One Lone Pony Standing in the Snow
I stood there, in the middle of winter as my parents laughed with a bunch of my relatives. They acted like they all loved each other, as if they were a big comfy patchwork quilt all needing one another to stay together and be whole. That's not how it was though; it was never like that and most likely in my lifetime, never would be. The quilt my parents and I usually had wrapped around us was torn and frayed at the ends. All it would take is one wash for the thing to fall apart, so we never bothered to wash it at all.
I tilted my head slightly at the sound of my mother, she had the most infectious laugh, no matter what she was laughing about, even if it was something sinister like a child dying, you couldn't help but laugh along. Turning my head back towards the house I recognized my Uncle Frank out on the front porch with her. They seemed in a deep, yet funny conversation. When they saw me staring they waved and smiled, I turned away, not in the mood to pretend to be part of their warm, fuzzy blanket.
The reason we were out in the Catskills wasn't a pleasant one, my uncle Charlie had died. He was the oldest McCloud and the one that everyone seemed to like the most, everyone except my father. My dad was the youngest one in his family, just like me. Charlie and my father HATED each other, it was sad but true. They talked only on occasions like this one. They went two different directions with their lives, he took the high road and my dad took the low one. He became a successful businessman with a nuclear family and my father lived pay check to pay check. If there was enough food on the table we were lucky since my mother never wanted to work a single day of her life.
Part of the reason my father hated Charlie so much was because he was secretly jealous, like even now that he was dead and buried, my father did nothing but complain as we drove up to this place. How this beautiful house should have been his, but my grandfather supposedly favored his oldest son over the youngest one. Poor Frank, the middle kid was always ignored but that's okay, so was I.
The front door slapped against the wood, signaling that my mom and uncle made their way back into the house. Who could blame them? There was an unsettling chill in the air. Shivering, I placed my gloved hands into my pockets after pulling my hat down to cover my ears. I wasn't quite ready to let the cold win yet, I needed to be outside.
I walked further away from the house now until the sound of partying was no more than a dull static in the background. Approaching the one thing I always looked forward to seeing when I came up here, Lightning, my uncle's horse.
She was a beautiful white mare, I wish I knew more about horses to give you details but we were city folks. Whenever we would venture up here, on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or holidays, my uncle Charlie would take me aside and ask me if I wanted to ride on that horse. I always said yes without hesitation and that would make my father mad. Maybe that's why I was so eager? Could be, I'll leave that debate for another time and place, the point was how often would one get to ride a horse in the Bronx?
He would let me groom her as he placed the saddle on her, telling me, every single time, how she got the name Lightning. How she was fast as an eagle but as she got older she slowed to more of a pigeon crawl. He'd always end that speech with a laugh and I would always smile in return. He would sweep me up off of my feet and place me on the horse and then would walk me around the property a few times, never letting go of the reigns.
The saddest part is, in those seldom moments he made me feel like I had a family. I mean I could barely remember what he looked like, that's how infrequent our treks out here were, but even still, he could always manage to do for me, something that my own father could not.
I saw her standing there all alone, in the middle of a field of white. She almost blended completely in with her scenery. All the other horses were tucked away neatly in the barn but just like me, Lightning wasn't ready to let the winter win. As if Mother Nature was daring me to turn around and head back inside, large snow flakes began to fall all around us as I finally got close enough to pet the horse.
I stared into her big hazelnut eyes and sensed a deep sadness, was it possible for a horse to feel sad? Maybe she realized that her long time owner had just passed on. Maybe she had been out here for a few days, ignored and feeling alone. I pet her long beautiful mane and kissed her, the rough feel of her hair made me sneeze. Or perhaps I was getting a cold, either way I tried to pull her back into the barn.
She didn't want to move, just stood there and grunted at me, so I stopped. Instead I turned back to the house which looked like a little red blob in the snow and suddenly I was overcome with grief. Thoughts of the uncle I hardly knew flooded my mind, how kind and gentle he always seemed to be to me. How special he always made me feel, no matter what the reason for the visit. He could be screaming at my father in the next room and than come in and talk to me in the softest voice I have ever heard. Changing his tone because he didn't want to scare me, not realizing that I was immune to screaming because it's all my mom and dad ever did.
“Charlie was a good guy wasn't he?” I asked the horse aloud, not expecting a reply, but hearing a neigh in return.
I placed my arms around her large neck and tried to lift myself onto her body but no matter how many times I tried I couldn't get my feet off the ground. I wanted to ride her around, maybe down the small dirt road and away from this place.
The snow really started to pick up, the flakes smaller but the pace quickening. I wished I had borrowed my brother's scarf, but I said no. I curled my top lip up to feel the coldness of my nose. I felt the mucus slowly falling out of it and wiped it away with my glove.
“You want to go back into the barn now Lightning?” I asked the mare, petting her mane and smiling at her. Once again looking into those eyes and seeing sadness, but this time I saw something more. I saw the reflection of me in those eyes, the sadness and loneliness that wasn't only her burden but mine as well.
If I was able to, I would have gotten on that silly horse and galloped away. I'm sure I would have been stopped by someone, “Hey what is this ten year old doing on the McCloud horse?” And then I'm sure I would have gotten the beating of my life for it as well.
“Why must you always make me look like an embarrassment to this family?” My dad would most certainly say as he would hit me with the belt, while my mom looked on unattached to anything but her cigarettes.
None of that mattered for that moment. All I could think about was flying away from this place, away from the family and away from the pain. I tried one last time to climb up her side, but it was no use. Riding away into the sunset on the white horse was not the way this tale was meant to end. So I dejectedly hugged her instead.
As I made my way back to the house, I took one last long look at Lightning who still never moved from the spot where I found her. “They never even bothered to come out here to see if I was okay.” I said to her, probably wearing the same sadness in my eyes that she displayed in hers.
I decided to give her a salute, knowing it was going to be the last time I ever saw her. Turning around I finally made my way back to the house, the closer I got the worse I felt. It's sad that I think that stupid horse loved me more than my parents did.
I wish I could end this with an update on the horse, but we never ventured up to the Catskills ever again. We did pass Lightning one more time though, in the car on the long drive home as my father complained about Frank and his wife while my mom nodded silently. My brother asleep on my shoulder adjusted to my movement towards the window.
I placed my hand on the cold, glass surface and bent my fingers in a wave. She was standing right where I had left her. Maybe she was thinking of a way to jump over the gate and gallop away or maybe she just wanted to stay out there and freeze, numb the feelings inside of her. I guess we'll never know and that's how this story will end.