Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Friendly Beasts Around Him Stood

She watched the dim light from the lamp glowing in his tawny hair and thought, as she often did, that he was quietly handsome, sturdy and reliable. When he’d shown up that day, she had been glad for the comfort of his company. She sighed, sad that after all that had gone on, Saint and Bender simply could not just hang up their grievances and be friends. Because sooner or later, the two of them would part ways and Bender would take Swagman and there was no telling when she’d see him again. She wondered if she ever would.

And the thought of never seeing Swagman again was nearly too much for Jersey to bear.

The barn was dark, dimly lit by the lamp Bender had left. He’d be back. He never left the lantern burning all night. He’d be back later to check the gash in Mercury’s flank, and to reapply some soothing salve.

The winter air was icy and smelled of snow. She was glad to have been tucked warmly into her blanket. She had already decided she would stay awake tonight. She knew tonight was the night of the Gift. And she didn’t want to fall asleep and miss it. Especially since Swagman happened to be visiting here in the barn on Christmas Eve, as Bender was staying here for a few days.

She raised her head, looking over the wall into Swagman’s stall and huffed softly, her breath ruffling his forelock. He raised his head, and she saw his vision clear, the sleep in his brown eyes withdraw. Shaking her head, she whickered quietly. Wake up, wake up. Sleep later. Remember the Gift.

War Bonnet’s pale, ghostly eyes peered over the top of the opposite wall, his black ears flicking expectantly over his long, white face. It’s tonight? Tonight? It’s coming. I feel it. He stamped his feet impatiently.

Jersey could feel it, too. Something in the air, crackling like ice breaking deep below the surface of a frozen pond. Something shifting. She shivered.

Waddell the big coach horse moved heavily in his stall on the other side of the barn, his big feet scraping on the packed earth. What’s the fuss, tribe? He snuffled, sleepy in his blanket. Too noisy. Sleep.

The Gift. The Gift is tonight. War Bonnet whinnied, giving his stall a light knock with his foot. Soon, soon. Can’t you feel it? Wake now. Sleep later.

Jersey opened her mouth, trying her tongue. It felt thick, clumsy against her teeth. She uttered a soft, broken sigh, and suddenly the mystery came over her. She tried again, her mouth full of air and fluttering sound.

“Swagman.” She said, thrilling with the sound of her voice, the sudden dexterity of her tongue. “The Gift is here.”  So much to say, so little time. Of course, Jersey could communicate with the other horses, as horses do.  They talked among themselves all the time. But on this night, once a year when it was silent and icy and the hour was balanced precisely between yesterday and tomorrow, they could express things their quiet, earthy language was too simple to say.

Swagman lifted his head, his voice deep and steady and deliberate. “Jersey.”

She heard Yellow Sky startle awake, banging a hip against his stall. He uttered something strange and musical in his half-sleep, the native tongue of the Absaroka rolling like falling water from his mouth. His eyes flew open, and he switched haltingly to the language of the white men. “I almost forgot!” He uttered, shaking off his sleep. “It’s tonight!”

Jersey nodded, tossing her head and banging on the boards of her stall. “Wake up, tribe! The Gift is here!” She looked over at Swagman, and met his face with her lips over the wall separating them. “I’m so glad you’re here tonight, my friend. How long will you be here this time?”

He leaned his face against hers, closing his eyes and sighing. “Probably until the weather improves.”

“Will you be back?”

“Probably. In a couple months, most likely. Unless the company decides to put us somewhere permanently.”

Jersey felt a surge of worry. If that happened, her fears would be realized. At the moment, Bender and Swagman traveled the string of stations within a hundred miles or so of the Green. So she and Swagman could visit every few months. If the farrier ended up being permanently assigned, their chances of being together would be slim to none.

“Jersey, that was a crazy stunt you pulled last time.”

