Remember the Horses
by Jackson Arthur
The wind caught the bottom of Hannah’s sundress, lifting it up, letting it flutter around her legs like flapping wings. The breeze that brushed against her bare legs tickled, and Hannah giggled and squirmed. She gripped tightly to the second board of the tall wooden fence and peered out onto the meadow.
Near to her, the twin ponies continued to play. Hannah watched them chase each other, running and bucking and whinnying in delight. Around and around they would jog and run, in perfect unison. When one was done chasing, the other instinctively knew when to take over the pursuit.
They were in-sync even in their mischief.
Pa would often say that they were born in mischief and would die chasing each other, as twins always did. They would know very little outside of each other, he also stated. Hannah didn’t know what that meant, but it sort of saddened her, for some reason. They would know so much more than that, she was sure.
Pa often said things that Hannah did not fully understand. It was mostly in times when he would mumble incoherently to himself. His face would grow stern and his eyes would become far away. He would often look through her as if seeing something she could not see, something far beyond her view.
She pictured Pa and heard his rough voice. Whenever he smiled, at least the crooked half-smirk that would rarely embrace his lips, it was a beautiful thing. He knew more than she did about everything, she concluded. Maybe that was why he rarely smiled. Would she lose her smile when she grew up? Whatever Pa saw when he looked out far, she never wanted to see. That would be a tragic day.
Hannah took a gander back to the twins. She did not see mischief, only playfulness.
Hannah always enjoyed watching the twins romping about in the morning hours, especially when the sky was blue and the sun was bright. The sun always illuminated their thick brown coats, giving a shine. It made the animals appear powerful, filled with sunshine and joy. They reminded her of what she was told angels looked like, being of God and the sun, full of brightness and joy and love.
Suddenly, Hannah dropped from the wooden fence to the grass below. Mimicking the ponies, she began to chase her own shadow around and around in circles, giggling and laughing as she did. Her short, young legs moved swiftly. She pretended to absorb the sunshine, getting faster and faster as she filled with light.
When she played, Hannah was free, as she knew the ponies were. She wished against age and time that she could play on the farm forever and ever, always in her sundress, always in the sunshine, and always with the horses.
But that could never be. Pa grew up and she had to, too. She would eventually get old, as Pa had gotten old. And maybe even lose her smile.
She paused briefly for an unexpected moment. A longing filled her, and she turned toward her house, the beaten two-story structure in the near distance. It stood tall and large against the blue sky, like Pa, who often loomed over her, stern but caring. It was the only home that she had ever known, and it made her feel secure, far from any dangers that may harm her.
She was momentarily taken back by an unwanted disturbance. She had not been playing for long, but she felt she hadn’t seen her home in a very long time.
The emotions were weird and uncomfortable but, luckily, faded. She broke into a spin, letting more air lift the bottom of her sundress. Again and again, she spun letting her wings flap up and down.
Heavy stomping hooves caught her attention, and she returned to the wooden fence. As she peeked through, she witnessed the twins being pursued by a third horse. Lela, their magnificent mother, was rounding up her boys, ending their games. Lela gathered her children and escorted them, against all reluctance, toward the barn. Pa must have filled their stalls with food.
If not for their mother, the twins might never stop playing long enough to eat. Hannah was similar. If not for Pa and his calls to breakfast, lunch, and supper, she would surely starve to death.
Turning, Hannah ended her own games.
But before she did, Lela stood with her body halfway out the back door and watched the boys in the yard. Dinner was ready, and she wanted to call them in again but was suddenly mesmerized by their mischief. It was the first time all day that she found a moment to breathe, in and out. There was just something about her twin sons and the way they were able to close out the outside world and simply enjoy each other unconditionally. Nothing else existed.
It was soothing, calming.
Mimi always loved to sit and watch them carry on, Lela fondly remembered.
“Okay, boys!” Lela called, surprised how easily she got their attention at that time. “It is time to get your behinds in here and at the table! Dinner will be up shortly!”
Their eyes brightened, and they howled, “Turkey!” Bushy, messy brown hair began to bounce all around as the twin toddlers jolted for the back door. As their short arms and legs began to flail as they ran, their faces never lost their playful intensity.
Splitting up, they went around here and through the door.
Turning about, Lela headed back inside the house. After the stampede of the twins subsided, sounds of football on low volume immediately filled her ears. She could slightly make out the announcers and whistles of the referees as she entered the low-lit living room. It was a drastic change from last Thanksgiving, when she could barely hear her own thoughts over John Madden’s staggering voice.
The dim light barely revealed several figures slumped along and across her couch and loveseat. If her cousin had not looked up at her, she would have thought that she had found a crime scene filled with dead bodies.
There were no bodies, but the weight of death was affecting them all, Lela realized. She thought about saying something to them, but simply stood for a minute and took in the room. Everything that needed to be said had already been spoken.
