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Great Divide
by Feech
Feech -- all rights reserved
 

I can see a good deal from up here, which may be why I have allowed myself to get lost-- again. I sigh, shifting from one forefoot to the other in agitation. I should go back, call out, try to connect with the others, but sometimes the lonely cold is so... inviting. The sky wants me to float up into it. The rift between these stony peaks wants to feel my shadow upon it. I did not know, before, that a shadow could feel quite so different upon one's hide, so different from uninterrupted light. But it does, and I imagine the ground feeling them. Somehow, our hooves seem lighter than our shadows. Sometimes.

I could find my way back to the shallow cliffsides, but as far as I understood it, the herd will not be crisscrossing this section again for some time, and by then the welcome of the chill air could be well and truly worn out. It is a blue dark, up here, with halos of some golden hue that has no term in human speech arcing over the deepening shades of the northernmost peaks across the deeper, flat brushy prairie below me. I shouldn't so easily get lost; I know my way around our territory, although not so well as the regular horses who were foaled into this herd and have a good, private knowledge of the workings of their own direction and light senses.

I shouldn't so easily get lost, but the feel of the slippery dust in amongst the solid-set stones holds my hooves tightly below me even as I dance in my slight frustration. I was not born here. They have had all of their lives to drink this in. I belong here; they let me come among them. But I do not yet belong in myself. I reach up with a hind foot and gingerly rub the back of my ear against it, at a stinging itch-- I did not think it was still the season for insects. They should be dying off, soon, and we will have the winter's relief from bites, although in winter's harshness it's not something much to revel in.

This is also the season that Caitlin was born in.

The crisp, fall colors and scents are all-year up here, but still I gain a fleeting taste and sight of them between the hot winds of summer and the solid snows; in this consistent brown and horse-golden landscape the wet, then dry, then swordlike sweeping winds of wet and chill bring with them the sensations unshakable from years past.

She would be fifteen, now. No-- sixteen. Sixteen years old. Or young. This fall.

My age is past the child, or foal, bearing years, as say the other horses. I don't suppose I shall ever have another, of whichever species. I don't know what has become of Caitlin, and now I shall never know. Sometimes I try to call her by mind, telepathically, but then I realize again that I do not really know her. Whatever holds us together intrinsically, as daughter and lost mother, isn't enough for my unpracticed sending-mind to capture. All I do is remember her, often. But I have a hard time seeing her as a teenager. And I sometimes confuse the images with a conjured two-year-old filly, when I try to recall something other than Caitlin at three, when her father decided to take her into his home. I see a horse at the age she would seem to be now, as best I can compare human to mustang. I do the same thing with words, sometimes, but some words just do not cross from one species to another.

I entered another world when SCABS made me into a mustang mare. Now, the mustangs of this group are showing me around this world. They are remarkably tolerant. Most of them say they have nothing against humans. I am grateful for that volunteered statement, once they picked up on the bizarre emotions emanating from me concerning the humans of their Colorado. I am relieved to be among them. Otherwise, of what family would I be? I had a daughter. I would like to think that I have a daughter, now. But wherever she is, she is not mine. Am I hers, or the horses'?


Lou Ann Shoemacher had a child and named her Caitlin. It wasn't her ex's favorite name choice, but she stood firm. For three years she stood firm, in Caitlin's home life, in her clothing and meals, in her playtime with friends and her contacts with other creatures. The birth father watched from a distance, the distance he had kept for the most part since the break-up with Lou Ann, but with each month he was watching a bit closer. He was aggravated by something, and it didn't take Lou Ann too many guesses to figure out what. It wasn't until her break-up with her third girlfriend, though, that her confidence began to dissolve. And then the man married a woman with three children of her own, and his own path became clear to him.


Finally, someone calls my name. "Horse-Woman, where are you? Hurry up and join us or Dark Edge will leave you behind."

