Fanny

“What are you thinking about?” Manda plops down beside me on the window bench and follows my gaze to the paddock. The sun is setting. It’s a perfect time for reflection. “You seem so faraway.”

“I am, sweetie,” I sigh. “I am.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I’m thinking about your great grandmother. If she were still alive she’d have turned 100 years old today.” I watch Fanny, the new bay filly, cross the paddock to visit old Molly mare ~ her mentor of sorts ~ and smile. “You know,” I begin, “your great grandmother had a bay mare named Fanny.”

Manda’s eyes light up. She’s particularly fond of this new addition to our little herd. “She does?”

“Did, dear,” I correct. “Yes, she loved horses, and on the family farm she was the only one, out of eight siblings, to have a horse.”

“Do you know anything about her … Fanny, that is?” Manda asks. I love how she cares about family stories. It’s so important to understand our roots ~ it helps us to know ourselves. Still, I’m not sure I can share the only story I can recall gran ever sharing with me about her dear, old Fan. It’s sad.

“Well? Do you?” Manda prods.

“I have only one story,” I respond, “and it’s sad.” I register the look of disappointment in Manda’s eyes. “Are you sure you want to hear it?”

My niece looks at me assuredly through big, brown, beautiful eyes. “I can handle it. It wouldn’t be the first sad story you’ve ever told me.”

“You’re right, of course.” I smile weakly and reach for her hand. “Well, your great gran was a teenager when she had old Fanny. From what I know they spent many happy years together. Having her own horse was a pleasing distraction from a hard life on the family farm. Our mutual love of horses was one of the few things gran and I had in common.”

Manda’s mouth is beginning to twitch. I better get to the point or she’ll interrupt.

“Great gran got married when she was 18 …”

“Eighteen!!!” Manda squeals. “That’s only six years older than me!!”

“Yes, that’s true,” I sigh, “it was common practice to marry young in those days. People didn’t live as long as they do now and they got on with their lives quickly. Just as a side note,” I add, ” … your great gran was the only one of the five girls in her family who didn’t have to get married, if you get my meaning …”

“Ewww … that’s gross …”

“That’s life, sweetie. We live by our choices. Anyway …” I give her hand a squeeze and continue with the sad story. “She … her name was Mandy … you’re named after her.”

“I knew that,” Manda smiles.

“Of course, you did, sweetie … anyway, she married a handsome, but troubled, young man from a well-respected farming family in the same area. They met at a community chicken supper.”

Manda tilts her head questioningly.

“Those suppers were the social event of the week. Families from all over the farming community would gather on a Friday night at the local hall for a great potluck dinner, and after eating they’d dance, gossip and drink their cares away. Your great grandpa Louis was was a talented musician. He could play any instrument handed to him. He just had the knack and was particularly well know for his trumpet playing. It was one of the things that attracted Mandy to him. That and the fact he was quite the athlete. A pugilist, in fact.”

“Oh, he sounds dishy.” Manda pauses and then looks at me with uncertainty. “What’s a pugilist?”

“Oh, right, why on earth would you know what that is?” I laugh, “It’s an old term for professional boxer. Boxing was a popular past time in the early 1930s.”

“A professional boxer!!!”

“Yes. He was tall and lanky and athletic. Somewhere around here is a menacing-looking photograph of him sporting a pair of boxing gloves. Quite, quite handsome. In fact, your great gran, a diminutive and petite young woman, had to fight the other girls off to stake her claim. He was a popular guy.” I stop for a moment and think back to what I know of their history. It would have been so much better for gran had she lost him to one of those other girls. But then, I wouldn’t be here, and neither would Manda. I squeeze my niece’s hand and continue, “He had a flaw, however.”

“He did?” Manda’s attentive, but her gaze has shifted out the window to rest on Fanny.

“He was mean.”

“Oh …” Manda turns to me and pouts. With these three words her mood has shifted somewhat. “Why?”

“His narcissism … you remember how we talked about that word before?”

“Yes … it means the inability to see the world beyond your own self-indulgence … or something like that.”

“Very good!”

