Amy couldn’t breathe. She sat on her bed trying to absorb what she had just heard. She could feel her heart beating against her rib cage. Her breath came in short, sharp bursts, moving the pink, pony patterns on her pyjamas. She’d been curled on her bed, feeling sorry for herself, angry at her mum for asking Cait to give her lessons on the pony. She’d been so fed up. She hadn’t wanted the pony in the first place. It had been a stupid thing of her mum to do, buying the blasted thing for her. She hated him and always would. She didn’t want a pony. She certainly had no desire to live out here, in the middle of nowhere. And more than anything she wanted her Dad to come back.
She’d been so irritated by her mum that she had stamped up to bed as soon as she had eaten her dinner. Her mum had tried to get her to talk, asking stupid things about the pony and how glad she was they had got him back and what a nice girl Cait was and that they were so lucky she was around to help Amy with the pony. In the end Amy had put her knife and fork together and said, ‘I’m going to go up to bed now. I’m not that hungry.’
‘Oh,’ her Mum’s voice was filled with surprise. Amy usually loved pasta and meatballs. Her mum made a delicious tomato sauce, using fresh tomatoes and lots of herbs and spices. It was her favourite thing to eat for dinner, but at the moment she was so fed up she didn’t want to eat. Actually she was so sick of her mum she didn’t even want to be with her.
She’d put her plate in the dishwasher and gone upstairs, knowing her mum was sad that she wasn’t going to stay and keep her company.
When they lived in the town they had always chatted after dinner. Long, silly conversations, that had often gone on after Amy’s bedtime. But that had been when her dad was there. Tonight though she couldn’t wait to get away from her. How couldn’t her mum see how afraid she was of the pony, how much she hated living out in Connemara and how much she missed her friends and her dad.
Amy had sat on her bed, her knees drawn up to her chin, watching a film on her tablet. At least the wifi was working now. When they had first moved from the city there hadn’t even been wifi. She’d sat on her bed, not really taking in the film, feeling guilty about how she had behaved. Now she felt even worse.
Amy stood in the doorway of her bedroom. From downstairs came the sound of her mum’s soft sobs. Her dad wasn’t coming back. He didn’t love her mum any more, or was he sick of Amy too?
Amy let go of a long, juddering sigh. She just wanted things to go back to how they had been. Her dad and mum together. And her. The team, her Dad had called them. How could he not want them anymore.
Amy leant over the bannisters, listening to the sounds from downstairs. Her mum’s sobs gradually subsided, but Amy could still hear her sniffing occasionally. She moved away from the bannister as she heard the sound of her mum getting up from the table. The pine kitchen chair legs scraped on the tiled floor. Amy listened to the noise of her mum clearing up in the kitchen and then finally there was silence and she moved from the kitchen into the lounge. The lounge door closed and a moment later she could hear her mum turn on the television, the low hum of the voices coming through the closed door. Amy longed to go down to her, to curl up in her lap and cry, but she couldn’t. She knew her mum would hate her knowing what was going wrong between her and Amy’s dad. Eventually she would tell Amy, but, she supposed she wanted to see if things would work out before she said anything.
There was nothing she could do. Amy leant against the wall, feeling the cool surface behind her. There was nothing she could do. She went back into her room and turned the film back on, trying to lose herself in the action, but it was impossible. Her mind churned with the reality of what having split up parents meant.
The following morning Amy woke. The headphones were tangled in her hair and around her neck where she had gone to sleep listening to the soundtrack of the film she’d been watching.
For a moment she forgot. She stretched luxuriously, spreading her arms and legs wide enjoying the vast empty space of her bed. Then she remembered. Her mum and dad were splitting up. She’d lived with the hope her dad was coming back, that he had just been away working and that he was going to join them in Connemara. Now she knew that was not going to happen.
Slowly, feeling the weight of the misery of the reality of the situation Amy climbed out of bed. As she got up she looked out of the window. Her room looked over the back of the house. There in the field was the stable and over the half door she could see the grey head of the pony. He was looking out over the fields, his ears pricked. He was munching on a piece of hay, his jaws moving rhythmically. Amy puffed out her cheeks. Could life get any worse, she wondered? Living in the middle of nowhere, with a pony she didn’t want and a father who didn’t want to be with her mum.
She pulled on her jeans and the crumpled top she had worn the previous day, grabbing everything from the floor where she had abandoned it the night before.
Trying to avoid going downstairs she brushed her hair, carefully, cleaned her teeth in the family bathroom. Her mum, she could hear was already downstairs. Amy could hear the clatter of plates and cutlery as she put them out on the kitchen table. She would be expecting Amy to come downstairs soon to chat about her day. It was all a pretense. When she wondered would her mum finally tell her that her dad wasn’t coming back. That they were alone now.
When she went back into her room to make her bed she could no longer see the pony, he must be eating hay now inside the stable. Amy sighed, knowing that soon she had to go outside and clean out his stable and then Cait was going to arrive to give her a lesson on him. Amy pulled a face. That was the last thing she wanted.
There was nothing more to do. She had to go downstairs before her mum began to call her for breakfast.
Amy made her way down the stairs. ‘Morning,’ her mum said, her voice was too bright. Amy glanced at her mum, seeing her face was pale and blotchy, her eyes swollen with crying. She avoided looking at Amy and made herself busy putting bread into the toaster and bustling around the kitchen.
‘What are your plans for today?’ Amy’s mum asked.
Amy sighed. Her mum knew what she was going to do. She’d arranged it herself. She knew Cait was supposed to be coming to give her a lesson on the pony.