I thought I already had been left behind. The other mare isn't really calling my name, in so many words, but the mind-sending they call me with is what a human might quickly describe as 'Horse-Woman', or maybe something else if they were more creative with English than I am. Across my inner vision flashes my own identification-- a running mare with humans of all shapes and sizes jumbled into her silhouette. "Who are you?" I ask, trying to replace the visual image instead of working around the human words I've sent so many times. They say I have a strong human accent. I'm trying to work on that. I guess the disease didn't make me all horse, or all knowing. I guess it's just a disease... What else would it be, after all?

In words I used to teach Caitlin, the reply to my "who are you?" would be "Sugar Scenting." Into my foremost awareness, as if someone double exposed the landscape, there settles the familiar image of a light-coated mare flaring her nostrils in interest at something far away and sweet. I inhale, and besides the cold tan smell of the spreading prairie and the chalky, tangy stone, I get a full breath of body-scent of a female I know. She's not within physical scenting range yet, but I can identify her by the way my brain seems to find her in the air. I am glad she is here. This is the second time she has come back for me, and it begins to smack of friendship. I thought she was best friends with Irritated by Blackbirds, but maybe I could edge my way in just a tad. It's not that anyone, except maybe one or two human-prejudiced mares and a young and all-around grumpy male (who needs to be getting his horsey ass out to do his troublemaking somewhere else anyway, say all the mares), has been really unpleasant to me. It's just nice to think that someone remembers. I wouldn't put it past Dark Edge to leave me when I foolishly ignore the call to move on. She's got enough to think about and her stallion is too flighty to be of much help. He's got his time full with fifteen mares as it is, not to mention the colt.

I send my hopeful message of recognition back to Sugar Scenting, although I fear it is clouded with my view of my physical surroundings, and shaky. In the distance, a squeal that lands tangibly on my eardrums gives me a range from my standing point to Dark Edge's stallion; he's reprimanding someone, and not talking to me, but I know that closer than he is my companion.

In a sense of fullness, the reply comes back: "I got it. I'll meet you half way down the path and we'll double back." The mapping and pace of the short journey is shown me, but I will count on whinnying to make certain, when I have trotted some way down the path. I want to use my voice to make sure I got it right; sometimes, a mare mentions darkly that I am ill and hard to talk to. It's true. I am ill. I was never meant to be a mustang. I'm just glad they put up with me at all.

Sugar Scenting duly voices back to me, gently allowing me to cry like a little filly when I think I don't remember the rocks I suddenly find myself circling amongst. She sighs at me a bit, but doesn't nip or otherwise punish. I think I'm being allowed to get away with this because the weather is not yet bone-chilling and we're not in desperate straits.

I begin, as I do each season, it seems, to recollect the number of these same seasons I have spent with the mustangs. Too many, I know. I will never be a real horse. Sometimes, I feel like I never was a real human. I changed in an afternoon, when I wasn't even sick-- apparently not, at least, until that very hour. It was after dinner, and I was in the garden, and my long shadow was cast over the decorative grasses in my tilled strip beside the stone walkway. The sun must have made me what I am, I thought when I stood blinking into it for one bewildered moment. Then I shrieked, and it was my own random voicing that terrified me so I ran. It hurt, did the running. My feet were tender and I could imagine I remembered being born, I was that new and the sun was that bright. I wanted to call Caitlin's father, to see that she was safe, to tell her with my own voice that I would not be coming back. I knew I would not be coming back. I could not even give the message; I could not find the way back to my own house, although I could not as these thoughts were streaming about me have been far at all from my well-human home. I lived there alone, with the grass and the phone. I turned Caitlin's room into a pretend guest room. I could have made it a little girl's paradise in a matter of moments, with all of the amenities I had hidden away in closets and bed-drawers.

So I ran. I stumbled, and fell headlong and bruised my chin and made my nostrils bleed and may have torn something in my neck, which many cycles of the years later is still somewhat stiff, but I clambered up again and galloped on. And I gradually began to realize that I had turned into an adult mare, somewhere along between standing in my garden and, again, standing in my garden. I suppose I passed out for the famous SCABS part, the wrenching and tearing. But that first run was wrenching and tearing enough.

