A sharp breeze pierces everything. The leaves on the trees dance, jittery and possessed. She meets me at the gate where I stand knowing she is coming soon. I hear her steps on the hard ground before I see her and then she comes into view, the familiar scent soothing, but I feel the electricity: her heart is beating a little fast and I know things are different. She puts the headcollar on and suddenly we’re marching, quickly, away from the others. She hums a river of sound, and we pass the open mouth of the box. And now my heart beats faster, too.
She rubs me all over with the stiff tool and the river of sound becomes quiet. We breathe together and there is peace. There is also hay in a net and I eat. She says, “Good man. We’re going on an adventure.” When she swaddles my lower legs and plaits my tail, I stop eating. Memory like a bell. This is how the world changes.
She asks me into the box, the wall closes, and I am alone. World rushing by. Colours and smell and noise and the work of keeping my balance. Thoughts of the others recede though I call out from time to time. I pluck at the hay and listen to the groans of the box, sniff the wind for anything familiar, anything dangerous. It comes and goes so quickly. Too much rocking for sleep.
When the groaning and the rocking stops, there is more humming from outside the box. The wall comes down and she climbs in to free me. New smells: a stallion, mares. Memory’s bell rings lightly again. She says, “It’s Jane’s, we love it here.” And she puts my saddle on, then the bridle and walks me past the others with their heads to the grass and then she is swinging up onto my back.
The one with the voice like tiny bells stands in the middle and calls out while the one on my back squeezes her legs on my body and turns my head with the hardness in my mouth that she gathers and tugs in her hands. We walk and trot and jump into canter. We canter and trot and walk over logs and poles.
And then it’s over. She rubs me with the tool again and turns me out into a lonely place with little grass and water scummed over with green. I see her busy at the box. She brings me hay and fresh water, and a sweet orange carrot. The sun on my back, I eat and then I sleep, standing.
I’m startled when she is suddenly at my side again, putting the headcollar on. She gives me another rub with the tool and lifts my feet and scrapes them. Flings the saddle on my back, and leads me quickly to a new box, larger and darker. The one with the voice like tiny bells is ringing, ringing, and there are two others being walked into the mouth of the big box. Memory like a bell, tolling. I am leaving. Again. She hands me to the one with the voice like tiny bells, and together we run up into the box. I call out a trumpeting call as the wall closes. Memory like a bell, tolling fear. The two others in the dimly lit space are unfamiliar but they are unafraid, relaxed, already munching on the sweet hay. Our legs and bellies nearly touching, our heat rising together. The dark box growls and rumbles and we pitch from side to side.
When the wall comes down, she is still there. She makes the human sound of laughter and says, “Silly man, you thought I’d sold you. We’re just going on a farm ride.”
I am not young. My body is stiff and the work of carrying her is only made easy because she does things slowly and doesn’t ask for much. We follow the others up a flat track, around a hill, and the world opens out before us. She draws in a sharp breath. I feel it in my spine. I lift my head and we both gaze out over the land. She exhales and so do I. Lower my head and feel the breath of the wind brush us both clean.