Part One of a Two Part Series
This work of fiction was originally published in The Plaid Horse in February, 2020, and appears here with its permission.
Mary wiped her hands on the thighs of her jeans in that matter-of-fact way of hers, you know the way, that said in a manner of speaking that she was done with one thing and was now moving on to the next. She did it like she had done it a thousand times before, but this time she paused for a moment as she came out of the barn, put her hands on her hips, and set her face to the sky and closed her eyes, letting the rain and wind sweep over her.
It was more mist than rain but drops began to slowly coalesce and run down her cheeks and into the collar of her sweatshirt. It was not every day she allowed herself the luxury of playing in the wet, letting her chores wait a few minutes until she was ready for them, although they always seemed ready for her. She thought of the old barn they had come from, its horses, the barn hands, its architecture, the landscape surrounding it. She thought of silly, small things, like the way the light hanging from the ceiling by Lily’s stall swayed on a blustery night. The way that Lily would be unsettled by the sounds of the wind and move as close to her as she could. “Easy now,” Mary would tell Lily “everything is going to be alright.” She would watch the light for a minute, and it would remind her of the way the light hung precariously over her in the train car when she was four years old and travelling back from the Canadian Prairies after watching her grandmother, a woman she had hardly known, be buried on the coldest day anyone could imagine. She had worried so much about that light falling that she could not sleep. She knew what it felt like to be unsettled by things over which she had no control.
The barn had become a very special place for Mary, etched, as it was, with memories of her horse and the antics of the other boarders vying for her attention. They had become like her children, or at least nieces and nephews, in an odd kind of way. It had come to be a place of her own, where she felt a little more alive and a little more herself. She felt like Lily and the barn were hers, in a way that few other things had ever been. Lily and the barn had become interwoven so tightly into her life that she could not imagine her life otherwise. They had become like a quilt that enveloped her and made her feel safe. It was where Lily had been happy and even playful. It was where, when Mary felt a little melancholy, that Lily grew even gentler with her. Ready, seemingly, to listen to what was on Mary’s mind. “I’m going to miss that old barn,” Mary thought. Over time she had learned that it is, at base, as much a question of what you bring to the barn as it is what you take from it. Still, the question remained in her mind whether it was the barn or the horse that wove such magic?
The new barn was farther, much farther, from the city. Farther from the busyness and sound of traffic and construction. True, it took longer to drive to – she tried to imagine a homebound trip at night in the middle of the winter. But Mary could not help feeling that this place was worth the effort. “I like the feel of this place,” thought Mary. “It’s like a real barn.” The fields stretched northwards from the yard. There was plenty of room for a horse to roam here. There was even space enough for Lily to run. And plenty of peace. Just the sound of the wind. Not even a passing car, really, to speak of.
Still, Mary knew there were also losses for Lily to deal with, too. There was Lily’s equine friend, Lady Day, who had stayed behind, who had stood close beside Lily whenever she could, knowing and accepting that Lily was the strong one. Lily had been tender with her. She had guarded her against a few of the more aggressive geldings. Lily had kept the peace. And now things had changed, and it fell to Lily to get along without her. “We miss those whom we have come to protect when they are taken away from us,” Mary thought. Perhaps it is a little like when children grow up and leave. “Rather than feeling free, we feel as though we are missing part of ourselves. Even though we are supposed to be the strong ones.” Lily would have to be the strong one, now, with new companions to explain things to, new boundaries to be drawn.
Mary walked along the pasture lane from the barn to the paddock, the grass was overgrown in places, the path muddy in others, evidence of the owner’s acceptance of an imperfect pasture lane, one, nevertheless, beautiful in its own right, suggesting also days when the number of chores to be done was greater than the number of hours in a day. Mary smiled. “So, there you are,” she said. The mare raised her head from the grass, still chewing, and looked at her, ears up, when she heard Mary’s voice. It had been more than a few days since Mary had seen Lily, what with the move of barns and everything happening at home, her daughter fighting a bad cold for the last week. The stress of the move showed on both of them. Mary stopped and looked at her. Her heart sunk a little. It had been, admittedly, hard on Lily. Lily seemed to have even dropped a little weight. Mary had been trying to rearrange things so that she could see Lily at the new barn more regularly. She would have to try harder.
“Changing barns is a little like changing schools when I was young,” Mary told Lily, “for both of us.” When she had changed schools as a girl, she had been quick to learn that there was an inner circle and she had found herself decidedly on the outside of it. ... To be continued
WHO IS DOUGLAS ALLEN?
Douglas Allen is a writer who is currently working on a novel exploring the nature of indigenous and non-indigenous relations on the Canadian Prairie and what it means to come home. He is also a student of Medieval and Renaissance history at the University of Toronto. He is particularly interested in using notions of identity as a lens to understand human motivation and action.