One year. 100 articles. So we're having a Reader's Party. Come along to Upsidecrown.
My Lovely Horse
3 May 2001
After we found the box in the attic, Janet and I took it down to Mum to see what she made of it. She didn't see it at first when she came into the kitchen, sitting there crumbling on the table with the dust motes oozing off it. But when she turned round in the middle of making a cup of tea she saw it, screamed, and fainted. I rigged up a pseudo-stretcher from the old Reclaim the Night banner in the hall, then we carried Mum into the sitting room and mopped eucalyptus tea over her brow.
She didn't come to until well after Hollyoaks had finished. Janet had gotten bored by this stage and, after putting newspaper down to protect the floor, started going through the box. I could hear the clinks and crunching noises coming down the corridor, when Mum started to twitch in my arms. "Peter? What...where is it?" she muttered, trying to sit up. "Have you still got it?" At that moment Janet came through clutching a load of stuff in her skinny arms which she deposited on the rug. On the top of the pile was a small wooden horse. Mum burst into tears. "Oh God!" she wailed, "I never thought that you'd find it. I knew I should've deadlocked that door and burnt the box and, and..". The rest was lost in a puddle of snot and sobbing. Janet and I patted her shoulders nervously. With a loud sniff Mum, shook herself free of us, eyed the heap of stuff in front of her and cleared her throat.
"You are my children, and when I pushed you bloody and screaming out of my womb I promised that I'd never lie to you. This world is hard enough without your own mother feeding you fantasies. But for all of your eleven years I have knowingly fed you untruths, cosseted you in rompersuits of fairy-tales..." She nearly started wailing again but pulled herself up. I looked at Janet. Janet looked at me.
Mum started again. "Peter. Janet. You are my children. For eleven years I have told you that your absent father is a feckless unsupportive bastard, who lives in Peru. This much is true. What I didn't tell you, for fear of your reactions and in case you rejected me, was that your father was a horse."
I nearly fell off the sofa. Janet made a squeaking noise but Mum held up a hand to silence her.
"I met him in a commune there when I was a young naive thing, working on my thesis about feminist subculture in llama tribes in the area. We met and fell in love and had a torrid passionate affair. We made love in the forest, in the clearings, under the mountain-sky. He went like a stallion of desire; you, my children are the fruit of that coupling." Janet was starting to look ill. I looked at my feet. Heedless, Mum went on.
"When I found out I was pregnant, I was delighted. I didn't even question the technicalities of how such a thing could have happened - I just knew that if that was what God had intended then so be it. I had visions of raising my child there under the wild skies.
"Your father didn't share my joy. He made it clear in no uncertain terms that he had no need for a family; that he just wanted his fun and that was it. Broken, devastated, I packed up my belongings in that crate you found and left on the first clipper back to Wales. Your father didn't even come to say goodbye. I built my new life in Aberystwyth, met new friends at the women's group, and raised you two, my darlings. I haven't heard from him since I left."
She rummaged around in the pile and pulled out some iron-horse shoes and a red-spotted scarf. "He didn't wear shoes; he was too wild and free for that. I'd bought these for him secretly in the hope that he'd return home with me, even after he'd told me that he was staying in Peru." She buried her face in the scarf. "And he wore this all the time as a token of his love for me. The other horses teased him relentlessly but he never took it off. I found it outside my tent the day before I went home."
I poked my foot into the heap, disrupting the carved wooden horse on top and revealing other artefacts - a crumpled and stained map; some paperback books; what looked like a perfume bottle, with only a dribble of amber-coloured liquid at the bottom. Mum saw me looking at them. "Everything in that box relates back to your father - the perfume he liked, the books that I read to him. I packed it all away when I came back. I ought to have burnt it. There was no reason to keep any of those things other than out of a twisted sense of duty - that one day he would return to me."
"Why don't you burn them now?" Janet was looking defiantly at Mum. "Why not go out into the back garden now and build a pyre? He's been out of your life for nearly twelve years, and Peter and I have never met him. He means nothing to me - he never did and he can't start now. He might be a horse, but he's not a good father." "She's right Mum" I chipped in, "you haven't heard from him at all, and you're not likely to. He could be catfood for all you know. Burn the stuff."
Mum had gone even paler than before. She tightened her lips. "If that's how you feel. I'm pleased that you seem to be coping so well but - I don't know. I suppose I thought that you might have more interest in him but...but no. You're right; I can't hold onto the past any more. I think there are some firelighters in the shed."
She scooped up as much of the pile on the floor as she could, and I picked up the rest. Janet went to open the patio doors for the pair of us. Mum and I made our way down towards the end of the garden where we made the bonfire every Guy Fawkes night, the autumn air cool around us. Janet ran on ahead to the shed, her tail bouncing with each step.