By Dan Harvey Pedrick
Just Say No to Alice (Just Try)
Polo in Beacon Hill Park? Why not? They played there years ago, and raced horses too. The small dirt ground inside the old racetrack is still playable, or so I told the Centennial Celebration Events Committee I had cunningly infiltrated. "Check it out, Dan," they said, "and report back."
"With pleasure," I replied. Visions of a new Golden Age of Polo a-borning in downtown Victoria danced in my head. Of course I took "check it out, Dan" to mean "go stick and ball up there, and if you trample a few frisbee players, so be it."
I brought my mare "Mystery" into my urban yard for a little a grooming and tacking up before riding out onto the nearby field to conduct my research. Victoria is a city of "newly weds and nearly deads" according to some witless wags. But they wouldn't say that if they met Alice. A resident of one of the many nearby nursing homes, Alice suddenly appeared at my elbow as I was placing a saddle on Mystery's back. "I'm ninety-four," she told me proudly as she introduced herself, "and I rode horses every day, as a youngster. What's this one's name?"
"Uh, Mystery", I replied. "Watch out. She bites," I added, not wanting to encourage the loquacious novegenarian too much.
"Oh, she wouldn't bite me," said Alice, boldly stroking Mystery's shoulder, "would you, girl?" Mystery, who truly was not above the crime of assaulting the innocent and the helpless from time to time, gave Alice a respectful glance and I could see that the old lady was probably right.
Suddenly someone called from across the street: "Alice! Alice!" Alice looked at me with alarm. Putting a finger to her lips, she crouched behind a hedge with an imploring look. A white-clad nurse approached. Against my better judgement, I studiously avoided her officious glare. When the coast was clear Alice popped back up and returned to give Mystery one last pat. "Better be going," she said, and hurried back across the steet with surprising alacrity.
Soon Alice materialized again, like a leprechaun, and pulled a smuggled carrot out of her pocket. "I've brought Mystery a treat," she announced gleefully, and proceeded to proffer it expertly on the flat of her hand. By now Mystery was all tacked up. "Do you ride her?" asked Alice.
"Well, sometimes," I replied hesitantly.
"What a lovely saddle," she said, fingering the leather skirt. I realized I was being seduced and I looked about anxiously for the white-clad nurse. Alice began to caress the pigskin seat and I knew what was coming next. "Say," she said, slightly modulating her voice, "do you think I could just sit on her for a moment. I'd love that so much." My heart skipped a beat as I envisioned the newspaper headlines such an act might engender and tried to utter the words "absolutely not" with firmness and conviction. But before I could, Alice had grabbed the pommel and bent her left leg at the knee. "Give me a leg up," she begged, "just for a minute."
I looked around, desperately. There was no sign of the nurse. Probably bound and gagged in a broom closet, I thought. "Oh, what the hell," I muttered to myself, "this is a magic moment." I dutifully reached for Alice's extended lower leg which was surprisingly firm. I hoisted her slight frame and she slipped easily into the saddle. I stood staring up at her, shocked by what I had done.
"Oh, this is wonderful," she cried, "isn't it, Mystery?"
"Yes... well...that's enough for one day, eh?," I said, and reached up to lift her down.
"Oh...no," she cried in dismay, like a young child about to be plucked from a pony.
"You must get back now, please," I said, "before they miss you."
"Oh, they don't even know I'm gone," she answered. "Just lead me off a little bit," said Alice, ignoring my protests as she gathered the reins. "And shorten these stirrups for me, will you?"
"Jeez," I cried, appealing to the skies, "why can't I just say no?" I castigated myself bitterly as I reached for the stirrup leathers.
You know," said Alice, "My friends back at the home don't believe me about Mystery."
"Neither do I," I replied. "It's only a half a block from here," she went on. "Let's go over there so they can see me from the sun porch."
I had hold of Alice's right foot and was just about to slip it into the stirrup iron when I was finally overwhelmed with common sense. "That's it!" I barked, "This really has gone quite far enough. Now I must insist that you get down this instant!"
"I will," said Alice sweetly, "in just a moment." Then my worst nightmare came true. She placed her foot against my chest and gave me a shove which nearly sent me sprawling. I watched in helpless horror as she wheeled the hijacked horse towards the street and dug in her heels. The cantankerous Mystery, never far from a full-blown runaway at the best of times, bolted out of my yard leaving a wake of flying divots.
Alice reached her destination, pulled Mystery to a stop, and began prancing about on the lawn trying in vain to get the attention of her dozey and myopic colleagues inside. "Yoo-hoo!" yelled the ecstatic equestrienne, "Yoo-hoo!"
Moments later I arrived, breathless, and made a desperate grab for the reins. "Pipe down, for heaven's sake!" I pleaded. Mystery felt like a coiled spring. I carefully led her away and back to my yard with the jubilant Alice still astride.
"I say, she's got a bit of quick in her, doesn't she?" she said, "But, you know, I don't think they ever saw me." Alice sounded disappointed.
"Thank God for that," I sighed, lifting her down. My knees were wobbly and I was out of breath, but Alice seemed fine. She bade Mystery a fond farewell and headed off towards the nursing home where no one--especially the nursing staff--believed her tales of galloping derring-do for one moment. But they kept a closer eye on Alice after that, just to be sure.
"It would never work," I reported back to the committee. "The neighbors are just too dangerous."
(This piece was originally published in POLO Magazine.)
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