Finally, Dark Edge found me, and if it weren't for her severe, domineering nature I would not have survived the first month. As it was, I couldn't stand her personally, either, but the control saved my life and for that I was grateful. I had seen the mustangs of Colorado, our own little pocket of feral horses saved for something pretty to look at in the mountains, but I did not recognize this creature when it first approached me. Finally, something self-preserving in my new brain made me call it "some of me," and made me see that I was a mustang. Then I went willingly. Dark Edge bit me whenever she got a chance, mostly because I inadvertently insulted her with my awkward body language, inappropriate for any horse my age, and my pitiful vocalizations and random, confused thoughts. A few of the others felt pity for me, and one or two began to stand in the way of Dark Edge, casually, so it wouldn't be so convenient for her to bite me. It was still tick season when I joined them, and I could bite ticks as well as any of the more seasoned herd members, so I was welcomed for some of the day at least. And the stallion fretted about yet another horse to keep an eye on, but gloated about how many this made. So I survived.

I survive, today. Sugar Scenting takes me back across my previous path, then around a bend, down a sharp incline and in amongst the leisurely moving herd, with only the stallion circling madly in the crackling fall air. It is like the air when Caitlin was born. It puts scents, desires and images in my mind more strongly than any other season. I look back over my shoulder, but from here see only a slice of open valley, and a great block of stone with the steep slide we took to rejoin the herd. I can see Sugar Scenting's powered, hopping ascent of this slide, and whicker to her beside me, appreciating the effort and burned grass in her returning to find me. She flicks her ear in a kind of irritation, but flutters her nostrils at me, so I feel I was worth the trouble.

It is no use looking back over my shoulder, but somewhere in the country is my daughter-- or, at least, a girl I gave birth to, and raised for three years. I hope I did her well in that time.


Caitlin Shoemacher moved in with her father, who could "give her a proper home." He never approved of her mother, but his own sense of propriety made him tie his own hands until he gained a wife, a previously married and, he felt, dignified woman with three young children of her own. One was just months older than Caitlin, so he pressed Lou Ann to give custody of their child over to him.

"Miss Shoemacher" (he never called her Lou Ann after Caitlin was born-- always 'Miss Shoemacher', a name she hated since he emphasized the hiss in 'Miss') "We have been over this before. A child's place to grow is in a stable family unit. It is not my place, perhaps, to be bringing up certain recent events..."

Lou Ann sighed. He did not need to bring up 'certain recent events' in order to hold them, weighty, over her head. The teartracks from the night before were still in the stress-wrinkles of her tanned face, a face that might have been younger if Caitlin's first three years had been different. Perhaps the free time, their own house, the silent late nights in front of their very own fireplace in their very own wolf-print winter buntings would have meant something if she was ever allowed to have them at all. But it was free time because there was captured time waiting at the end of it. Caitlin, at three, did not want to take the wolf-print buntings with her; she said they were "for Mommy's couch." Lou Ann cried.

This night, on the phone, Lou Ann waited while her baby's father went on: "... In any case, I think we both know to which events I would be referring if I were to... refer to them." He coughed, perhaps into a hand, perhaps back over his shoulder, and cleared his throat and began again. "Miss Shoemacher, I know you are having difficulties, and I have-- you know I have-- felt my responsibility to Caitlin since before her birth. I would like you and the little girl to come over and meet my new family. I'm sure there will be a place here for Caitlin."

"I just put up goldenrod curtains in her room," Lou Ann sniffled, entirely undignified, into the phone. "Not the color, the flower. It was between that and the pink sprays of something, something-or-other, and in the end we chose the goldenrod. Got them up day before yesterday."

