Part Two 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.
“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. There had been girls at her new school who wore brightly coloured sundresses, who thought themselves all that, whereas she had worn the only thing she had – bright red stretchy pants. The girls used to point to her from the far side of the school yard and giggle, their cupped hands shielding their mouths, pretending to hide their laughter. “Where did you get your pants?” the bolder one among them would ask her over and over again. She would not reply and would just turn and walk into the school, one of the teachers invariably asking her why she could not manage to find someone to play with. She one time found the nerve to answer that it was on account of her stretchy pants. But the teacher could only fight back laughing at her and told her to find her way to her classroom. If her mother would only buy her a dress, she thought at the time. Or a horse. Or just change something about her so that the other girls would like her. When she thought about it, she could even now feel the laughter of the girls in the yard raise the hairs on the back of her neck.
The other thing was that you could not help but know that the Sundress-Sunshine-Bet-You’d- Like-to-Ride-My-Horse Girls, as Mary used to call them to herself, all had horses of their own, as they had endlessly chattered about them at recess, and because to make it even more obvious, they would prance around the school yard pretending to ride hobby horses. They were happy about having a horse of their own. Mary wanted one too. But Mary had a feeling that for these girls who seemed to have everything, the one thing they still longed for was attention. Mary, being the old soul that she was, felt a little sorry for them as far as that went. But there was no need to be cruel.
And Mary had so wanted a horse when she was a little girl. She remembered the moment when she first asked her mother if she could have her own horse, she had been receiving riding lessons for about a year at the time. Her mother had simply said, however, with her air of adult aloofness and immutability, “No.” The word had come down hard in Mary’s mind, like the way the classroom door sounded when the teacher had shut it hard when the class had really misbehaved. There was not even a discussion about it. It was that way with most things. She cried that night, and the nights after that.
It took her a few days, but she shortly came up with what she thought was a brilliant plan and asked for a picture of a horse in her room.
“Just a picture,” she told her mother, “it would still be my very own.”
“It will just make you tiresome as you chatter on about wanting a real horse, when I’ve already told you the answer” her mother had replied.
It was not even a question of money so much. What it was a question of Mary was not sure of. As a girl she did not formulate the question directly. The conflict with her mother settled in her stomach and made it hurt. Her mother’s implacability was like a hazy cloud that encircled her. It was like a tent made of brown paper bags that she could not escape from or see out of. It was only when she had fully grown and had children of her own that she began to put her feelings into words. Was it a matter of simple control on her mother’s part? Or just pure meanness? Was it that her mother had not had a horse when she was a girl?
Mary knew that Lily was facing, in coming to the new barn, something like what she did when she was the new girl in the schoolyard. Mary understood. “There is no hurry here,” Mary told Lily. Mary knew that, in the long run, Lily was strong enough to redraw any circles that she was excluded by. The barn manager, Alyssia, had placed Lily alone in her own paddock with what seemed like the best grass. It was kind of her, and wise. But grazing all by herself was not something Lily had been used to. She needed the company of Lady Day.
Her mother’s answer of “No” to that question of so many years ago had reverberated in Mary’s mind over the years. She heard her mother’s voice in her head even now. Mary felt as though she were walking through a cloud from which she could not find her way out. A layer of control that seemed to check her hand... as though she were a kind of puppet with her mother pulling her strings even now, even now with her mother having been gone for a number of years. Lily was, herself, in a way, Mary’s answer to her mother’s “No.” It was the smallest assertion of her will to be who she wanted to be and do something real and hard and solid. Having Lily as her friend was all of those things.
Lily moved a little closer to Mary, as if sensing Mary’s uneasiness. On those days when Mary felt particularly fragile, she would swear that Lily understood and seemed to take a little extra “care” of her, staying a little closer to her, as if protecting her too. Mary wondered sometimes if this was all in her head. She wondered if she were “projecting” the love and concern that she wanted and needed onto her horse. Could Lily feel Mary’s discontentment?
Still, there were other times, too, when the two of them seemed entirely interwoven, moving as one unit over the hurdles placed in front of them. At times the intimacy between them seemed palpable to Mary. Times like when on Sundays Lily would stay at the far end of her stall and not allow the barn hands to lead her out to pasture the way they usually did. It was as if Lily knew that Mary would soon be along to load her up and trailer her out to a romp in the woods. Mary would pull into the yard with her trailer and see the other horses already in their paddocks. But Lily would not be there among them. Mary would get a funny feeling driving up the laneway towards the barn. It was like the feeling you get when someone is expecting you for dinner, and you feel as though they have sensed your arrival. Or, it is like that one time when Mary drove out on country roads alone to find the home of a new friend, not really sure of where she was going, and she drove by the house without knowing ... and her friend later tells her that she happened to be at the kitchen sink by the window looking out at the road about the time Mary said that she drove by, and had felt as though Mary was near.
And now the question in Mary’s mind was whether all that was going to find its way to the new barn, or had there been some kind of magic in that old barn that had made things that way?
The rain was steady now. The autumn wind through the nearby trees rising and then abating. A steady rhythm of rain fell from a uniform grey sky. Late, late afternoon. Evening settling in. The lights inside the barn beckoned her in from the dampness and rain, reminding her of when she was young and the light on the porch meant that it was time for her to come in for supper.
Mary took up Lily’s lead, the gate swinging open, creaking as it did, and she gently turned Lily towards the barn. Lily made no argument. She did not even try to stop for the sweetest grass as she came out of the paddock. It was as if she knew that things were going to be okay now, now that Mary had finally found her way from the old barn to the new.
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.