Amy opened her mouth to snap at her mum and then remembered. She knew exactly why her mum was hurrying around the kitchen, why her face was blotchy and why she wouldn’t look at Amy and of course why she was rambling about nothing.
‘I’m going to have a lesson with Cait on the pony,’ she said, quietly.
‘Of course you are,’ Amy’s mum smacked herself on the forehead with the palm of her hand. ‘Silly me.’
‘It’s ok Mum.’ Amy said, gently, wishing her mum would tell her what was going on. So they could talk about what was going to happen now her Dad was gone. Now they were alone.
‘Sorry darling,’ Amy’s mum said, finally looking at Amy. ‘I’m a bit distracted.’
‘It’s ok,’ Amy repeated. ‘I understand.’
She wished her mum would say what the problem was, but instead she grabbed a mug of coffee and went into her studio leaving Amy to eat her breakfast. ‘I’m going to do some work darling, I’ll see you in a bit. Enjoy riding. Tell me all about it in a while.’
Amy nodded. ‘I will.’
She began to eat her breakfast, listening to the sound of her mum taking out her painting things in the studio. She longed to hurry into the room, to bury her head in her mum’s shoulder and tell her that everything would be alright. But she didn’t know if it would. How would they manage without her Dad? Perhaps there would be a new man, in her mum’s life, or a new woman in her Dad’s. Amy imagined half brothers and sisters, a shared life. She put down the toast, feeling horribly sick. There was no way she could eat any more. She wished both of them would tell her what was going on. Was the separation forever? Why had they fallen out of love? Was it because she, Amy was so grumpy? Had she driven her dad away.
From the studio came the sound of her mum painting. The clatter of paint pots, the hum of music. She’d be lost in her work for hours. There was nothing else to do except go out to the pony. She had to clean out his stable like Cait had told her and then, at some stage Cait would appear ready for her lesson. Amy dreaded the thought.
She shoved her feet into her wellies, pulled on her jacket. Even though it was summer the wind in Connemara, beside the sea could be strong. It was rarely warm enough for just a tee-shirt.
As she made her way outside, down the garden path towards the stable, the pony’s head popped out over the half door and he let out a loud whinney, tossing his head up and down. ‘Hello,’ Amy said. It seemed only polite to speak to him after he had said hello to her. Well, she assumed that was what he was doing. She wasn’t really sure. Horse language was not one she knew anything about.
She lifted a handful of hay from the bale, as Cait had explained to her and, struggling with the hay as her arms were full, she managed to fumble the door bolts open and eased the door open. The pony came straight towards her, grabbing some of the hay out of her arms.
‘Go back,’ Amy said, in the cross tone she had heard Cait use. To her surprise the pony retreated to the back of the stable and stood looking at her, until she put the heap down on the floor. As she stepped away he came forwards and began to eat. The stable was filthy. The golden straw Cait and she had put down was all tossed around, heaps of dung seemed to be literally everywhere. At least if she mucked him out that would mean less time to spend with him actually riding him, Amy mused. She fetched the wheelbarrow and wedged it into the door so the pony couldn’t get out, but occupied with the heap of hay he didn’t seem to be in the least interested in getting out.
It was hard to get the piles of dung onto the fork and even harder to then get them from the floor into the wheel barrow. It seemed to take forever. The pony, she was glad, just ignored her, and kept eating his hay. The stable was filled with the sound of his munching as he ate.
She swept the floor and picked up the dirty straw and the bits of poo with the shovel and then eased the door open so she could push the wheelbarrow out. She shut the stable door behind her and blew a big sigh of relief, she had finished that job.
Amy wondered what to do with the heap of dirty straw and dung in the wheelbarrow and eventually pushed it across the field as far away from the house as she could and tipped it up. She remembered the vast muck heap at the riding stables. What would happen to the soiled straw she wondered. Would it just grow and grow into a massive heap?
Deciding not to worry too much about that she pushed the barrow back and stood it against the stable wall as Cait had done the previous evening. Amy hoped she would be impressed with the work Amy had done.
Amy looked towards the house. She didn’t want to go back indoors. The sight of her tearful mum was something she wanted to try to avoid. She’d stay outside as long as possible. Amy made her way to the garden gate and looked up the road, hoping that Cait would be coming, but there was no sign of her.
She went back into the field. What could she do now? She remembered Cait talking about grooming the pony before she rode him so she fetched her grooming kit out of the adjoining stable. There was a headcollar too and a leadrope. She let herself into the stable. The pony was busy eating his hay. Amy spent ages trying to put the headcollor on him. It seemed to be a nightmare of pieces of thick straps, she had no idea how to get it on him and the pony certainly didn’t seem to be too eager to help either.
Instead she found some of the brushes and gently stroked one of them over the pony’s neck. His coat was smooth and shiny beneath the brush. The pony ignored her, munching happily on the hay.
Nervously Amy carried on brushing. She made her way up the pony’s neck and towards his back. He didn’t move, but instead just kept eating. Brushing was an easy thing to do Amy decided, enjoying the movement of the brush against his coat. She wondered if she dared brush under his tummy? The pony didn’t seem to mind, so she began to brush further down, sliding the brush across the roundness of his tummy, down underneath.
‘Owww.’ She jumped back in surprise as the pony lifted one of his hind legs and shoved her hand away with his hoof.
‘Watch out!’ Cait laughed, letting herself into the stable.
‘He kicked me,’ Amy said, close to tears with the shock of what had happened.
‘Ah, not really,’ Cait laughed taking the brush from Amy who hurried out of the way with relief. ‘I’d say you just tickled him.’
She began to brush the pony. Amy sighed. The pony behaved perfectly when Cait was around.