"Miss... Shoemacher. Listen to reason. A single... woman's {narrowly did he avoid the 'real' word} home in what is nearly-- well, nearly desert is hardly a place for a girl to be growing up in. You know I wouldn't have conceived of bringing her into my care before I had a proper family. Now is the time for you to bring her to meet my new family, and make it her own. I know things have been hard, but it is in these times that we must most especially be open to the welfare of others. Your personal difficulties are not for Caitlin's ears, or for the time you would spend with her..."

Lou Ann's last girlfriend broke up with her because of her refusal to take away all potential custody from the father, to make him put Caitlin up for adoption by another woman, make the family unit in Lou Ann's house a solid and legal one. "I can't take it," she said. "I can't take his vulturing around here all the time and the way you're letting it eat at your soul. Make him give up the child. He doesn't want her, anyway."

She couldn't take it, and she didn't. She'd been in these situations before and, much as Lou Ann was attractive and seemed to have the potential to be witty and even adventuresome, the fear that overpowered her right in front of the eyes of her lover, when it was even suggested that Caitlin be removed from her father altogether, was beginning to be contagious. So she left. And she tried calling back, once or twice, and they tried going out to talk it over, twice or three times. But Caitlin's father was breathing down Lou Ann's neck and she was having her doubts. So she let another girlfriend go, for good. Who had already lost six children of another girlfriend to their paternal grandparents. And it was happening again, much as she bundled Caitlin into layers and layers of fuzzy printed blankets and fed her bean soups with alphabet letters and never again allowed herself to think of sex, even in bed alone.

It was happening to her. The woman with the problems and the lost six children had gone, seeing something in Lou Ann's eyes that Lou Ann could not allow herself to fear. How could it happen to her, when all that surrounded her was a solid house and fresh air? But it had, and she had to admit that she had failed.

Now, it was difficult for her to remember: had she failed before Caitlin's father called, or was it not truly fixed until after? And when, during that visit to the well-scrubbed mostly-white suburban house, had she nodded her head, 'yes'?


Night falls deceptively warm. We know that along about the middle of it, the chill will turn again, although I still don't know how it does it. I thought I understood it back in school, when I was about the age Caitlin should be now. But I believe it had something to do with the coasts and evening, not midnight to predawn, so I wouldn't know. I just know what it's going to feel like, if I don't pay attention to the rest of the herd.

Irritated by Blackbirds is like a cloud down from the sky she's backlit against, where the blue of dark is suffusing the flat, spread-out sunset panorama. "What does Sugar Scenting think of you?" she asks me, standing stiff-legged out of kicking range and indicating the mare she means with a glance and a projected scent that is neither of our own.

"She likes me."

"I don't know if I like that," the tight, dark mare stamps lightly.

"Three is uncomfortable."

"Yes."

I sigh, blowing out my dry-grass breath back into my own senses. Grazing has been mediocre, but somehow special, in the layers of parched, then rained-upon and wind-blown flavor brought by autumn. "I don't want to fight with you."

"You couldn't win, anyway."

I agree. "I don't want to fight with you," I repeat, not caring for the warrioress posture she holds. "Sugar Scenting is not my best friend. She just likes me."

I wish she was my best friend, though, because no one else is interested, and Irritated by Blackbirds feels the longing and snorts at me, not gently. Then she surprises me. "Just don't come between her and me. You can stand on the other side of Sugar Scenting tonight."

I almost thank her profusely, but maintain an aloof sort of appreciation just in time. I'm far too old to be so undignified. I remind myself of a young horse all the time, only not the clean, new bones and muscles and bright outlooks of theirs that would be good to have. Just the dim, pitiful hopefulness of some of them. I swish my tail, as if some bug has distracted me and is almost more important than where I will sleep tonight. I can feel already, though, Sugar Scenting's body warming one side of me, although Irritated by Blackbirds has made it clear that on my other flank will be someone yet to be decided. If I dare break her and the light-coated mare apart, I can look forward to incisor-marks over my haunches.

"Agreed," I nostril-flutter. The dark mare's lips loosen, and I fold a rear foot into a resting posture, and although we come no closer to each other I feel much better.

