The Unwanted Pony
Amy rested her forehead against the cool glass of the lounge window and let out a long sigh. Day two of the school holidays and already she was bored and fed up. The three months till September stretched interminably into the distance. Three, long, lonely, boring months. Slowly she lifter her head and gazed out of the window which stretched the length of the newly finished lounge. She took a deep breath, inhaling the now familiar smell of new carpet, fresh paint, cement, the odours she had become used to in the newly converted stone barn her parents had bought. Well, it had been her mum’s idea, somewhere out of the city where she could paint to her heart’s content. Amy’s dad was working away, as always and so there was just the two of them. Stuck here, in the middle of nowhere. Amy gazed with dislike at the tangled grass that formed a lawn behind the house, a tumbledown stone wall marking the edge of the garden and forming a border between it and the field behind which belonged to the barn. Once this had been a cow barn, shelter for the cows which grazed on the grass in the fields behind the wall, until Amy’s parents bought it and turned it into a modern home. Beyond the stone wall Amy could see the grass, grey in the drizzle, beyond that the grey of the sea, the horizon between that and the equally grey sky impossible to distinguish. It had seemed to rain every day since they had moved into the cottage, stacking boxes into one area so the workmen could create Amy’s mum’s vison of the home she wanted, somewhere warm and cosy filled with light so she could paint every day.
She was happy of course. Amy could hear her in one of the other rooms, humming to herself as she painted. She had what she wanted, her perfect home, time to do what she wanted to do which was paint. Her paintings, huge canvases of brightly coloured splashes of colour supposedly inspired by the Connemara landscape sold really well in the galleries around Ireland. She was doing what she wanted. Unfortunately it meant that Amy had to be dragged along with her, away from the town where Amy’s mum had once painted in a gallery she had shared with a friend, away from her friends, from the school where she was happy out into the wilds of nowhere, where it rained constantly and she knew no one.
Amy trailed her fingers along the windowsill, bored. The paint still felt sticky.
‘What are you up to?’ Amy’s mum came into the room. She wore jeans, her feet were bare, showing an expanse of tanned ankle and a brightly coloured bracelet tied around the bony bit where her foot became her leg. She wore a long shirt over her jeans, blue and pink stripes which Amy imagined had once belonged to her dad. Now it was a kaleidoscope of colours, reds, blues, purples, the deep bluey green she used in her paintings. Her hair, the same red as Amy’s was loosely held back in a tie, it was unruly like Amy’s, long curling tendrils escaping from the elastic band she’d used and falling around her face. There was a smear of blue paint on one cheek where she had wiped her hand across her cheek.
‘Nothing.’ Amy said, knowing her voice sounded surly and cross, hoping her mum would realise how she hated being here, how she wanted to go back to the city, to her friends, how she wanted her dad to come back, he kept her company when her mum was working.
‘Hungry?’ she didn’t seem to notice how angry Amy had made her voice sound. As usual she was too busy thinking about her painting to notice.
Amy nodded, ‘yes.’ There was nothing interesting to eat in the house since they had moved into Connemara and the shops were so far away, Amy’s mum didn’t seem to remember half the time that they needed to fill the cupboards up every week as they couldn’t just nip to the corner shop as they had in the city. She opened the store cupboards and stared in at the packets of rice and pasta, moving them around until she unearthed a loaf of bread. The kitchen still smelt of damp cement, something Amy had gotten used to over the last few months. The sink was still covered in plastic as were the new fridge and washing machine.
‘What do you fancy?’ Amy’s mum went to the fridge, hauling open the huge door and stood looking in at the few bits and pieces that stood on the glass shelves.
‘Anything,’ Amy could see that all the fridge contained were packets of salad, some cheese and the leftovers from the pasta her mum had cooked the previous evening. Peanut butter, a pizza, Nutella. Those were the things Amy fancied, and what she knew the local shop a ten minute drive up the road definitely didn’t stock. A moment later the alarm went off to signal the door had been open for too long.