“See! I do listen, you know,” Manda’s face glows with triumph.

“I’m glad to hear it.” I smile and squeeze her hand again. “Anyway, his narcissism got the better of him. He was very hard on your great gran in many, many ways. Still,” I pause, “that’s a story for another time.” I turn my attention to Fanny where this train of conversation started. “Shortly after they were married Mandy and Louis visited her parents on the farm. Before leaving they ventured out to the paddock to see old Fanny who walked over to the fence to greet them. They visited with her for a while. Gran told me it was a really sweet moment.” I hesitate. “And then, as they were leaving, the old mare wandered back into the middle of her paddock and fell to the ground … dead.”

“No!” Manda shrieks with disbelief.

“Yes, Manda. I’m sorry to say it’s true.”

“But … oh, that’s so, so sad. Poor, ol’ great gran.” Manda wipes a tear from her cheek with the back of her sleeve and leans on my shoulder. “She must have been devastated.”

I let Manda stew in her sadness for a moment while remembering how spare gran had been with her feelings when sharing this story with me. I know she loved Fanny, so I have no doubt of her sadness. I’ve often wondered since if the timing of Fanny’s unfortunate death was a foreshadowing of the terrible marital years to follow. A shiver runs through me. Time to change the subject.

“Well, sweetie, I dare say she was. But that was long ago and far, faraway and we must now attend to our own little herd. I’m pretty sure they’re ready to go inside and have their supper.” I give Manda a hug and together we draw ourselves up from the bench. It’s starting to get dark out and her parents will be here soon to take her home. “Come on, let’s do chores and then we can have a quick snack before you go. Uncle Bill’s going to meet us in the barn. Oh look! … ” I point out the window as his truck pulls into the driveway, “there he is.”

Manda hesitates before following me. “May I spend some alone time with Fanny?” she asks, politely, as if in the asking she’s honouring that sad, faraway memory.

“Of course you may,” I smile. “Of course.”

~*~

Daily Prompt: Faraway

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

 

Wit’s End

Weekly Writing Challenge: Cliffhanger!

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This is an excerpt from a novel I started writing many years ago. It’s been parked in a file folder on my computer for a while and when this challenge came up I thought I’d take another look at this scene and give it a re-write … without the ending, of course. it’s virtually a new piece. It could still use some work, but if I don’t post it now I’ll miss the challenge deadline … and perhaps never post it.

Enjoy!

~*~

It’s the late afternoon of a mid-August day. A storm has broken inside of me I cannot quell. I am as a demon possessed, galloping my poor horse, Pandora, at breakneck speed up the country lane to our doom. Riding her too hard and too fast for the extraordinarily hot and humid conditions. Yet, I am unaware; irrational; lost to some evil spell.

When we reach Iron Will Hill I yank Pandora to a stop. The mare steps nervously as I raise a shaking hand and brush the sweat from my brow. It’s only then I am reminded of the throbbing ache in my sprained left ankle, an injury sustained much earlier in the day.

I shouldn’t be riding. Shouldn’t be out in this heat. Shouldn’t be pressing my mare beyond her endurance. But I can’t help myself. I’m at wit’s end.

Ignoring my ankle, I shelter my eyes from the sun disappearing in a blaze of glory behind thickening summer storm clouds. I survey the field. It takes an iron will to negotiate most of these jumps, but today I’m not even thinking about that. All I feel is this overwhelming impulse to over-correct.

I’ve had enough. Enough of coach’s lack of confidence in me; enough of the constant berating and verbal abuse; enough of the punishing hours of training in the mid-summer heat for a championship for which, frankly, I simply no longer give a damn. The joy of competition has been beaten out of me ~ mind, body and spirit.

The trouble is I can’t seem to let it go. My coach, Joanne, is the only person who doesn’t get me. Even though we’ve worked together for several years she still insists on treating me as a commodity in her perpetual narcissistic drama. There’s no warmth. No humanity.

This is something I’ve only recently realized, and with this the realization that I have to leave. And, I am going to get out of here. I am. Now that I understand what’s going on here, I have to. Still, I feel so betrayed.