Dark Edge is showing her name, standing and watching us in what for anyone else would be a foolish position, right off the horizon for all to see. She's been scanning the brush and stones in the fading light, and seems finally satisfied that no cougars nor coyotes are visible. Although, she remarks as she comes headfirst down the slope on her tiny legs, if they're hungry we're all the less likely to see them. Nobody complains about her cutting such an obvious figure on the skyline. She's daunting to look upon, perhaps, or just plain lucky, but no creature has bothered her yet. Not even a man.

I recall that this herd has been protected, and sometimes rounded up, for many years. I wonder if it will ever come to me to be rounded up with others and auctioned to continue the cycle. The thought, common enough to give me my own identifying image, of human women pains my heart for the merest instant, then I forget it. At least, it leaves my foremost concentration for more pressing matters, such as who is going to be on my near flank tonight.

We've come to the deeper, lower alcoves in these farther western cliffs because of the shift in this morning's weather; this is where we will winter, says Dark Edge. The circuit we can make to feed should hopefully include some human-provided cut hay, which most of the herd partakes of, and scraping ought to account for the rest as we can find it, yet we may be able to still sleep in this place nearly every night. It is a good, and convenient, plan if it will work. I have my doubts, but there's nothing for it but to wait, and see.

"Horse-Woman, I feel you are looking for a sleeping partner? I have one for my near side."

Sidling up to me from the rear, visible in the edge of my eye's range, is a short, cobby mare with an especially rumpled mane. I don't like her completely; she's silly, and her color bothers my perceptions of the surroundings when she stands near me, but she'll be warm and she's quiet at night. The one time I stood between the colt and Flat-Out I experienced too much of Flat-Out's nightmares for my taste. I was nervous all the next day, and next night she was embarrassed to ask me back. The colt doesn't mind her, though, and Dark Edge took the other side until Flat-Out's dreams settled into a more even pattern.

I grind my teeth amiably, but noncommittally. "So..." the white-faced Palomino does her best to look young and shy. I ponder nipping her, just because I know this very behavior in me is what irritates the others, but instead I turn and nudge her.

"Yes?" I pretend I didn't catch the question the first time.

"Off side."

I finally give permission. "Sure. Join my near side and I'm done." I stamp, barely touching the dust with my sharpened hoof. "We gotta get us a regular sleeping order."

"It's hard, when everyone wants the young male gone and no one wants to take his place with Flat-Out."

"True."

"Want to play? I'm full, and I'm not sleepy."

"No," I scoff. The last thing I need is to be associated with even more foalish behavior.

The chunky mare trots off, dancing a little, to find someone else to ask. I plod quietly to one of the arches in the rock and rest, and think. I don't go to sleep, not quite, and I can hear the others moving as they crop a few stray, aged plants and check in with their partners for the night. Sugar Scenting calls to me, and I answer just under my breath, but she hears me anyway. She just wanted to know where I was for when darkness drops down in full.


Caitlin was always a chatterbox, pointing until reminded nicely not to point, and mentioning and asking and telling from dawn until dark and beyond. Sometimes, a gentle reminder wasn't enough and it made Lou Ann roll her eyes and, sometimes, grab a fistful of her own hair in displaced frustration. For a child with such a charming voice and face, Caitlin could sure get on your nerves.

Caitlin's father's new wife did not believe in children playing in any room but their designated playroom. Caitlin, at three, questioned this. She often found herself returned to her mother's for baby-sitting purposes, and by themselves in their coats or their sunhats, depending on the season, it was almost as it had been before the woman with the white house and the mysterious, everpresent father had put her clothes and Teddy bears in a room in their place.

"I want to come back, bring Teddy with me, I want to get some pizza and eat it on the roof," said Caitlin, meaning the porch roof, which had more than once been a venue for supper and stargazing.