Jersey felt a flush of embarrassment...and a little jolt of pleasure at Swagman shaking his big brown head in a kind of disapproving admiration. She hadn’t meant to knock Saint out cold with her head. In fact, seeing him lying in the dust at her feet had made her wish she could take back her actions. But Saint and Bender had, once again, ruined her goodbyes with Swagman by bickering. In a fit of temper, she’d thrown back her head hard in an effort to shut him up.

When her skull had connected with Saint’s jaw and he’d fallen from the saddle like a half-empty sack of potatoes, she’d actually felt deep worry and remorse. However, that remorse was short-lived when Mrs. Lynch had ordered Bender... and Swagman... to stay on another day to make sure Saint was alright.  

She justified it by speculating that perhaps there was lesson about bad tempers in there. And she particularly hoped that lesson was not lost on Saint.

“I didn’t mean to hurt him, you know.” She said, somewhat defensively. “I love him very much.”

“I know.” Swagman’s eyes twinkled in amusement.

“I didn’t want to hear their harsh chatter. And...I didn’t want you to go.”

Swagman’s face grew serious. “I didn’t want to go, either. I wanted to stay here. With you.” He nuzzled her ears and her forehead.

Jersey could feel the magic withdrawing as the moment of midnight slipped away and the door to Eden began to creak shut again. Her tongue became clumsy, and she felt the sounds coming from her lips become familiar, simpler, once again equine. Complex thoughts became more difficult, more faraway and dreamlike. She’d had one more thing to say. But it was the simplest thought, the easiest word. And the language of the horses could express it more than adequately.

She rested her cheek warmly against Swagman’s, her lips uttering the primitive sound that anyone else would hear as an equine sigh. I love you.

There is a Christmas legend that say that the animals, who were the first to see the Christ Child when he came into the world, are given the Gift of Speech on Christmas Eve. I’ve always loved this legend, and when I had pets, always took special care to leave them alone at midnight on Christmas Eve so they could talk among themselves, and tell each other their secrets. 

Merry Christmas, tribe. Or Solstice or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Yule or whatever.  I wish for all you peace and comfort, no matter how you spend your holidays. 


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gift Art by Ellie, Theater Arts by Gina and Haigen

Here are some adorable sketches by Ellie, of Lily, Rosie and Storm. Ellie has been a reader of Five Dollar Mail for years, and I so appreciate her support.

I really like the "anime" look of these. Very cute! And you all know how much I love seeing your take on the characters, so you can imagine these really made my day. Thank you, Ellie, both for your art and for your enthusiastic comments and readership!

I have a Christmas special post on the way, and I'll post it by the weekend. I had quite a bit catch up to me this week, and though I really wanted to post something for you tonight, realistically it's probably not gonna happen. I've been working overtime trying to get ready for a Christmas Pageant this weekend and between that and trying to wrap gifts and get ready for the holiday, and my daughter being out of school, I had to come to the realization I'm spread just a little too thin this week and I'm having a hard time keeping my head in the game.

On the other hand, I haven't really done set-props-costumes in a long time and I have to admit it's been a lot of fun. I turned my new sunroom...which doesn't really have any real furniture in it yet...into a scene shop. Even as I type this, the floor is covered with glitter and there are three sets of angel wings drying in front of the electric fireplace, waiting for my daughter to come in here and glue some feathers on them.

It's her first pageant. She's the angel that carries the star. I'm the old folkie with the tape measure around her neck, playing autoharp in the back.

What's cool about this thing is that it's basically a bunch of kids from the projects that showed up around Thanksgiving looking for some community activities to get involved with, led by a fourteen year old girl who's taken it upon herself to keep the kids from the neighborhood over there out of trouble. Seriously, if that doesn't sound like the premise of some sort of Lifetime Christmas special, I don't know what does. But anyway, I felt pretty privileged to be helping out on this endeavor before, but after the horror of last Friday, it's become like an obsession to me. Like some kind of prescription medication I need to keep taking to avoid curling up in a ball and staying that way. I guess we all find our ways to cope.

I wish you all could have seen them in their costumes at dress rehearsal earlier this week. Sweet.

So, hope you're all having a peaceful holiday season, and keep an eye out for an update this weekend at the very latest.