I’ve given so much of my own time to her cause. The accolades were never about me, only about building her training profile and business. And I’m tired of it. I’m done. I can feel myself toppling over the edge of a precarious emotional cliff. A cliff upon which I’ve been teetering for some time.

I’m in free-fall.

And as I fall I am, for some inexplicable reason, even more determined to prove myself to that evil woman.

“I’ll bloody show you, Joanne Milthorpe, even if it kills me …” I yell to the winds as I see, in the distance, Joanne’s pick-up truck roaring toward us up the dusty lane. “Too little, too late, you bitch!!”

I force Pandora into a trot, on the look out for our first fence. There’s a thunderstorm rolling in from the southwest. It’ll be here soon, but we’ll be done before then. I’m no fool.

This cross-country course is a favourite spot to ride in the summer months. We do a lot of hill work up here. It’s so beautiful with its long views over rolling countryside.

The course was designed by an Olympic event rider Joanne spared no expense to employ. Each meticulously landscaped natural jump offers two degrees of difficulty, and every week, during the eventing season, landscapers come to mow grass, trim shrubs and plant flowers. It’s another one of Joanne’s expensive obsessions. Another reason she depends on me to drum up business by winning in the show ring.

Against the backdrop of a darkening sky, the field takes on an ethereal quality. My heart thumps loudly in my chest. A tympanic crash of distant thunder underscores the adrenalin pulsing wildly through my veins. Pandora prances restlessly beneath me. I can feel the swell of her body rise and fall in rhythm with her laboured breath; feel the heat from her sweaty steel grey body.

And then she screams. A piercing, penetrating scream that slices through the thick, pre-storm silence. A plea for the safety of the herd. And even though we are a good distance  from the stable yard Jezebel, Pandora’s anxious paddock mate, trumpets a frantic response. Pandora rears.

“Stop it, you cow!” I wail, and dig my spurs into her quivering sides.

As we canter down the hill, I hear the storm rumbling ominously, getting closer. A crack of lightning flashes across the sickly green sky, punctuated by the desperate siren call of the approaching pick-up’s horn. But I’m in the zone. Nothing can change my mind or distract me from our run to the Log Jam.

“Three-two-one ~ jump!”

I always count the last three strides. Force of habit, I suppose. As I give Pandora a dig with my heels she thrusts herself into the air, tucking those well-practiced front legs under her chin in a leap that might have cleared a fence twice the size.

“Wh … hoo!”

Oh, god, that feels good.

We round a turn to the left and head toward  a big, boxy, jump Joanne calls the Chicken Coop. Pandora stumbles. I set her right; we rebalance and keep going.

I’m already beginning to feel better. There’s nothing like a natural high to chase the blues away.

As we approach the Coop I yell in Pandora’s ear. She twitches it, confused.

“C’mon, girl, let’s get this thing. … Three-two-one ~ jump!”

Again, Pandora’s powerful hind legs push the ground away, easily clearing the coop. The warm breath of the breeze against my face is such a thrill. Finally, I can breathe again.

We could stop now, but the momentum has grabbed me and I want just one more jump.

As we canter further down the slope to Basil’s Brush, Pandora stumbles hard enough to give me a bit of whip lash. It’s a wake-up call. I realize we must stop, but no matter how hard I pull on the reins there’s no response. She has the bit between her teeth and now all I can do is go with it.

So I do.

“C’mon, mare, we’re almost there. … Three-two-one …!”

I feel push, but no propulsion. Pandora has given it all she’s got but it’s not enough. I can feel her stagger in the air, her front feet dropping. I hear the gut wrenching sound of a front hoof knocking the solid rail hidden just below the top of the brush. It’s not a hard knock, but it proves unbalancing for my already exhausted horse.

Instinctively I grab for Pandora’s mane to rebalance. But, it’s no use. My normally sure-footed, beautiful mare, with barely enough strength to right herself let alone compensate for my shifting load on her back, wavers and mis-steps as she touches down.

To be continued …

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy 🙂

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

~*~

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