Brood Mare—Tim Goldstone

Remote hill country, once of prehistoric tribes; and even today still a land of buzzards, of sparrow-hawks, of drizzle-smoke, of wood, of stone, of bone, of a life for a life. 

Blood dries brown again on the crumpled sheet-nest. For the last time. Now she is prepared to take any risk, to pay any price.

Sudden shafts of low intense evening sunshine squeeze through storm-clouds where a mare stands gleaming under thunder-light. 

She wakes to tell him in the powdery-damp cottage dark, thick walls containing horsehair and lime, she saw their unconceived baby in a dream – as an old man on his deathbed, in this cottage, exhaling his last breath. She falls back asleep, contented, exhausted. She’d opened the bedroom window despite the hammering rain. He shuts it tight, crossly, always the smell of damp: the Welsh earth oozing up from under the floors she’d insisted he stripped back to flagstone. 

Long shining silver-green grass squeals in roughly tugging fingers as he rips it from the rich Pembrokeshire soil – feeds it to the mare with the flat of his callused palm. A soft nuzzling warmth from dilated nostrils.  

Wakes over her – a warm bead of sweat falls from his face onto her cheek, rolls down like a tear. 

He’d chucked the horse’s skull from the foundations into the skip.

Morning sun tugging excitedly at her, she releases a sundial from permanent shade; unchokes a pond; leaves alone the fireweed waving in the guttering; finds a lawn of straw-like tussocks; discovers honeysuckle, mint, creatures tumbling from rotting dog roses – petals falling at her touch. She squats – gathering lullabies and earwigs while petals land as softly as closing eyelids. 

No sound. A frog by the pond. A lizard slips into place on the sundial. A child not yet born leaps from tussock to tussock leaving in its wake an immaculate lawn. A spider  escorts its own elongated shadow across a wall.

She’d secreted shards of horse’s skull, ground them later using pestle and mortar, added water lilies, wishbones, mushrooms, roots, earwigs; boiled them all together in rainwater collected in thunder and lightning – cooking up a storm of her own in spells of summer rain.

She collects moths fluttering around the hurricane lamp, cupped hands caressed by shuddering wings, swallows them with a gulping and elongating of her throat, her chin thrust outwards, grimacing, her head thrown back, her breathing fast and shallow, eyes white. 

She watches him from the cottage – built on land that millions of years ago was under the sea. 

In eyeball-flexing wind the powerfully distilled light vanishes and moving her head sideways to keep him in her eye the mare backs away and in the humid summer evening he realizes spellbound he can see his breath as the storm arrives and the future and the past begin a conjured and ancient border embrace in front of his disbelieving eyes as rain drills exquisitely through a sheep’s skull and grass rushes up through its cathedral ruin of ribs and he is dead.

She sees shadows separate from birds of prey, flow down the sloping undulating fields towards the cottage, vanish through the stone walls protecting her where she sits waiting for the trembling to subside. 

She places the palms of her hands on her stomach. She smiles, the bargain complete.  

photo by Andreas / adege (via pixabay)