Remember the Horses
by Jackson Arthur
Part 1 appears in this issue.
Owen turned his eyes away from the food on his plate. Taking his black pen, he etched another couple of words upon the beaten white napkin. Each word was a groove within the thin paper, some almost ripping through to the other side. It almost felt like irony, the words his Mimi loved so much were being ripped through to the other side. Just like her. No... irony wasn’t the word he wanted.
Conversations were going on around him, but he let them circle him, keeping himself to the outside. Letting his imagination wander through a sunny meadow, Owen took his bony dark fingers and scribbled a few more words, completing the first stanza to a new poem. As he jotted, he thought of his great-grandmother and how often she would speak of horses. She told him stories about playing with them around her childhood farm.
And you found me in the field,
lost in the rain, a flawed stallion.
You fed me and brushed me and broke me of the wild;
with love and a stern switch, you broke me of the wild.
Laying the pen down across the napkin, Owen sighed. He was so lost in thought, in his own head, where he often lived, that he didn’t hear the voice speak his name.
The voice repeated. “O?” For a moment he heard Mimi, calling him by her own special nickname. It was a simple bond they shared. Simple yet strong. But when the voice spoke again, “O?” he immediately recognized the tones of his Aunt Lela. She had never used that name before.
From behind him, Owen noticed her presence but did not turn around to greet her. At his back, his aunt did something else that surprised him to the core. She took her fingers and slowly patted him on his dry, coarse hair. Briefly, she ran her fingers across the top of his rough hair. Another act that only Mimi ever did.
“Aren’t you hungry, sweetheart? The turkey is amazingly juicy.”
Glancing at his plate, Owen realized that he hadn’t taken a single bite of his turkey or his mashed potatoes. The biscuits were smothered in dripping, ignored butter, which was dribbling loosely on the second small plate they sat upon.
“Not really,” he replied, keeping his head lowered. He thought about picking up his fork and poking the meat, but refrained.
“I am so glad that you could make it,” Lela said. “It has been a while since I saw you... since anyone has seen you. College must be keeping you busy. It seems like you ran away as soon as you could. I don’t blame you.” She seemed to lightly choke on the words.
He didn’t reply.
“How are classes going?”
“All right,” he replied. “A lot of reading.”
“That is right up your alley, then,” Lela said.
“You writing something?” Lela lowered herself closer to the table, trying to read her nephew’s scribble. Normally he would fight the urge to hide his poetry, to grab the paper and crumple it into his pocket. But for some reason, he was happy to let his aunt read it.
“Just a little thing,” he replied, still not meeting her eyes.
“Mimi always loved your writing,” Lela said. “She always said that your words brought her home. I’m not sure what that meant exactly, only that she loved to read whatever you wrote. And now I can see why. She was your biggest fan, you know.”
Owen smirked. He was never close to his aunt but, for some reason, at that second he regretted it. And he never regretted avoiding anyone else in his family. The only family he had ever needed was Mimi.
“I would love to read some of your other stuff,” Lela insisted. “I want to be one of your fans, too. If you would let me.”
He considered it.
Lela reached down and took his hand. The contrast of dark to light was obvious. And no matter how hard Owen tried to ignore the contradiction between himself and the rest of the family, he never fully could. Except with Mimi, because she never made him feel different, darker than anyone else. His words might bring her home, but she was his home.
Where would his home be from then on?
“I don’t know where Mimi is right now, but—”
Owen quickly interrupted, “She is on the farm, with the horses.”
“I was going to say,” Lela began, “that she was perched on your shoulder, but I think you are right. Where else would she be?”
Owen closed his hand tighter around Lela’s and...
Hannah stretched her short arms out, as if only she could extend them a little further, she could run her fingers across both rows of horse stalls.
All the horses had come in from the meadow, to eat their grain and hay. Pa had laid out their food and they all had rushed in to receive the givings with thanks.
They were all gathered under the same roof.
And Hannah was thankful for them.
And no matter how gruff Pa could be at times, she knew that he was thankful for the horses as well. They were his world as much as her own. Pa had to be stern and strict. It was his job to be this way. But he was kind and giving as well. He was both. Pa was complicated.
Arms out wide, Hannah walked slowly between the stalls, swinging her head back forth, taking in the sight of each horse. They were all unique. Large and small, thick and thin, pale or dark. They were all special. They were all her family.
When she reached the other side of the barn, Hannah found another large open doorway. She stopped and turned around and took a final breath of hay and manure. She was almost saddened to let it go, but exhaled anyway.
Suddenly a booming voice called from the direction of the house, booming across the farm and into the barn, like the thunder that would sometimes roll across the meadow during a storm. It was Pa. The voice was strong, and the call was urgent. Hannah had no choice but to obey.
Sprinting out of the barn, she was forced to pause. Movements caught her attention. From their own doorways, marched each and every horse that had been previously in the barn, eating. Tall and proud, the animals began to line up along the fence, facing forward toward Hannah. Staring at her were the creatures that she had loved her entire life, looking at her as if saying goodbye.
Blowing them a sweet kiss across the air, Hannah knew that she would see them all again shortly. She just had to go home and see Pa. He was calling for her.
Turning away, Hannah ran and ran, quickly getting to the front door of her home. The white door was closed. Turning the knob, she opened the door. Giving the horses a glance, Hannah went home...
Lela struck her glass with her fork, ashamed that she had to get everyone’s attention that way. But she had nearly forgotten the most important tradition of Thanksgiving. She would still do it, even if it was nearing the end of the meal, where the dessert would be introduced.
“Excuse me,” Lela said. “I’m sorry. Excuse me, everyone.” Once she had the attention of her family, she continued, “Thank you. I know this holiday has been hard... on us all. We have all gone through a great loss. But... I would like us to take a moment and remember those things in our lives that we are thankful for. Who would like to go first?”
“Me,” Owen said, raising his hand.
“O?” Lela asked, surprised to see her nephew raising his hand. “Please. What are you thankful for?”
“My great-grandmother,” Owen replied. “Hannah Stead. For everything. Everything. She stood by me when... others did not want to. She helped me and loved me... when others did not want to. I was the black sheep... the black horse of the farm... so to speak. But never to Mimi. I was always beautiful to her.
“This will be the first of many holidays that we will be spending without her. And we all miss her, for our own personal reasons. It was she who brought us together for these types of occasions. And it will be her memory that will bring us together in the future. She was called home, back to the farm, back to the horses.”
He raised his glass of soda. “Hannah Stead. We love you. We will always remember you.”
Copyright © 2020 by Jackson Arthur