"Maybe some night you can have an overnight," Lou Ann replied, tightly. Nothing ever worked out. If they wanted to keep her, why didn't they keep her? It was getting harder and harder to listen to her voice, each time she came back. One of these times, it was bound to be next to impossible. And then what? Oh, Caitlin.

"Brenda says I can't," Caitlin pointed out.

Lou Ann didn't know, technically, why her ex's wife would refuse an overnight to the child who was repeatedly sent back to her mother's home anyway, but she had her ideas as to the woman's ways. She shuddered. It was done, Caitlin was gone, and she might as well get used to it. But this was hard to do, with the little girl right there with a chubby hand on her apron hem.

Lou Ann didn't like the way the other three children were dressed. Reserved, refined, and with behavior sometimes eerily close to the stereotypes their outfits suggested. Lou Ann didn't think any of them were allowed overnights at anyone's house, and she was almost certain that none of them knew she was Caitlin's birth mother. She had heard the middle boy correcting his new young "sister" when Caitlin mentioned her "Mommy."

"She's not your mommy," he had said quietly, placing a painted block on top of the one Caitlin had just set, making a tower in the middle of the freshly vacuumed, designated play area. "Sometimes I can call Mrs. Chatham, 'Auntie', but she's not really my auntie."

Caitlin had not replied. The silence pressed down on Lou Ann on the patterned couch and she stood up suddenly and went to help fervently to clean the kitchen. At home, her home, Caitlin spoke out, so it had not left her, but how the silence pressed down was so plain and chilling that she didn't know what to make of it. In the end, staring blankly at the blank wall on one side of her bedroom at home, Caitlin's mother decided it must be family life that mellows children. She had never experienced it, she reasoned desperately, in order to make herself ready to at least get a few hours' sleep. It worked, and sleep she did.


In the black hours, before the wind has shifted, when the warmth is still imagining it can cling on and the hues of the rock faces are completely obscured in the absence of a moon, the coyotes begin loping back from their evening jackrabbit hunting to their nighttime mouse-hunting, in the shallow ground and lines of brush in the prairie-valley.

Their calls are like the howls of wolves, if those howls had been dashed to pieces upon cliffs and then thinned by anxiety or the wind. I can pick up on some of their thoughts, but they are foreign to me... I shake a little in the wind I can sense they are feeling. This place is windless, except against the dock of my tail, and on either side of me are resting mares. The coyotes are not about to curl into beds yet, and this midnight hunting and chatter is distracting if I delve too deeply into it. I wonder sometimes whether Flat-Out's frequent bad dreams come of listening to the predators and night animals dark after dark, but that wouldn't be likely to account for all of it. Flat-Out has an urgency to her I can't put a soundness to, and I'm glad I'm between the Palomino and Sugar Scenting. Most of the night, I soundly sleep.


"I can't sleep," remarks Caitlin to Rhoda, idly, in the manner of mentioning a fact that will be regardless of what takes place before her actual bedtime. Her voice, courtesy of a vodor, is monotoned and mechanical, and currently her snapping black-brown eyes are blank.

"Excited about your birthday? Afraid the other girls in your house are planning something devious?" Rhoda smiles at her young charge.

"Oh, they are," Caitlin assures her, turning her electric wheelchair to face the white-haired woman and sparkling her eyes at her, now come back into herself from the moment of blankness. "I know they will be-- we always do something for birthdays."

"Why not sleeping, tonight, then? Surely if you stay up long enough you'll eventually feel like going to sleep, and there you'll be."

"I'm thinking of Jezalyn."

"Ah."

Jezalyn has two mothers, thinks Caitlin. Two fathers, and two mothers, if one cares to think of it that way, and Caitlin does. Caitlin has Rhoda, and her private high school with housefuls of other girls, and this hilltop home to visit on weekends and vacations. Letters from Kent and Gabe who keep Jezalyn at their home come frequently enough that just about every month Caitlin comes home wondering whether just about now will be one of those letters with an update on Jezalyn, without whom the house seems rather quiet even though she never said a single word, herself.

