Mother’s mare was flea-bit. Tan freckles sprinkled across her face, shoulders and rump. Beneath the freckles the mare’s coat shimmered in effervescent silver, accenting her curvaceous, feminine form. The iron grey of her muzzle and eye sockets gave her a stylized, dramatic air, like a Kabuki dancer. She epitomized elegance and grace.
We referred to her as “mother’s mare”. She and I knew better. We were mother’s two prize possessions, a pair of inseparable young ladies on a Texas ranchette.
The first time I slid carefully across the mare’s withers, bareback, no bridle or halter, to see if she would carry me, she simply sniffed my foot then strolled to her water tank for a drink. She was waiting for me to climb aboard.Mutual affection ran deep. When I emerged from mother’s house to feed her in the morning, the mare would arch her neck around my shoulders and pull me in close for a hug, inhaling deeply. Her profusion of mane, shot through with strands of gold, black and silver, smelled of fresh-mown hay and wild clover as it spilled across my face. She loved to lick me from head to toe, like cleaning a young foal. It tickled when her generous pink tongue brushed my ear and cheek. Sometimes she gently took my hand in her mouth to suck on, never biting down.
Mother was an uncompromising businesswoman in a dark navy suit. She bustled home after work, kicked off high heels, tossed down briefcase and barked orders. She worked as advertising director for a major specialty store. It was a stressful, important job, as she often reminded me. It paid for my private school and “indulged” me in horses. Love’s price. I should be very grateful.
On weekends, mother hosted cocktail parties for her associates from “the store”. Classy booze and champagne flowed freely. She served hors d’oeuvres on silver platters. People smiled and smiled. I was required to attend, the perfect prep school daughter wearing fashionable attire mother selected. Mother drank copious amounts of champagne and became verbally abusive. I would slip out and head to the barn, my retreat and salvation, with the loving mare.
One evening mother followed me unsteadily to the barn, champagne flute in hand. “So you made your escape?” she sneered. “You think you’re better than all of us, don’t you?” Mother thrust the champagne flute at the mare’s face. Before I could pull her away the mare reached forward, glass shattering into shards in her mouth. She dropped her lower jaw open, her huge black eyes clouding with fear and confusion. I cried out and began carefully pulling pieces of glass out of the mare’s tongue and lips. Mother wheeled. She laughed derisively over her shoulder as she staggered back to the house. I cleaned every piece of glass from the mare’s mouth, stayed with her until the party ended, well after dark. We clung close.
Mother taught me much about love, mostly through its absence.