‘Oh what a glorious day,’ Amy’s mum came out of the room she was using as her studio. Her painting jeans were a mass of colour, from drops and smears of paint, the front of them coloured in brilliant reds, blues and various shades of greens. There was a smeared white hand print on the side of her leg where she had accidently wiped paint when she was doing one of her modern creations which generally involved splashing gallons of paint onto her big canvases and smearing them around until they were beautiful splashes of colour which eventually took on the look of the beach and Connemara scenery.
Amy actually preferred more realistic paintings where you could see the actual houses, or flowers, or animals, but her mum’s paintings sold really well and she didn’t seem to be able to paint them fast enough to keep up with the demand. Her paintings were sold all over the world. Sometimes clients would send Amy’s mum pictures of the paintings, hanging on the walls in their glamorous homes, with backgrounds of blue skies and beautiful cityscapes.
‘Yes, it is,’ Amy said, reluctantly lifting her head, forcing her eyes to move from the text of the brilliant book she was reading to meet her mother’s eyes. Beyond her mother, out of the huge picture window, the sky was blue, there was a hazy grey line where it joined the horizon of the deep blue, green sea and before that the greens of the fields, broken only by the lines of the stone walls. For once it wasn’t raining. Perhaps later, when she had finished the chapter she was reading, she’d go outside and find a cool spot beside the bushes, where Amy’s mum had put a big, solid iron bench. On the warm days it was the perfect spot to drag out a quilt and stretch out in the sunshine to read.
‘It’s a lovely day to ride.’ Amy’s mum was saying.
Amy sighed, she’d hoped her mum would have forgotten about that. She’d thought that once she got deeply involved in her painting that she would forget about the pony who was now grazing quietly in the paddock.
Amy let her eyes move from the horizon, slowly down to the field beside the house and to the grey pony. He was eating the grass, his head down, one leg extended so he could get his head close to the grass, slowly he moved, eating as he went, his long tail flicking gently from side to side.
‘Come on Amy,’ her Mum said. There was a long thin paint brush stuck in the tangle of her hair. She had used it as a way of keeping her hair out of her face, sometimes she forgot she had done that and would turn up at the school gates, a coat thrown over her painting clothes to disguise them, but would inevitably have a smear of paint on her face somewhere and an incongruous paint brush sticking at an angle out of the tangle of her auburn hair. ‘He’s been here a week now. You’ve got the saddle and bridle, all the brushes, a hat and boots. There’s nothing to stop you riding.’
Amy nodded, there was nothing she wanted to do less than ride the pony. He was so big, scary. She’d stood at the fence and watched him every afternoon since he had arrived, she was scared of him, she couldn’t imagine ever having the courage to go into the field and catch him, let alone go riding on him.
‘Oh come on darling, you’ll love it when you do it.’ Her mum continued, standing in the kitchen, her eyebrows lifted to show her impatience. It was alright for her, she enjoyed what she did, she didn’t have anyone forcing her into doing something she didn’t want to.
Amy put her book down, ‘Ok,’ she said, hearing how unwilling her voice sounded.
‘Oh that’s brilliant Amy, you’ll love it once you start. He’ll be so much nicer than the riding school ponies. You are so lucky. A thousand girls would die for the chance to have their own pony.’
‘Fine,’ Amy sighed.
She went upstairs and got changed, then knelt on her bed looking out of the window at the pony. He was perfectly happy without her. All he wanted to do was to eat. He didn’t need company.
‘Come on Amy,’ her mum shouted from downstairs, clearly she wasn’t going to forget.
‘Coming,’ Amy tried to make her voice sound eager. Her mum had bought the pony because she thought it would make Amy happy. She knew, but she couldn’t say but the only thing that would make her happy was for her dad to come back. She missed him so much. She hated it when he was away. She understood that he had to be away to work, but this was more, he’d never gone this long before. And why were the phone calls to her mum so short and make her so snappy. Her dad was fine with her, cheerful and nice, he told her how much he missed her, but whenever she asked when he was coming home he changed the subject.
‘It’s lovely outside,’ Amy’s mum repeated, handing Amy the saddle and bridle. ‘Catch him and I’ll come and give you a hand to put on the tack.’
‘Thanks,’ Amy shot a thin smile at her mum. It was nice outside, the sun was shining, there wasn’t any wind, just a faint sea scented breeze which ruffled Amy’s hair.
The saddle and bridle were heavy and very cumbersome in her arms. She struggled to carry the two of them, the end of the saddle dug into the soft flesh of her arm at one side and the bony part of her wrist at the other. The bridle seemed to have a life of its own and slid first forwards over the side of the saddle and then back the other way tangling in her legs, the heavy metal bit banging against her ankle as she walked.
She wanted to throw the whole lot down and walk away back to the house, but as she turned and glanced she realised her mum was watching from the front door, a big smile of encouragement on her face which cracked the paint smear on her cheek. Instead, remembering the instructions from the pony camp she had once attended Amy struggled along the garden path, into the orchard and gently put down the saddle on its front, the pommel she thought, remembering those lessons. She rested the back, the cantle against the wall and hauled the leather straps of the bridle up onto her shoulder. Now all she had to do was catch the pony. She remembered how to put the bridle on, that was easy.
‘Oh, there’s the phone, I’m expecting the gallery. Have fun.’ Amy could hear the house telephone ringing and then the door shut behind her. She was alone.
She opened the side gate and went into the field. The pony lifted his head to look at her. He stood for a moment, looking, his ears pricked. Amy smiled, perhaps her mum was right and she would enjoy this.