‘Cheese on toast then?’ Amy’s mum grabbed the packet of cheese and rummaged in the loaf of bread.
‘Better get into the habit of doing a big shop, use this freezer,’ Amy’s mum muttered to herself, she picked off a piece of dry mould on one of the slices of bread, hoping, Amy supposed that she hadn’t been seen. Of course Amy had seen. Her mum had said that last week and still they hadn’t been to the shops, she was so engrossed in her painting that food was the last thing on her mind.
Her mum popped the bread into the grill to cook one side, the cooker still had its plastic protection on. She peeled some of it off while she waited for the bread to brown.
‘What are you going to do today?’ Amy’s mum asked, busying herself with grating cheese to put onto the bread.
Amy shrugged, what was there to do out here, in the middle of nowhere? She’d no friends, no one she could go and visit, she couldn’t ask to be nipped in the car to a friends house where they could walk to the park or wander around the shops. There was nothing but acres of nothingness and rain.
Her mum looked for a long moment at Amy as if she was trying to think of something for her to do and then came up with nothing. She was always painting, her head was filled with pictures.
‘When’s Dad coming home?’ Amy asked. It was her favourite subject, she knew things were bad between her mum and dad, she could sense the tension in the air when they were together, but still she liked to ask, almost liked seeing how her mum wriggled to explain what was happening.
‘I’m not sure,’ her mum said, turning to take the bread out of the grill.
‘Yes, but when?’ Amy asked firmly. She was sick of her parents treating her like she was a baby, not telling her anything. She needed to know what was happening in their lives, if she had parents who were together, or not. Her dad had been coming and going for a long time when they lived in the city, his work took him away a lot, but recently the away parts seemed to happen more often and last longer.
Amy’s mum’s eyes filled with tears, she turned away as if she was trying to hide them f rom Amy and looked out of the kitchen window, past the tangled remains of what the builders had dumped there, the cement mixer still stood on the drive along with a heap of sand and sundry bits of wood.
‘I don’t know Amy,’ her voice was that cold detached sounding one that Amy knew meant she’d get nothing out of her.
The air filled with the smell of baking bread and toasting cheese. ‘There.’ Amy’s mum put the cheese on toast onto a plate, after hunting through the kitchen cupboards for a plate and then stood to one side to watch her eat. She switched on the kettle and busied herself with finding mugs and coffee for herself and teabags for Amy’s drink.
‘Shall we go to the beach for a walk later?’ Amy’s mum sipped at her coffee, looking at Amy over the rim of her mug.
Amy glanced at her mum, thinking about the smart things she could say, but her mum still looked tearful so she changed her mind. Walking on the beach in the rain was the last thing she fancied doing. The beach was lovely in the sunshine, when she could run around in a swimsuit, paddle in the water, letting the iciness cool her hot legs. But in the middle of winter it was certainly not very appealing. Sand blowing everywhere, getting drenched even when they’d be wearing rain coats, battling against the wind.
‘Perhaps,’ Amy chewed the cheese on toast and smiled at her mum. Of course she could say that and her mum would forget anyway. Once they’d had lunch her mum would go back into her studio, she’d start painting and forget everything. At least when her dad was around they did stuff, he’d take her off to do grown up things like having coffee in a café, going to the cinema, or even wandering around a museum. He’d even taken her to the science museum in London once. Amy had loved that.
‘Oh listen,’ Amy’s mum put her head on one side.
Amy stopped chewing, listening.
‘Ponies,’ Amy’s mum jumped to her feet and hurried to the kitchen window. ‘Look Amy,’ she said, her voice filled with excitement. Amy put the last mouthful of toast into her mouth and still chewing went to join her mum at the kitchen window.
‘Here you’ll see better,’ Amy’s mum legged Amy up onto the kitchen work surface beside the sink so she could see out of the window. There, far up the road, was a dark grey pony being ridden towards them by a girl. She was dressed in waterproof coat and leggings and didn’t seem to care one bit about the rain.
