another. I felt completely secure again. As in my mother’s womb. I spent hours gazing into Cecil’s sad, obsidian-coloured eyes. He was a pensioner. Sometimes they made him pull a cart laden with straw or carry children after the races. His career as a vaulting horse was long over. Riders made use of his serene nature to calm down young, nervous mares. Whenever a horse was frightened, Cecil would be sent for. He was also used to help load horses onto the van. Young horses would buck until they saw Cecil. Unperturbed, he would slowly clamber up the ramp, give a brief rumble and start feeding. Romana and I used to groom him every day, scraping him clean and weaving daisies into his mane. I borrowed a book on farm animals from the library. For hours we would hold Cecil’s head and memorize: forelock, bridge of the nose, lips. We would run our fingers along his smooth coat: withers, flank, hock, fetlock. We tried to commit every nodule on his graceful body to memory. We tried to guess where his spleen, heart and windpipe might be. We learned where his temple bone and the lower jawbone was. We rattled off in a whisper: ''Os temporale, os nasale, mandibula, musculus semispinalis capitis.“ It sounded like an incantation. Cecil squinted sleepily and allowed us to scratch his ears. We spent most of our time at the riding hall.
We pretended to the school nurse that we were down with a cold; we skived off young pioneer meetings and sneaked away from the Labour Day parade. We managed to get ourselves kicked out of the Spartakiad team because of our dismal performance. We were hard to track down, like the tiny grey birds that used to peck oats from the feeders.
The summer holidays were drawing to a close. Instead of classes we all just mooched about at school. The teachers were deciding our end of year grades, school desks were being sandpapered down. The time had come for our first girls‘ outing. By now I had became expert at lying to Mum. Without batting an eyelid. My friend Arpi concocted a note in beautiful Slovak informing parents of a forthcoming two-day school trip, complete with a perfectly forged teacher’s signature. Mum never even dreamed anything was amiss. She was happy to have the flat to herself for one of her sex romps. She bought me some tinned meat, bread and sweets. She filled a bottle with a raspberry-flavoured drink made with Vitacit powder. I packed a sleeping bag, thermals and warm socks. In the early afternoon Romana and I arrived at the riding school. We holed up in the attic, waiting for everyone to leave the riding hall. For the last evening feed to come to an end and for the stables to be locked. The doorkeeper was an old fellow, permanently pissed. As soon as everyone left he disappeared in his doorkeeper's cabin and opened a bottle of vodka. The sun sank lazily below the horizon, turning the sky bright orange. Baby swallows played tag. We lay on the unmowed lawn next to the paddocks, eating oversalted luncheon meat and watching the pink clouds slowly drift by. I lit up. The hot wind blew its promise of love into my hair. I passed the cigarette to Romana. She beamed with joy. She dragged on the cigarette cautiously. She peeled scabs off her legs and fed them to the ants. Somewhere a horse neighed. Its high-pitched voice silenced a thrush sitting on top of a pine tree. Everything went quiet. Only the wind gently brushed the meadow, and field poppies, reminiscent of baby wolves' bloodied eyes, frolicked in the grass.
I dreamed I was a swallow, flying just above the surface of a river. Its brightness dazzled me. I felt its warmth on my belly. The river was a stream of lava of glowing gold. I was flying fast. Straight ahead at first, then changing direction abruptly and shooting upwards vertically. Right into the blazing sun. It blinded me. I felt ecstatic. A wave of euphoria swept my body. I woke up screaming. A couple of days later Matilda appeared at Cecil’s box. Her piercing blue eyes drilled into me with a force that took my breath away. She tucked her flaxen hair behind her ear and smiled in a peculiar way, as if reluctant to reveal her teeth. "Not exercising today?“ she asked, patting the horse’s neck. She was tall. In her skin-tight leggings and figure-hugging T-shirt, we couldn’t fail to notice how beautiful she was. Romana and I exchanged looks but remained stubbornly silent.
"My name is Matilda,“ she said and extended her hand to us. Grown-ups shaking our hands was certainly not something we were used to. Suspiciously we glanced back and forth at her hand and at each other. Matilda laughed. "I’ve been watching you for a while now and I think you’re rather clever chicks!“ Eventually Romana took her hand. "Your name is Karolína, isn’t it,“ Matilda asked me and all I could do was nod dumbly. I was intoxicated by her fragrance. Cinnamon mixed with some sort of fruit. My eyes rolled back in my head. I saw a queen hidden within her. A queen standing proud. An exquisitely ornamented headband made her piercing emerald eyes shine. They seemed to look right into my heart. "We’re not excercising today, Cecil’s paddock has been overrun by unsaddled colts,“ said Romana as she gently pinched my bottom. "And as you well know, we’re not allowed to ride, we have to do it secretly in the paddock!“ I came to my senses. Matilda slowly placed her arms akimbo. "So how about if I got comrade director to let you use the riding hall... and, by the way, no more formalities, call me Matilda.“ Romana and I burst out laughing. Yeah, very funny. Sure, the director will let us use the riding hall. Comrade director enjoyed god-like status. Communist style, that is. People spoke of him with fear. Of his power. Without his approval nobody lifted a finger. He knew everything that went on. And anyone who defied him got the sack. He lorded it over the horses‘ lives and the riders‘ triumphs. He was a greedy son-of-a-bitch. Ensconced at the Regional National Committee. He ruled the riding hall with an iron fist. Rumour had it he had a TV set and a leather sofa in his office. He rode the wildest stud. And the stallion obeyed him. At the slightest touch of the bridle. It trotted like a meek little lamb. The same horse that wouldn’t hesitate to kick the brains out of our heads. The director straddled it proudly, like a general. Men like this are not aware of kids. To him we were nothing but vermin. The queen’s eyes blazed, turning the deepest marshland green. We went silent.
