the dark horse

Some time before dawn I walked down to his stable. My boots crunched in the sand. The dark pressed my eyes. I ducked between the bars of his fence, careful not to skin my back on the top bar. He came out of his shed merry and glad to see me. I put my arms around his neck and breathed his mane. We fit together, a young woman and her horse; we leaned into each other like parts of a whole. I knew I’d been away for a long time and tried to calculate how long it had been, but the number I came up with – twenty-odd years? – was preposterous. I knew I could always come back. I knew he would always be glad to see me.

When the sun leaked through I saw his ribs, and the dull hide taut over his knife-sharp hips.

I used to think that his death had been some kind of instructive episode, as in My Friend Flicka or The Red Pony; that it had made me a better or at least more compassionate and empathic person. Now I am not so sure. I am not, after all, a particularly compassionate or empathic person. I don’t know that grief teaches you anything much except that grief never ends. I love my dead as fiercely and needily as I ever loved them when they were alive, but without hope.

“Bad dreams,” I told Jeremy when I woke up.

“What about?”


“Was he a demon horse, risen from the grave?”

“No. He had cancer and he was going to die.”

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