Sunday, 1 May 2011

19. Oh Foaly Night

Oh Foaly Night

T’was the day before Christmas and all was a rush. The donkeys had just been brought back from the village where they had been loaned to the local primary school for use in their nativity play and the last of the lessons had finished. Abigail smiled as she put the past week’s takings in the cash box. She was pleasantly surprised to see that they’d made more than she’d anticipated. Clearly the winter weather hadn’t put anyone off going for a ride.

Shutting and locking the box securely, she pushed the low seat over and stood on it; stretching to reach the high shelf that kept the valuables away from prying fingers.

She had just replaced the stool in its normal position in front of the desk when David came in, muttering under his breath about the awful weather.

“Afternoon David, are the ponies alright in the field? I was a bit worried it was going to be too cold for them - the forecast is for snow this weekend.”

David nodded and dropped the leadrope he was carrying into the basket with all the other spare headcollars.

“Yeah, everyone’s fine. I thought Banksy might need a rug but as he’s systematically destroyed every one I’ve put on him this week, I think its safe to say that he’ll be perfectly ok without one” He chuckled and hung up his jacket on the peg beside the door. “I on the other hand…”
Suddenly Bob, Lisa’s dog, bounded across the room towards him, his little stump of a tail waggling madly as it tried to keep up with his frenzied pace. “Hello!” cried David, peering down at the hairy lump of a terrier. “What are you doing, eh?” Bob jumped up at him, trying vainly to lick his face and only managing to reach his knee.

David ruffled his fur and shook his head. “Mad dog, what are you like?” He turned, about to advise Abigail on the vast differences in intelligence between dogs and cats when he hesitated, an expression of repugnance on his face.

“Abigail, what on earth is that?” David hissed, pointing at a slightly lethargic looking tree in front of the saddle racks. Abigail’s brow furrowed and she adopted her familiar ‘I’m not in a good mood so don’t mess with me’ stance - hands on hips, one eyebrow raised and her lips pursed.

That is our Christmas tree David. I thought it was fairly obvious myself…”
He frowned and pinged one of the branches, sending bits of cheap tinsel floating to the floor in a flurry of glitter. “That’s not a tree – it’s a glorified bush! I’ve seen Bonsai that look more authentic!”
Abigail looked like she was going to say something but apparently thought better of it and just closed her eyes. From the way her mouth twitched at the edges, it looked as though she was trying to count to ten.

Finally, after what seemed like an age, she spoke.

“Well then…what do you intend to do about it?” To her great surprise, David grinned. “I was hoping you’d say that. I’ll be right back…”
…and with that, he strode out of the building, dragging the unfortunate piece of shrubbery behind him; barely pausing to greet Lisa, who had just arrived from mucking out Kerry.
“Er, Abi? What is David doing with that tree?”
“Replacing it apparently”

A few minutes and a stiff cup of tea later, a series of muffled grunts and swearing from outside heralded the reappearance of David.

“Give us a hand with the door will ya?”

Lisa tried to stifle a giggle at the sight of a Nordmann Fir with legs struggling to navigate its way into the room. Eventually, both of them helped deposit it in the middle of the tackroom with Abigail looking on incredulously.

“David, how on earth did you get that thing in your car?!”

An hour or so later the tree was decorated and the presents for the rest of the clients and each other were placed under its lower branches.

Lisa looked at her watch and stood up suddenly. “Oh god it’s late and I’m supposed to be doing the meal for the family tomorrow!” She frowned at the thought. “I burned everything last year – even the starter which isn’t even supposed to be cooked!”
Abigail chuckled and gave her a quick hug before heading out the door. “I’m just off to check on the horses before I turn in – have a good Christmas you two!” She left with a wry smile on her face which no one except perhaps Lisa noticed.

David smiled. “Yeah, I’ll probably be off in a few minutes as well. Merry Christmas!” They hugged and as they broke apart, Lisa smiled dryly and looked up at the ceiling. “Oh would you look at that. Mistletoe.”

There was a rather uncomfortable silence for a moment until the penny dropped.

What? I err…oh.”
Abigail re-entered the office ten minutes later and grimaced. David, who was leaning against the wall, a little overwhelmed, barely heeded her and only awoke from his musing when a certain word caught his attention.

“Foal?! What?”

“I said, I’ve just been to check up on Kestral and she’s showing all the signs of going into foal!”

David blanched. “But, but but, she isn’t due for at least another week right? Lowe said that she’d foal in January!”
Abigail nodded grimly. “True, but we don’t have an exact date of ‘conception’ or whatever so it could be perfectly on time.”
David stifled a grin. The last time he had been into the village, almost everyone in the post office had passed some kind of comment on their slightly ruttish stallion. Luckily Abigail didn’t know this, or she’d have been on a rampage throughout the local area, trying desperately to disprove it.

“Anyway” she said “I’m going to stay here tonight to keep an eye on her just in case. You can go home if you like David, I’ll be checking in on her every few hours and you’ll probably want to get back sooner rather than later”

He shook his head. “Nah, it’s ok. Its not like I’m in any rush – it’ll just be me and the cat tomorrow morning so I don’t mind staying. Besides, you’ll need me to help you get the hang of this…”
He leaned over and opened a minimised window on the laptop and Abigail started. “But that’s…! How? What?”

