She appeared in the school car park, right in front of the car, swishing her tail.
Connie was looking directly at her but no one else noticed. They never did.
Connie’s dad was shouting at her ‘Get out of the bloody car’
This one looked sad, Connie thought, distracted, as she observed the forlorn equine figure. She was trying to ignore her dad’s protests. There were no obvious injuries at first glance. No easy fix.
‘Come on, your already late’ her father persisted, holding the door firmly open.
Connie used to be out of the car and through the gates before her dad could so much as park the car, with no backward glance, but things were different now. Connie slowly gathered up her school bag, her books messily piled inside, still watching the mare, but half-heartedly focused on getting into school.
Gradually, Connie climbed out of the back seat.
Her dad watched on, his irritation bristling visibly as he impatiently held the door open, willing his daughter out. He sighed in relief as Connie finally disappeared through the school gates. But he didn’t notice that she detoured, caressing the withers of the mare as she passed.
‘It's okay’ she whispered. Her ears twitched in response, neither forward nor back, just uncertain.
‘CONCENTRATE Connie, where is your copy of Richard III’? boomed the teacher.
He taught English and regarded Connie as one of his best students.
Connie rummaged through her jumble of books, her teacher glaring at her. She discovered her copy of Richard III under apples, treats, empty bags, and a pencil case. She opened it and sneakily looked to see what page her classmates were on.
The class settled down to discuss how the heck Richard III managed to woo Lady Anne in front of her father-in-law's corpse shortly after killing the old man and her husband?
Connie tries to blank out the hideous story, and all the while, had half an eye on the mare; she was by the classroom window now, flicking her tail, her neck stooped to the floor. Everyone else carried on reading, discussing and considering Lady Anne. Everyone that was, except Connie.
‘Neglect maybe’ Connie thought as she finally left the classroom and felt the grazes throughout the mare’s neck.
Connie lost her mother on July 1st; it was a beautiful day.
Connie was relieved when school was over these days, a chance to focus on the herd. The new arrival was under the tree just outside her house now, looking anxious, stamping as though a fly was bothering her.
After her study, as soon as she could escape her father’s stare, she went over to her. On closer inspection, she was thin, covered in cuts and scars. ‘An easy one to remedy’ Connie thought, and set to work. She tended her wounds, fed her apples from the fruit tree, groomed her, until coat felt soft, detangled her mane and tail, wiped her fly-ridden eyes.
Gradually her ears crooked back gently, kindly, appreciatively. Her breathing slowed as she relaxed.
Then as typical, she started to fade away…
Connie ran back to her room, glancing back as the apparition disappeared, and picked up her drawings. ‘Get off your bed and wash your bloody hair’
Connie’s dad tried to keep her in order. She lay on her bed late into the night, her mousy hair tied in a messy bunch, her green eyes fixated on her drawings. Her pencil scribbled relentlessly until the images were perfect.
This recent newcomer had been small, petite, maybe from Wales – an attractive little thing with the sort of mane that nearly flowed to the ground. Connie didn’t miss a single trait, the dappled mane, the kind eye, the soft muzzle were drawn meticulously, but she never acknowledged the injuries or ailments in her images, she didn’t want them documented, she drew them as they once were, healthy, happy and young.
Connie’s mum had died unexpectedly. Connie had toppled into pieces and didn’t talk to anyone except her horses, her herd.
The herds always remained about the same size, maybe only two or three souls, they came and they went.
Except for Capulet, he had been around a while.
Some visitors simply just needed some TLC, a feed, some care to their wounds – a little attention and affection before they could be liberated. Connie filled the gaps that had been absent in their lives, and then they vanished.
When they departed, she felt something. Connie called it Thankfulness.
It was exhibited as a warm breeze, a subtle change in lighting as though the sun shone brilliantly for a moment and then a cloud obscured the skies – followed by a gentle comforting smell.
But Capulet always stayed.
Connie was the alpha of the herd; she kept them close until they were ready. Once they had a sense of secure finality, they departed.
But Capulet stayed. Capulet was magnificent. He stood day after day, brave, strong, kind and handsome. Connie would often cling to him a little longer than the others, her arms embracing his huge arched neck.
