Horses: Everything You Never Wanted to Know
Author: Reb Hay

Chapter 26
They Break your Heart

Do you want to know what nervous and awkward feels like? Try greeting your mother when she comes to pick you up from a camp for delinquents and other weirdos.

            Both Charlotte’s parents come for her. They drive a station wagon festooned in disabled stickers and park it about a millimetre from the dormitory.

‘Dad believes in parking close,’ Charlotte says. She can barely squeeze her wheelchair out the door to greet them. They gush over Charlotte, flinging hugs and kisses everywhere. I step back into the shadows but Charlotte calls me out.

‘This is Ava,’ she says. ‘She’s a newbie but she’s a natural horse rider.’ 

‘Did you have a good time, dear?’ I duck a hug from her mother.

‘Yes, thank you.’

‘And Lily you’ve met.’ Charlotte swings an arm around to include Lily in her introductions. 

Lily doesn’t duck in time and gets caught up in an embrace. Or maybe she’s cool with it?

Lily’s Mum and my Mum drive in at about the same time—on time in fact. I am relieved and impressed. I was so scared she’d forget. Having to stay here I could cope with. Facing the shame of having a mother who forgot to pick up her only child—that I would never live down.

Lily’s Mum swoops in for a cuddle, taking Lily in to her arms like she’s done it before.

I see Mum hesitate. I will myself to smile, to hold out my arms, to just look at her for God’s sake. I bite my lip and look away.

‘How was it?’ Mum asks quietly.

I shrug. ‘Fine.’

Mum glances at Jenny. I can see the disappointment. I don’t even know why I’m doing this to her. I can hear the buzz of the other two families. Their chatter and laughter echoes like a reproach. I had thought I could do better than this.

I feel Jenny step to my side. She bends to my ear. This is where the shit hits the fan, I think to myself. This is the real test and I’m failing it. She opens her mouth to speak. Here it comes—the serve I deserve. But it’s not. It is a suggestion. I let my breath go in a sigh and nod.

‘Come on, Mum,’ I say. ‘I want to show you my horse.’ 

As we pass the kitchen door, The Frisker hands me something. It is an apple cut in quarters. I smile. Those two are smooth. So smooth I figure they must have done this before.

Mum and I walk together down the laneway.

‘Did you have fun?’ she asks. It’s just a variant of her previous question. 

I nearly shrug again but I know I can do this. It is called relationship and most people can do it without thinking. ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘It was great.’

A tentative smile flickers across her face. ‘I’m glad.’

Ben sees me approach and whinnies. I unlatch the gate and let Mum go through first. She hesitates. 

‘He’s very gentle,’ I say.

She steps into the paddock and I follow, re-latching the gate. We stand next to each other and wait, while I hold out one quarter of apple.

Ben walks up to us and takes the offering from my palm. ‘This is Ben,’ I say. ‘He was my horse for the camp.’ I raise my hand to his neck and stroke him. Do you remember ‘show-and-tell’? Remember how much easier it was to talk while focusing on assembling Legoor squeezing the head off a new doll. Dear Ben—this is just like that. I now have something else other than mother/daughter debacles to focus on. The pressure is off. I stroke and I speak. When Ben finishes his quarter of apple, I give him the next piece and then the next. I tell Mum about shoveling shit and about riding. I tell her about the sick horse and the possum. I tell her about cantering and the food. I describe the sticky date pudding. My hand keeps stroking Ben’s neck. 

I move to give him the last piece of apple but then pause. ‘Here,’ I say and pass the apple to Mum. ‘Just hold it out to him on your palm.’

Ben takes it gently and Mum laughs. ‘He’s so delicate.’

‘He’s soft too.’ I reach for Mum’s hand, circling it with my own, and rest it on Ben’s neck. ‘See?’

But, because she seems so unsure, I keep my hand on hers and guide it down Ben’s neck in one long slow stroke.


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