Chuckling at Abigail’s technophobic response, he explained.
“I installed a camera in Kes’ stable a couple of weeks ago when you were out. I didn’t think you’d mind as it would make the foaling process easier for both parties.” He gestured at the still of Kestral standing to the side of her box. “No interference you see? It refreshes the image every thirty seconds or so, so we can keep track of her movements without disturbing her”

Abigail laughed and clapped him heartily on the shoulder. “I’m not going to pretend that I know how you managed that, but very well done indeed!”

To begin with, all was peaceful. Abigail sat on a bucket with a couple of back issues of Horse Deals and David played solitaire on the laptop - checking the webcam every few minutes to make sure that Kestral was alright.

Finally though, the comfortable silence was broken by a loud rumbling from someone’s stomach. Abigail rolled her eyes and motioned to the phone and the assortment of menus that were blue-tacked to the side of the table. “Go on then, there’s bound to be a takeaway in Hollowcroft that’s still open at this hour.” David smiled and selected a menu. “Chinese ok for you? Right, ok then.” He punched in the number and ordered. “Yes, I’ll have a number nine, ten, six and an eight please. Prawn crackers?”

He looked questioningly at Abigail, who waved her hand at him dismissively. “I don’t mind, just make the blimmin’ order!”

Seconds turned into minutes and minutes to hours and before they knew it, it was quarter to twelve. Abigail yawned. She had been up since five in the morning and desperately craved sleep. “Could you…you…you…keep an eye on things for me David? I’m just going to rest my eyes for a couple of…minutes…” She settled herself down on the padded stool at the desk and closed her eyes. “I’ll be up in a minute or…two…”
David nodded, stifling a yawn himself and sat on the floor, finishing off the last of the prawn crackers. He was normally good at staying up late – he’d have no problems…

Soon, the soothing sound of quiet breathing (coupled with Abigail's enormous snores) filled the room. As the light faded and the stars began to shine, no one noticed Kestral’s pixellated form dropping to the floor and lying still.

The sound of birdsong woke them both early the next morning. Whereas Abigail had got up by the time the blackbirds joined the chorus and made herself some breakfast, David had to be prodded with the end of a lunge whip and shouted at to rouse him from his semi-conscious state.

“Come on, come on, get UP! I need you to fix the computer!”
“Wha? What?”
“Its not coming on – the screen is all black and I can’t find the rat!”
Rat? What? Oh…you mean a mouse! It doesn’t have one, you have to use…oh, forget it, I’ll sort it…”

After a moment’s pondering and a groan, it was established that the power cable had become dislodged and the battery had run down during the night. “Don’t worry, its fixable” he said. “It just means that we can’t see what’s going on anymore – we’ll just have to go and check on her the old fashioned way.”
They had a cup of tea and Abigail fetched her warm fleece from the tackroom. There had been a hard frost that night and it was very cold.

“Come on then Kes, let’s have a look at you” Abigail opened the door and they peered in…

…only to see someone else peering out at them…

“Oh my goodness! She foaled! David, get her out, I want to see!” Barely pausing, David snatched Tam’s headcollar and put it on the mare, patting her gently as he led her out of her warm stable and out into the cold.

The foal followed closely, stepping lightly over the sparkling crystals of ice. “A colt” Abigail breathed. “Oh he’s just perfect!”

“Let them go for a little run around the yard – it’s all closed off so they can’t go anywhere” David did as he was told and unclipped Kestral’s leadrope. The mare tossed her mane and trotted round past the stables, the little colt shadowing her at a canter.

After a few minutes of this, shrill squeals from Tamarind’s stable reminded them that they weren’t the only ones eager to meet the new arrival. Abigail reattached the leadrope and held onto Kestral. “Bring him out then David, but use the bridle, I don’t know how he’ll react to this” David nodded and rushed over to the tack room, returning a minute later with a brand new bridle and a leadrope. “This was going to be his Christmas present as his old one is getting a bit worn but I might as well break it in now” he said as he put it on him. “No reins yet, but a leadrope will probably give me just as much control today”

Almost as soon as he opened the door, Tam reared. He stood his ground, throwing an arm back to steady the horse when he landed.

“I’m not so sure about this anymore David” Abigail said, her voice a little hesitant. “What if he hurts the foal?” David shook his head. “I know him, he’ll be fine. Trust me” He led the stallion forward a bit and let him sniff Kestral to reassure him that it was the same horse.

The squealing abruptly stopped and everyone relaxed.

“Time to meet your son” David said, smiling.

The stallion lowered his head and snuffled at the strangely tiny horse shaped object in front of him. There was something very familiar about it that he just couldn’t place…
His ears pricked and the little colt stood up on his hind legs to greet him. Tam nickered and followed suit, his dark mane billowing in the chilly winter air.

“Ah, typical” said Abigail, rolling her eyes as David started laughing.

“Like father like son…”

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