‘Come on boy,’ Amy held out a hand and took a stride towards the pony. He turned to face her, his ears sharply pricked. He was very handsome, far nicer than the heavy dull ponies at the riding school. Perhaps she would enjoy riding and having him. Amy pictured herself riding along the beach, the wind in her hair, splashing though the sea.
The pony turned away and began to walk across the field away from her. He moved with a slow leisurely pace as if he didn’t care, one ear cocked back in her direction.
‘Oh come on,’ Amy sighed, walking after him. The pony stopped. Smiling with relief Amy walked faster, she was very close now, just had to get to his head and slip the bridle reins over his head and they were sorted.
She took another stride forwards, the pony half turned, looked back at her and then began to trot away across the field, his head high, looking back at her, his long tail kinked up over his back.
‘Just stop please.’
The pony didn’t listen, instead it trotted to the end of the field, where it stood beside the wall watching her walk towards it. As soon as she got to a few feet away from him the pony sprang into life, trotting, steadily around the edge of the field to the other side where he stood again to watch her approach. Feeling tears of frustration prickling at the back of her eyes Amy trudged slowly across the field towards him. Perhaps he would stand this time and let her catch him.
Each time Amy made the journey from one end of the field to the other, the pony trotted slowly away. It was as if he were teasing her, he was not afraid, he just knew she couldn’t catch him and he wasn’t going to make things easy for her.
After three trips from one end of the field to the other Amy absolutely hated the pony. The bridle caught against her legs, the bit banged her ankle, she was hot, tired and thirsty and very fed up.
Finally at the far side of the field, when the pony had trotted away for the third time, Amy threw down the bridle in disgust and sank to her knees, crying bitter tears of sheer frustration. She was never going to be able to catch the pony, she hated him and everything about riding.
As she crouched in the grass the pony began to walk closer. ‘Go away,’ Amy snapped, she hated him.
She picked up the bridle, got to her feet and swung it in the air towards him with a loud swooshing noise. The pony shied in panic, galloping a few strides away from her before turning to look at her. ‘Get lost,’ she sniffed, tears dripping off the end of her cheeks. She wiped her runny nose with her sleeve, and stamped in temper across the field.
The pony, seeing her go began to trot after her. ‘Don’t come near me.’ Amy shouted, ‘I don’t want you. I never wanted you.’ She trudged back towards the house, ‘I just want my dad,’ she whispered.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw the pony begin to canter after her, he wheeled, around her, kicking out with his hind legs. He missed her by a long way but seeing him do that really scared Amy. She began to run. The faster she ran the faster he came after her, wheeling around her in a circle, standing between her and the field gate, he reared, high up on his back legs, his front legs pawing at the air. As he landed he began to circle her again, galloping in big circles, bucking and kicking. Amy’s heart pounded in her chest, she could hear her breath coming in loud gasps of fear. No one was going to come and help, her mother would never hear her. She screamed her mother’s name, but she knew she couldn’t hear. The pony circled again, trotting now, his eyes on Amy all of the time, he clearly thought this was a great game. She swung the bridle at him again trying to keep him away from her. As he reared again, high into the air, Amy made a dash for the gate, her fingers fumbling with the catch she hauled it open and ran though as the pony ran after her, skidding to a halt beside the gate, his head high, looking at her.
Bursting into proper tears Amy threw the bridle down and ran to the house, hauling open the front door dashing inside and closing it behind her as if she thought the pony was going to dash through the door after her. From the sound of the studio came the sound of music and her mother singing. She was busy doing her work. Amy curled in a heap on the sofa in the kitchen feeling very miserable and sorry for herself. She knew she should go and tell her mother what had happened, but she was afraid to bother her when she was busy getting the paintings ready for the big exhibition. She’d tell her later what had happened. Amy picked up her book, made herself a sandwich and a drink and curled up, later she would collect the bridle and saddle and tell her mum what had happened. Perhaps she mused, it was a good thing, perhaps her mum would get rid of the pony now, realise it was dangerous and that Amy wasn’t able to ride it. Perhaps, she thought, remembering the grown up phrase, every cloud would have a silver lining.
It was warm in the sunlight that came in through the big window. Amy tucked her knees under her and was soon lost in the story she was reading. At the end of the chapter she looked up, sighing with pleasure at the plot, she was utterly absorbed in the life of the princess who had been kidnapped by pirates and taken away from her home. A movement beside the window made her look up, a shadow fell across the room. As she glanced Amy saw the field gate was open and that the grey pony had come out of the field and was now grazing on the lawn. ‘Oh no,’ Amy sighed, putting down her book, perhaps the pony would run back into the field if she went out. He must know he wasn’t meant to be on the lawn.
The music was still blaring from the studio, so it was no good asking her mother to help. Amy opened the front door gingerly, if the pony ran at her she would just go back indoors and wait until there was help from her mum. She’d be angry though, Amy knew, at her leaving the gate open. The lawn was already pitted with the marks from his hooves.
She went outside, the sun was still warm. She could smell the cut grass from where the pony had marked the lawn with his hooves. He stood in the middle of the lawn. She moved slowly away from the door, hoping that he would see her and run towards the field as he had when she had tried to catch him.
The pony tossed his head angrily making Amy jump. Then as she watched, he gave a squeal of mischief, spun around and galloped straight past the house. Amy could only stand and watch as he reached the drive, his hooves skidding on the newly laid tarmac. A split second later he reached the open drive gates and was gone. She heard a car horn blaree and the clatter of his hooves as he galloped away.