“Who is winning?” The question didn’t even receive a mumble. “Who is playing?” Silence.
It was the beginning of a new tradition, one that had been forced upon them only several weeks ago. Even the most solid traditions would eventually have to alter or cease. Her family still had not fully decoded the recent changes and was reluctantly accepting the new reality of a different type of Thanksgiving. Things would forever be changed. Yet, Lela still had faith and hope for the new traditions.
And she was in charge of the new tradition. Taking pride in setting the new tones, Lela rushed from the kitchen and headed into a hallway toward the kitchen. On her way out of the living room, she left the words, “Dinner will be served in a few minutes.”
Charging down the long hallway, Lela passed briefly by an open doorway. Through the doorway was a dining room with a long wooden table. Sitting along the table in sporadic clusters were other members of her family, grouped together in small to medium conversations.
Breezing by, Lela hurried in through another doorway and into the kitchen. Two odors at once slapped her in the face. Turkey and chocolate. It was an odd combination but, for some reason, it made her mouth instantly salivate.
The short figure of her nephew Donald startled her a little. “I’m hungry,” he complained, holding his stomach for emphasis.
“I’m going to bring in the food in just a second, sweety,” Lela replied, shooing him from the kitchen.
Following her nose to the oven, she tossed on an oven mitt and snatched a large bakery pan from the oven. The aroma of chocolate increased immensely. Swiftly, before the heat made its way through the mitt, she placed the dessert next to the juicy turkey on a nearby counter.
The dessert was a dark chocolate cake with peanut butter fudge swirled across and throughout. She took pride in her accomplishment. She never considered herself much of a bakery chef, but it looked utterly delicious. And she hoped that Mimi would have agreed.
Mimi could make a pie or a cake or a cookie that would melt in the mouth and cover tastebuds with pure unadulterated goodness. It was a talent. It was an art form. But no matter how talented, everyone, even her Mimi, had to start from scratch, so to say. And this was Lela’s start, her scratchy beginnings.
If Lela kept baking, Mimi would be proud of her one day, she was sure of it.
Keeping on her oven mitts, Lela grabbed the turkey pan. The bird dripped with flavored perspiration and Lela knew that her family would enjoy sinking their teeth into it.
Everything seemed to be coming along nicely. Maybe Mimi was here with them, if only in spirit. If not, Lela tried to imagine where she would be. Where would Mimi want to spend her eternity?
Using her back, Lela pushed through the swinging door that connected the kitchen to the dining room.
When Hannah entered the large red barn, it took several seconds for the darkness to clear and reveal the nearby rows of horse stalls. They were wide and wooden and open in the back for the horses to go to and from the fenced meadow. They could run and play whenever they wanted to. The horses were not prisoners or pets, Hannah appreciated, but family, and were treated as much like it as possible.
The aroma of hay and manure floated across the bottom of her nose. Even at her age, Hannah understood that they were the smells that would always bring her back home. No matter how far she might travel in her life, one sniff and she would be on the farm with the horses.
That was, if she ever left the farm.
A part of her knew that one day she would most likely go out into the world beyond the borders of the farm. She would be born into it. Eventually. But how madly she would miss the horses. Being away from them might be the death of her. That wasn’t entirely true, because the horses would always be with her.
Through the smells of them.
Through the memories of them.
Hannah would never fully leave the horses.
A crunching, gnawing sound caught her attention. Smiling and giggling, Hannah did a quick spin, letting the bottom of her sundress dance. Taking a jump and skip, she made her way over to the first stall. Within the stall was a black stallion, tall but thinner than would be expected of the breed.
He had his nose in the feeding trough. Slowly, the horse raised his face out of the food and glanced at Hannah’s tiny body. Taking large, rapid breathes in and out of his nostrils, Owen nodded his head a couple of times before coming to the stall’s gate. Putting his nose to the opening between the boards, he smelled Hannah.
Slipping her hand through the gate, Hannah began to rub Owen’s nose. The hair felt dry and coarse, but she didn’t care. She didn’t care at all. She loved to pet the skinny, black stallion. It was because Owen was her favorite out of all the horses. Maybe because he was the underdog of the farm. Maybe it was that he had been adopted from another farm. Maybe, in spite of his appearance, she saw the beauty within the dark-furred creature.
Owen was not born or brought up on their farm, which was important to Pa, for some reason. He called the horse lazy and worthless. Yet, he fed Owen and gave him a home, which was more for Hanah’s sake than the sake of the animal.
Kissing the tips of her fingers, Hannah patted them upon the horse, reminding him of her love. As if he would ever forget. Just as she would never forget him.
Other stalls waited down the row. Hannah gave Owen one last pat before...
Copyright © 2020 by Jackson Arthur