"Thinking..."

Rhoda nods.

Sometimes, when a letter comes in between visits home, Rhoda forwards it as part of a larger envelope full of news and pictures, so Caitlin will feel a part of Jezalyn's adjustment to her new place, the same as Rhoda may. Sometimes, the Newfoundland-morphed girl uses her left hand, the one still in the general shape of a human hand, to pen personal notes to the Hyacinth macaw girl in Pennsylvania. Sometimes, she types or writes to that Kent Dryer, too, or to Gabe Carter, so they can respond personally to her letters. Jezalyn doesn't seem to be writing yet.

Jezalyn has two mothers, or two fathers. Before that, she lost a mother, and a father. Caitlin imagines her birth mother somewhere out west, where she left her. All she can remember is the yellow straw sunhat of the last day she went-away with her father who was always in the white summer cardigan; the shading of its brim over Mommy's furrowed brow. She remembers that, but from there the story must take turns it finds in her own mind, so she lets it. Her favorite is that Mother is still in the cabin, only now she lives with someone; Caitlin can never decide just who, or even what sex, but someone, and periodically the people will be sitting on the couch and drinking mulled cider or something alcoholic, depending on Caitlin's mood, and Caitlin's mother will raise her mug to drink and pause. She's noticing the photograph of her daughter on the mantelpiece, and she'll sigh and say something of her long-lost child. Then the other adult will smile and nod, and for a few moments the conversation will center around her.

In the picture on the mantelpiece, in Caitlin's mind, there is some question as to which Caitlin it might be. Obviously, it must be a true representation of her blonde, three-year-old form or younger, in the interest of holding to realistic daydreams. At times, however, the face in the photograph is black, glossily furred, on a canine head much too large for a slight, wheelchair bound body with one human hand and one almost furless, tiny paw that had been a hand. At these times, Caitlin fears nightmares; when she cannot shake the black face in the daydreams, her new face, then it takes her new body all the way back-- through the dull, dim shuffling years of misfitting, from the prairies and desert to this New York. New York she likes. But it took some waiting, and changing, to get her here.

Caitlin never fit in. It might have been her, or it might have been the parents, or any number of factors, but many were named and none were clearly the cause. There were some pitying tongue-clickings and whispered mentions of her three-year time with a certain woman, a time which might have just been too long. She certainly never did seem to fit in.

It didn't take long for Caitlin's stepmother to realize that this wasn't particularly a child she felt deeply about, but she gave it some time, and gave her good care, what you should expect of anyone with a child under their roof. But the little girl just never measured up to her other three.

"There's something wrong with her."

"She's my daughter. Give her some time."

"Yes."

The repetition of realization, care and time-giving drew itself out into longer periods of a sort of apathy, until Caitlin's father one day put down his newspaper and said: "Are you happy with the children?"

Brenda hesitated. "I love my children."

He nodded. "I see."

At first, there just didn't seem to be any excuse; the time came when they did not need one. It is not fair to expect young children to accept fully an outsider, and burdening Brenda with a fourth child's care was not in the best interests of the family. Yet, the mother had disappeared. By all looks of it, the torn clothing in the garden and no other signs of a struggle, no body found, it was probably SCABS.

For some time, Caitlin's father could not decide what to do with her. In the end, he came to the conclusion that it was perhaps a blessing in disguise that Lou Ann had disappeared when she did; any home would be better than an isolated, single, woman's home. So, in the interests of his family, and to do right by the child, he gave her to another couple.

By then, Caitlin was a quiet little girl. It made her all that much easier to ignore. Three foster houses later, she was still drifting like a toy boat on a string, but then Something happened that would make foster parents notice the most unassuming of children. Caitlin Shoemacher came down with SCABS.


They never told their children about me, that I mothered Caitlin, so I find it highly doubtful that they ever told my child about her mother's SCABS. I stand, again, looking over my shoulder. The sun is up and searing, but only in its light; the air is cold.

