A stab of searing pain coursed through Jane Mayton’s shoulder as she plunged the pitchfork into a pile of manure and straw. Nonetheless, she continued her struggle to get a good forkful. Again, pain coursed up her forearms and shoulders, causing the pitchfork to fall from her hands, poo scattering everywhere. Her aged face flushed with anger as she bent her stiff spine towards the ground. Perhaps it was time to consider switching to shavings. But where could she cut back to make enough for shavings?
“Miss. Mayton,” she repeated. “Why is Donatello’s stall still filthy?” She consulted her gold watch. “It’s 12:00! Why aren’t the stalls done yet?”
Jane Mayton slowly pulled back her sleeve, and rubbed the sweat from her forehead. She realized Donatello’s stall was in the middle of the row she had already cleaned. How did she miss that? “I’m sorry Mrs. Costella, the help didn’t show up today. I’m sure they had a good reason, but it left me with a lot of stuff to do on my own. And you know these old bones-”
“So, how does explain how you forgot his stall! Well where is Callie? She’s always here.” Emile demanded.
For a second Jane couldn’t remember where Callie was. “What day is it?”
Emile gave her an incredulous look. “June 22.”
“OH! She’s on a vacation.” Jane said, suddenly remembering.
“I see. Well please make sure his stall is cleaned first on Sunday. I don’t want him rolling in his own filth just before the show.” She turned on her polished boots and walked back down the aisle.
Jane slowly returned to the mucking, mentally counting the amount of things left to do. Only three more stalls, thank goodness, then to check the horses water, and what else? Why couldn’t she remember anymore? She pulled out a list from her pocket. They were becoming more and more necessary. Perhaps she should add muck Donatello’s stall first on Sunday. After doing that she consulted her list. Oh yes, stop by the feed store for some more of that senior feed for Janice’s horse. Oh, and she wanted to have time to ride her own horse for once. She was going to go on a quiet hack. She looked at her watch and sighed, and returned to picking.
“Miss. Mayton!” Jane slowly turned around, expecting to see Emile with more complaints. Instead it was Annie, looking bright and youthful. “Miss. Mayton, you shouldn’t be cleaning those stalls! Give me that pitchfork right now. Where is Callie?”
“Oh, that’s kind of you darling, but it’s just three more stalls. Callie? Callie is… is on holiday’s.” She once again had forgotten momentarily.
“That’s right, I remember her saying that. Well come, how can I help?”
“If you don’t mind, could you check the horses water? It’s only a few, most of them have automatic waters-“
“I’m on it!” Annie was already off bouncing down the hall. Jane smiled.
Once the stalls were completed, she decided to pop over to the feed store, before taking her long awaited ride. She would try to fit it in before turn in. She didn’t get to do much riding these days, with the farm and all, so it would be a welcome enjoyment.
Her feet echoed on the worn stone floor, reflecting years of shod horses walking up and down the aisles. Her mind was drawn back to her childhood, as she trailed her hands along the aged wood stall doors. Passing under the doorway, she could almost envision the times her grandfather hoisted her up to touch the beautiful stone above, just so she could trace the name of the farm, engraved in there.
She had tried her best to keep the farm new, to keep it clean. But the spiderwebs over the stone, and the rotting wood, could not hide the fact that she wasn’t keeping up. She pushed this out of her mind as she got into her truck, the engine coughing a few times before starting.
“Hi Jim,” she said, nodding hello as the feed store door clanged shut behind her.
“Well hello there! How’s the farm? You look like you could use a rest.”
“Couldn’t we all? My help didn’t show up today. So I got to get back soon. Can I get two bags of Equimax Senior?”
“Sure thing. They’re $42 each.”
She winced, as she handed him her credit card. “That much?”
He gave her a worried look. “They’ve cost that for the last five years. But I agree, it is expensive.”
Jane rubbed her forehead. Worry creasing her wrinkles further. “I’ve been so forgetful lately! Nevermind about the cost, you have to make a living too. But there’s no getting around it, I’m going to have to charge Janice more for board.”
“If you ask me, it’s about time. You can’t tell me you haven’t been taking money from your own pocket to cover the farm. Don’t you go feeling bad about raising your board.”
“I just want what’s best for the horses.”
“I know. That’s why they’re lucky to have you.”
She thanked him and went on her way. She stopped at her mailbox as she pulled into the barn driveway. Flicking through her bills, her hands suddenly froze. She recognized it instantly. That official envelope, the doctors address in the top left corner. With dread, she tore it open. She scanned the contents, searching for relief. None came. Her stomach dropped, and the overwhelming feeling of fear overtook her.
Her mind was flashing back to the day her grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. They had all seen it come, but they clung to that small hope…maybe it wasn’t Alzheimer’s, maybe it was something else. Like the day their hope ended, today her hope ended. The letter had requested her for further testing. But Jane knew. She just knew. She was destined for it. She was going to lose the farm. All the hard work! All those years…
Mechanically she put the car into gear and drove up the gravel drive, to the barn. How could she break it to them? They would call her irresponsible, she should’ve told them earlier. But she’d hoped…it wasn’t just herself she was letting down; it was countless others. And the horses! What would become of them?
Despite everything, she knew she had to keep working. She walked up and down the pastures and stalls, checking the horses were happy and healthy. The barn was quiet, the only evidence of other human presence were the scattered grooming boxes across the floor.
After this was completed, she eagerly took out Prince, her prized Quarter Horse. He may not be a jumper, like most of her boarders, but he sure took care of her on the trails.
Her hands worked vigorously, currying his messy bay coat. When she was finished, she laid her head against his side, and she thought. Her hands would never forget the way a horses coat felt. They would never forget the way it felt to land in the saddle, to gallop through the woods. No, somewhere deep in her mind, she would always remember horses.
Read all ten finalists’ entries from HorseChannel’s 2013 Fiction Contest >>