‘Let’s go and say hello,’ Amy’s mum helped her down of the worksurface. Together they hurried into the hall, grabbed coats from the hooks and still putting them on hurried out of the house and into the rain.
Outside it wasn’t as bad as it looked from the inside. The rain that seemed to coat the windows just drifted in lazy clouds around them and it was actually quite warm and not windy at all. Perhaps a walk to the beach later would be ok if her mum remembered Amy thought.
Her mum ran to the garden gate and leaned over it. Amy hadn’t seen her so excited since one of her paintings was accepted for a big exhibition.
The pony got closer. Amy could see that its rider was a girl, perhaps not much older than her. She grinned when she saw them looking out over the gate at her. ‘Hi,’ she said. The pony stopped beside them. Amy looked at him a bit fearfully. He looked a lot different from the riding school ones she’d ever ridden, full of life and energy. His coat was damp with the rain, curling into grey tendrils. His mane was short and blew gently in the breeze.
‘You’ve just moved in haven’t you?’ the girl said, her cheeks were red with the fresh air, her smile broad.
‘Yes,’ Amy’s mum said.
‘I remember your house being a cow shed,’ grinned the girl, ‘you’ve done a great job on it.’
‘Thank you,’ Amy’s mum beamed.
‘I’m Carol and this is Amy,’ Amy’s mum, put one arm around Amy’s shoulders.
‘I’m Cait,’ the girl told them, ‘I live up the road. And this is Drizzle.’ She patted the pony’s neck. ‘We’re off to the beach.’
‘Oh lovely,’ Amy’s mum’s voice was filled with envy. ‘Call to see us anytime, I’ll show you what we’ve done to the barn.’
Cait smiled and nodded. ‘Yes, I’d like that.’ Then as the pony began to dance slightly she added, ‘I’d better keep going. Nice to meet you.’
Amy and her mum stood beside the wall and watched Cait ride away. The pony began to trot and soon she had disappeared around the corner in the road. They walked back into the house. ‘Wasn’t that so cool?’ Amy’s mum took off her coat and helped Amy take off hers. She hung them on the peg in the hall and walked back into the kitchen. Amy got up on the stool and began to eat her cheese on toast again. It was cold now and the cheese was gooey and not very nice.
‘What a lovely girl, and a gorgeous pony,’ Carol, picked up her coffee mug, her eyes distant.
‘You enjoyed riding didn’t you?’ she asked.
Amy nodded her head. She’d spent a summer learning to ride at a riding school close to the edge of the city. She’d enjoyed the summer camp, where the children had pretended to own a pony for the week doing all of the things with it Amy imagined Cait must do. Catching the pony, brushing it, picking out its feet, putting on the saddle and bridle and then they’d ridden in the sand arena and even one day gone out on a ride into the lanes and tracks around the riding school.
Amy’s mum got that dreamy look again. ‘We’ve got land here….. Enough for a pony I’m sure… how much would one need? A few acres I’m sure… Be great for you… meet people… ride with Cait…’
Amy watched her mum with a sinking feeling. She hated it when her mum came up with these mad ideas on how to occupy her or things she thought Amy would like to do. ‘You know there’s a pony sale close to here. I think its soon.’ Amy’s mum sat at the kitchen table and began to scroll through her telephone, mumbling to herself. ‘There is,’ she said a moment later. ‘Clifden pony sales.’ Amy’s mum turned the telephone around so Amy could see the screen. She looked at the web site, announcing the sales dates and nodded. She didn’t want a pony. Riding one at the riding school was one thing, but riding some prancing creature like Cait had was something completely different.
‘You’d love it.’ Amy’s mum said. ‘A pony of your own, something to keep you busy, get you outside into the fresh air.’
Amy turned her lips upwards into a smile. ‘Great,’ hopefully her mum would forget once she got back to her painting, she usually did. Amy had been glad her mum forgot somethings like Irish dancing lessons. The last thing Amy wanted was a pony.