I picture her growing up in white, pleated blouses and navy skirts, and shudder. Four children alike, one after another. Open a door to a room in that house, and there they stand like dolls, but with less expression. Is she still the fourth? Has there been another? Do they care? Surely they care; I, and they, wanted what was best for her. I still do... I wonder, at her age of sixteen-- has she been kissed yet? And does Brenda know? Does the father?

I twitch and stamp and swish my tail and fret about whether or not my daughter has been kissed. I have a sudden, burning desire to get to a phone, somewhere in this country, any phone on any street or in any building, and wait for it to ring. I need to be where Caitlin can get ahold of me if she has anything to say about her birthday, or her date. She will be calling me.

"Horse-Woman!"

I stifle a squeal of broken-off daydreaming.

"Eat something. You're not really watching, anyway."

"I know I'm not," I admit to the grey mare who crops coarse, curled grass as she addresses me. "I wasn't on watch anyway, and I thought..."

"Eat, then, Silly. What kind of a--" she breaks off, and discomfort comes between us for an instant. "Sorry." The mare tilts her head away.

I shrug, shudder just to clean out the air. "I'm not a horse," I state.

"I know." She bows, but does not graze. Now I've made her feel bad. She did think, and stop, before she went on with what I've heard and felt out of so many of the herd's members.

I step a little closer and breathe up her nose, and the grey mare barely returns the breath, but lets me give her a token nibble on the withers. Eventually, Sugar Scenting comes over to see what we are doing, and we all alternately groom and graze, while Irritated by Blackbirds is on watch. She joins us, stiffly but not without friendship, once she gets the colt to take her post. Each of us turns an ear to the stallion saying something, but it's just a comment on the jackrabbits in the area.

I think I was daydreaming about something... I try to get it back.

Caitlin. Kisses. Now I remember wanting some, myself, and I remember making the need go away, and wonder how ever I managed to do that.

Was I as detached from myself when I gave her over to the man who fathered her? I know as well as the next human mustang that grooming is good for a body. I should have wanted it a little more.

I wonder how much of my daydreaming is really about Caitlin, and how much about myself.

I pull a partially chewed, escaping grass stem back into my soft mouth and look up while I'm not busy pulling bites in. My chest heaves, suddenly. It's about Caitlin, or at least it is this time of year. I remember this feeling, even from being human. It is as sharp and mellow as it was, whenever she disappeared behind the back of the house and for the merest instant I didn't know where she was nor what might have happened to her.

I finish chewing, swallow all but the trails of flavor and gulp in a cold, deep breath of coming-winter. I want it to bring me back to what's important. It takes me back farther, too far, sixteen years ago and beyond. I want what is important to survival, not this memory heaviness.

"But it makes you light," says Irritated by Blackbirds. "Or... Sorry... Were you not talking to me?"

I nose at some tough, nearly-dead leaves without eating them. "How so."

"Light. Memory. I lost a foal, you remember her."

I do. A mottled, dark thing with her mother's smallish nostrils and saucy glance. She got sick in the same year that several adults stumbled along with something, and two otherwise healthy mares were lost. When I picture her, I know Irritated by Blackbirds knows I see it. "Light..?"

"Memory is light on your body, not heavy. That's all."

"What do you mean? That's not all."

She almost looks like she would bite me, and raises her head swiftly, but then softens. "She was light on her feet. I am quick when I think of her. The memories weigh nothing in my mind."

I stare at her, then rip up a bite of grass and ask with my still silence, "How do you do it?"

"How do you make thoughts weigh something?"

I consider bringing her own anxiety about Sugar Scenting into this, but I don't. "This grass has nothing left in it."

"Let's cross to the other side of this rise. There may be some still alive under the edge of the hollow."

I agree. Now, next time I think in detail of Caitlin, she will be integrated with the image of Irritated by Blackbirds' dead daughter. And there will be more fillies this year, some will grow, their faces will be my daughter's in the cycle of next year.

I hope some of the grass still has something to it.

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