Matilda turned around and marched right up to the director’s office. "Just you wait!“ she shouted, her clear voice darting around the stables like a fly. Two hours later we were standing in the huge riding hall. Cecil wore a strange harness. Matilda led him on a long white leash. "This is a vaulting belt, girls,“ she pointed the whip at some leather grips protruding from Cecil’s back. "Try it out at a walk first!“ Romana hobbled up to Cecil, tentatively grabbing the belt grips. For a while she limped awkwardly alongside Cecil. Then she stamped her feet and jumped onto the horse’s back. Light as a feather. Matilda told her how to exercise. When to flex her legs and where her centre of gravity should be. "Excellent! Now try the same at a canter,“ she shouted and smacked her lips at Cecil. The horse shot into the circle like a guided missile. His mane turned into white ribbons blowing in the wind. His nostrils flared. His eyes glistened. He snorted gently with the rhythm of the canter. He looked ten years younger. Romana moved her legs about, then swung them frontways and rearways, and to the sides. She seemed to be performing some weird dance. Her shorter leg lengthened miraculously and she was suddenly transformed into a vivacious healthy girl. I decided to have a go, too. The belt grips were really handy. Matilda explained in plain language how to vault on. It’s a simple little trick. I had to run alongside Cecil for a while, matching the rhythm of his canter. Holding tight to the vaulting belt grips, I planted my straightened legs sharp into the ground and swung myself up. Shooting high above the horse’s back, I spread out my legs gracefully in the air and gently touched down. It felt different. An even canter. Suddenly I was able to focus on my body. My lower back relaxed. My spine vibrated in time with the canter. I straightened up, raising my head high. “Now, slowly raise your arms,” came Matilda's instructions. I felt as if I were flying. I plucked up the courage to kneel on Cecil’s back and… stood up. I stood on the horse for about three seconds. But to me it felt as if I were up in the sky watching the world down below, as if I were about to jump out of my skin before returning into my clumsy body. Then I fell off.
We were learning. How to do a half mill, a flag or scissors. Matilda explained the difference between compulsory and freestyle exercises and showed us the technique for mastering djigitovka. Practising every day, we were so exhausted we kept falling asleep on the bus on our way home. My Mum would hardly recognize me. Her spiteful, ailing child was growing into a confident sportswoman. I couldn’t give a damn about her lovers. I only went home to eat, sleep and shower. I became adept at copying other people’s work at school and scraped through with one C at the most. Once I even managed to get As and just two Bs. That was the time my Mum shacked up with a shady moneychanger. He gave her vouchers for Tuzex, the foreign currency shop. She bought me a Walkman. A blue Walkman with orange headphones. That day the first summer storm thundered over our housing estate. As soon as the rain stopped I went out, a cassette from Arpi in my Walkman. I was transported into another world. I thought I heard some steps behind me and turned around to check if someone was following me. The sound of a machine running mingled with human laughter. A mad human scream nearly shattered my eardrums, a guitar solo carried me into another dimension. I walked around the estate. The rain had turned it into a mirror. Puddles stared blindly into the sky refracting sun rays back into the universe. As if sending desperate messages from our socialist world. Everything suddenly appeared to me in a new light. Even the grubby building site had something to be said for it. I walked faster, driven by the beat. As the second track started I saw a huge lorry dumping tons of sand. Dust floated in the air. It reminded me of a sandstorm our geography teacher had told us about. Tipped upwards, the body of the lorry looked like a prehistoric bird’s open beak. Sand slid into a hole. Builders leening on their shovels smoked roll-ups while I savoured Pink Floyd.
It really rocked. I’d never experienced anything like that before. Listening to The Dark Side of the Moon on horseback put me in the same state as the joint Arpi once gave me. As the horse ran music reverberated through my body. I was a medium, receiving and transmitting at the same time. Cecil caught the vibe. He plugged into the drumbeat, galloping as if he could hear it. I had the feeling I was absolute perfection. My muscles worked effortlessly. Meticulously. Without the slightest hesitation. My body turned into a machine that ran all by itself. I stopped thinking. I felt the horse’s warm body moving betwen my legs. I was becoming more and more aware of the pleasure generated by the movement. My hairless pussy rubbed against Cecil’s hide. It kept growing. Swelling. It was getting bigger and moister. It went all gooey and hot. It kept expanding. It engulfed Cecil and the riding hall. A million hot tongues licked my clitoris. Pleasure slowed down my movements. I buried my pelvis in Cecil’s back. Deeper and deeper. I felt a tremendous shiver inside my pussy. A spasm went through my body. It was out of this world. That’s when the song finished. Cecil came to a halt. I heard joyous clapping. Matilda stood in the middle of the vaulting ring, shouting: "Great! Karolína, what you did just now wasn’t simply exercising, it was dancing! That’s just what I want!“ I felt hugely embarrassed. I was completely unnerved by the pleasure I’d just felt. My own body had given me a scare. It seemed mysterious and out of control. I wondered if I’d fallen ill. My breasts felt tender. Muddled thoughts ran through my head. I stood beside Cecil, out of breath. A sly smile on Matilda’s face made me wonder if she’d noticed anything. She patted me on the back. "We have to exercise to music,“ I exhaled. The queen nodded her approval. She smiled. Her teeth glistened like red apples.