A short story written for the WDC What A Character competition, August 2020.
|Embracing The Dream
“Are you ready, Jess?”
At Malcolm’s question, Jess replaced the picture frame where it belonged, in pride of place at the center of the shelf. “Of course,” she replied.
There was no mistaking the family resemblance between man and woman. Even with the eight years age distance, anyone seeing them side by side would know that they were brother and sister. Jess wheeled around, to take in Malcolm’s concerned face.
“You know, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. Glynn will understand if you put it off for a bit longer.”
Shaking her head, Jess replied. “Glynn might, but Casper wouldn’t. I’ve punished him for long enough... too long, for it was never his fault. Just help me into the car, would you? And then we can get going.”
It wasn’t a long drive, but Jess found herself remembering.
She had always loved horses. She had talked, lived and breathed them, and when the opportunity came up to work in Glynn’s stable Jess had known that she simply had to follow her dream. Her parents had not understood why she was prepared to give up her education for a low paid job with no prospects of advancement.
“You never know,” Jess remembered arguing, “I might end up a jockey.”
They had remained unimpressed and were dead set about her making the move. Only Malcolm had understood, but then he had secret dreams of his own. He had helped Jess to move her possessions into the small apartment above the stables that was hers free of charge. She’d tried to leave on friendly terms, but both her mother and father had remained adamant that Jess was making a big mistake.
“Do you think he’ll remember me?” Jess broke the silence.
“Who? Glynn? Of course he will.”
“No, not Glynn. Casper! It’s been a while...” Letting the sentence drift, Jess added up the months in her head. It had to be almost two years since the accident. Twenty three months away from the horse that she had played such a big part in training.
“I have it on good account that he looks for you every time anyone arrives at the stables.”
“Glynn would say that,” Jess said. She turned her head towards the passenger side window refusing to allow her brother to see the tears that were forming in her eyes. How could she have punished the horse for so long?
It was one of those quirks of fate that somehow occasionally happened and made dreams come true. Adrian was sick, and as much as he tried, he just could not climb up onto Casper’s back for the race. The jockey had known how important it was to Glynn and his stables but he was just too weak to get into the saddle, let alone stay in it.
“We’ll pull him out,” Glynn had said, getting ready to lead the gray horse back to the horsebox and trying not to let the disappointment show in his voice.
“Wait,” Adrian had said. “What about Jess? She could ride him. She’s the right weight, and that horse trusts her more than anyone.”
“Oh, I don’t know...” she remembered how she had been hesitant. As much as she was close to Casper, she had never ridden in a competition. With so much riding on the race she was afraid of letting the stables down. But then again, wasn’t that what she had dreamed of?
"Will you do it, Jess? I'm not going to force you but..."
In the car, she heard again how she had laughed. “Of course I’ll do it! Just let me get changed.”
Malcolm slowed the car, and turned off from the road onto the lane that led to the stables. Jess gulped as she caught sight of the horses grazing in the distance. She could not help herself from searching for Casper’s sleek gray body, but if he was out in the fields she couldn’t see him.
“You okay, Sis? Do you want me to pull over?”
Jess sniffed, shook her head. “Let’s just keep on going,” she said.
The race had started off smoothly. Jess remembered how totally in sync they were, as though she and Casper had become one running and jumping entity. They were in second place, closing in on the leader, and Jess remembered the determination that had rushed through her body, washed over her brain, and it was that which led her to cut corners. It had never been the horse’s fault; she had made him balk at the hurdle, sending her out of the saddle to crash onto the ground, landing hard on her back.
The other riders had kept away and the horses did not trample her. All Jess could do as she lay there in shock was to worry about Casper. If she had injured him, what would Glynn do? As she was lifted carefully onto the stretcher she had tried to ask, but the words had refused to form.
Glynn stood out in the stable yard waiting to greet them. Jess was not sure what she had expected, but a big smile of welcome lit up his face. If Jess had any worries about his greeting they vanished instantly. Malcolm climbed from the car and the two men clasped hands before her brother walked to the back of the car and lifted out the wheelchair.
“Glynn... Oh, Glynn, I’ve missed you so much,” Jess said, once she was safely seated. “I’m so sorry...”
“Nonsense, Jess. You’ve nothing to feel sorry about. The guilt is all mine. I should never have allowed you to take Adrian’s place. Will you forgive me?”
Jess held her arms out to her old boss and the two of them embraced. The hug gave them both a chance to recover their composure.
“The stables look to be doing well,” Malcolm said, attempting to discharge some of the emotional turbulence.
Glynn stood. “Aye, we’re doing well enough, all things considered.”
“Is he around?” Jess asked, suddenly desperate to see the horse while at the same time terrified about how he might react to her. “Casper, I mean.”
“You bet, Lass. He’s been looking out for you ever since...”
“Take me to him now. Please...” Jess said, and Glynn led the way to the nearest meadow.
In the distance, Jess could make out his sleek gray lines. He was grazing, but then he turned as though sensing her presence, hearing her voice.
“Casper,” Jess called, and the horse began to gallop towards her. “Malcolm, help me up,” she said.
Her brother took one arm and Glynn took the other. Jess leaned forward and held out her arms to wrap around the horse’s neck. She didn’t care who saw her tears fall then, for the horse had clearly forgiven her.
All the hours of operations, exercises, rehabilitation following the fall that had broken her spine meant nothing to Jess at that moment. It had been her dream, and she had chosen to pursue it; in spite of the outcome, if she could have gone back in time she would still have done the same thing.
“Are you okay for a minute?” Glynn asked. “I just need a word with Malcolm.”
Left alone with the horse, Jess let her tears flow once more then slowly began to pull herself together. “Oh, Casper, I have missed you so much!”
She did not instantly notice the two men return, not until Malcolm helped her back into the wheelchair.
“Things are going well enough,” Glynn began, “for me to want a bit of help with the paperwork and stuff. Problem is, it’s not so easy finding someone who loves horses enough to put up with the wages I’m offering. Would you be interested, Jess? There’s accommodation too...”
“I’d love nothing more, Glynn, but I wouldn’t be able to get up and down the stairs to the apartment.”
“No, love, I know. But there’s this brand new apartment built on the end of the stable block, and of course you already know your neighbor...”
“Casper? I’d be living next to Casper?” Jess could not believe what she was hearing.
“Yep. And of course your brother would be welcome to visit at any time.”
Jess looked from Glynn to Malcolm, then towards Casper before turning back to face her brother. “I... I don’t know,” she said.
“Go for it, sis,” Malcolm said.
Could she do it? What was to stop her? “If you’re sure, Mal. Thank you, Glynn for the offer. And I’d be delighted to accept.”