Capulet offered Connie comfort too; he gave her as much as she gave all the others. He had arrived at such a hopeless time for Connie, the first of the herd to arrive.
But he didn’t follow the rules.
The accident was shattering, her horse hadn’t meant to panic, he hadn’t planned to bolt, he acted on instinct – we all take that risk when we clamber on board a horse...
Connie was at school, her father at work when the news hit.
Her mother had one of those rare days off; everything was so typically normal as they left the yard, the sun shining, and she was laughing with her friend her best friend.
But the news was devastatingly abnormal as it broke. The Schnook had veered off course. The news came late that afternoon - no one could accept the news.
Her mum was gone. Since that day, they had started to arrive.
Connie welcomed them all, restored them, or at least patched them up and then released them. She became focused on the herd more than anything else.
They seemed to just know where to come - they appeared right in front of her - sad, ill, tired, hurt, bruised, exhausted, thin, starved, abused, and depressed…
But, Capulet was different.
He was always there, courteous, undemanding, and supportive. His figure was unassuming, black, yet white, silent and translucent.
The others were more dependent somehow.
Connie helped, healed, cured, comforted, restored, reassured and nursed - she provided something they had needed.
Once received this, they vanished, Connie healed and released them.
But Capulet stayed.
Connie couldn’t work out his weakness or begin to understand his reason for staying.
His head was strong as stone.
Time passed, new arrivals came and went and Connie did her thing. But over the years, they came less and less. Connie was working hard at her art and had thrown herself into her horse drawings.
One early May morning, out of the blue, a tiny wobbly foal appeared - weak, thin, exhausted. She only looked a week old; Connie cried but sprung into action. She spent days hugging her, feeding her milk in a bottle, helping her back to her feet, until one day, wobbly but confident she disappeared in a breeze with a comforting aroma.
But Capulet stayed.
He hung around, becoming more and more remote, his tail swished at nothing in particular, he portrayed an unsettled position. His ears looked sad, his whole demeanor was of misery, but Connie continued to hug him, feed him, scan him for injury or pain, but there was no evidence of anything she could help with.
Capulet seemed to be losing hope.
Connie felt hopeless.
Connie remembered back to the day Capulet arrived, he was the first of a huge herd of unhappy souls; he appeared at the cemetery on July 1st
Time passed, Capulet remained.
Connie’s drawings earned her great grades at school.
Six summer months had passed since the wobbly foal arrived. Connie was finishing school and had a place at the Royal College of Art in London.
She worried a bit about her father and even more about Capulet. She couldn’t just leave them and move on.
Capulet seemed more and more unhappy, very agitated at times kicking out at nothing, pacing mournfully. On the other hand, Connie’s father was starting to seem more positive. Of course, he didn’t know about the horses, he thought they were a figment of Connie’s bereavement process.
Dates were arranged for Art School, she was going…. she lay awake worrying…
The next morning, just when she felt least like she could handle a new arrival, a new herd member arrived. A fine-looking mare, iron grey, a mane dark as space, a body like the milky way.
It was July 1st, at 5.23 am when she arrived. A soft comforting nicker sounded as she appeared. That was odd. She was so old, thin, tired, lame… but full of affection.
Connie looked into her creased face, she could help here she thought, it was clear. Although it was unusual for an elderly horse to arrive, as the others all had been taken young from life when they had been dealt an unfair blow.
This classy girl was a survivor at 39 years old, a real fighter, but still, she was looking for something, needing something.
Connie didn’t know what? Just like Capulet, what did they want from her?
Unexpectedly, Capulet suddenly raised his head, his dejected demeanour somehow elevated. The herd never interacted with each other; they were separate entities, so when Capulet raised his heavy head, and whinnied, arching his neck, Connie was startled. What was wrong? She tried to comfort him. But he gently shook her aside, his eyes focused beyond her, on the mare…. his mare, the newcomer.
They had shared a lifetime, his death was their separation. He had waited and waited… never would they part, he thought, never would he leave her, so he stayed, he waited, and waited... until now.
Finally, she had returned. Connie had been transitional
The next day, when Connie woke, they were gone they were all gone. Connie was alone.
No horses, no herd.
But she sensed some happiness, realignment, a new beginning an end, and a relief.