WRITTEN BY CHRISTINE SUTTON
A pony named Boy’s call for help and a man sleepless from Seattle… now why did that sound familiar to Kath?
“Gonna be late, gonna be late, gonna be late.”
The words rattled through Kath’s brain like a train over tracks as she flung her towel on the bed and rummaged in a drawer for her china-blue undies. Most days she was fine with her smalls just fulfilling their job description of simply being underwear, but an interview for promotion required the confidence that only satin and lace could bring.
If only she hadn’t stayed up until the early hours watching Sleepless in Seattle, she thought, hurriedly buttoning her blouse. A sweet story but so implausible: two lonely people brought together by a late night show and a small boy’s calls. These days people met in bars and clubs, or via dating apps.
“Which, since you don’t love any of those things, explains why you are still emphatically, hopelessly, single,” she told her reflection in the mirror.
Pushing her feet into her new bronze leather stilettos, she snatched up her bag and tore downstairs.
The overnight rain had stopped and she skipped across puddles reflecting a clear blue sky, loving the smell of wet grass and damp earth. Gorgeous mornings such as this were what made the daily commute worthwhile. Actually, she realised, she enjoyed the daily stroll whatever the season. The rustling wheat crops in autumn, the wintry, frost-encrusted fields. This time, though, she gave them barely a glance as she tore along the lane, anxious to reach the station in time.
Within minutes, her heels were on fire, warning of blisters the size of Venus by lunchtime. She did a mental head-slap. Why choose today to wear new shoes? The interview was about her suitability to manage a team, not her fashion sense.
To her left, an overgrown pathway cut through the property of her closest neighbour, Norman Shankley. Back when Norman’s parents were alive, the farm had been a far larger concern, making the path a civic necessity. Norman’s decision five years ago to sell off the outlying fields for the construction of a road was meant to negate the need for access. It hadn’t worked. Much to the old man’s irritation, dog walkers and ramblers continued to stroll through his property on a regular basis. Ordinarily Kath’s sympathies lay with him but today…
“Sorry, Norm, but needs must,” she said, hoisting herself onto the gate.
From here, she could see Norman’s rusting blue Datsun truck parked in the yard but of the man himself there was no sign. The paddock, too, was empty and she wondered about his pony, Boy.
Most mornings, when she drew back her curtains, she’d spot Norman’s wiry frame opening up the hen coop, or leading Boy out from his stable. This weekend, she realised, there’d been no hint that he was there. Resolving to call in later to check all was well, she set off along the pathway.
It was sad to see the once thriving smallholding pared back to just these few scrubby acres. Where once lambs had gambolled, now bedraggled potato plants stood, and the livestock had been reduced to a handful of rescued battery hens and Boy, the placid little pony that pulled Norman’s plough. To Kath, the contraption looked more like a museum relic than a useful piece of farm equipment but he swore by it. Swore at it too, rather often, in fact, but that was another story.
She was passing the tree-fringed lake where Norman liked to fish when a faint sound caught her ear. She slowed her steps, wondering if he might be sitting there, his line in the water. When it came again, a tiny snicker, she left the path and pushed her way through the undergrowth.
There, lying half in, half out of the water, was Norman’s pony. Dropping her bag, Kath slithered down the slope.
It’s OK, Boy, I’m here…
She crouched beside him, soothing him as best she could.
He responded with a soft whinny, as if understanding what she’d said.
Grasping a handful of his mane she tried to haul him up, but the hair was slick with silt and she couldn’t get a grip. Boy snorted and began to thrash feebly with his hooves but he couldn’t get any purchase in the mud.
Straightening, Kath searched her pockets for her mobile, cursing as she remembered leaving it charging by the bed. There was nothing else for it but to go and fetch Norman.
The distant rattle of an approaching train reached her though the still, cold air, telling her she wasn’t going to make that interview. To her surprise, she found she didn’t care. All that mattered was getting Boy out of this predicament.
Tugging off her shoes, and ignoring the mud, she ran back up the slope and sprinted for the house. She tore across the yard, scattering chickens as she went, and knocked on the weathered door. When there was no answer she tried again, rapping till her knuckles hurt. Still no response. She was about to run home for her phone when the door suddenly flew wide.
“Norman, come quick, it’s…”
The words died on her lips. The person staring back at her wasn’t Norman but a much younger man. His curly brown hair was tousled and he looked as though he hadn’t slept in a week.
“What is it?” he barked.
“Um, I was looking for Norman – is he here? It’s just that…”
“No, he’s not here,” he said brusquely. “He’s in hospital.”
“Hospital?” she echoed, her earlier misgivings returning in a rush. “Why?”
He’s had a stroke. Lord knows what would have happened if I hadn’t found him. I thought you country folk were supposed to look out for one another.
“Actually, I was going to call in tonight, after work,” Kath said, stung by the implication of neglect. “Unfortunately, he’s not very…”
“Amenable to help,” she blurted out. The man dragged a hand across his bristly jaw.
“No,” he sighed, “He always was an independent so-and-so. Sorry, didn’t mean to be rude. I’ve been at the hospital all night. Running on empty.”
Kath raised her hands. “Don’t apologise. You’re right, I should have checked in. Been a bit preoccupied myself lately. Right now, though, Boy needs you.”
“Norman’s pony. He’s fallen into the lake and after all the rain recently it’s like a quagmire down there. We’ll need ropes, and a blanket maybe, to act as a sling.”
“OK. There’s bound to be a blanket in here somewhere, and there’ll probably be a tow-rope in the truck, if you look.”
He disappeared inside and Kath walked over to peer into the back of the Datsun. Sure enough, there was a tow-rope in with the tools. She hoiked it out and was back at the door in time to see him thudding down the stairs clutching an old grey army blanket.
“Which way?” he asked, snatching up Norman’s fishing waders from the hall.
“I’ll show you. My name’s Kath.”
“Joe,” he said in return.
They headed for the lake.
“He’s pretty spooked, Joe,” Kath warned, as they drew near. “Let me go first, OK?”
“Sure.” He sat on a tree stump to pull on the waders, while Kath made her way down the bank.
She twisted the rope into a makeshift bridle and eased it over Boy’s head. Joe came to join her.
“If I pull at this end, could you push him from behind?” she asked Joe.
“Sure,” he said again.
Moving cautiously in the giant boots, he waded into the water and placed the flat of his hands on the pony’s rump. With Kath pulling gently, he started to push. Boy lifted his head, as though trying to help, but after a few feeble struggles he flopped back down.
“He’s tiring,” Joe said. “Let’s give the blanket a go.”
Kath threw it across to Joe and he folded it lengthwise, then pushed one end down below the waterline.
Kath stepped in and slid her hands down and under the pony’s belly. At first she felt nothing but thick, oozy mud, but then her fingers touched fabric. Bit by bit she tugged it through.
“OK…” she said, “LIFT!”
They both hauled upwards and with a shlurping noise like separating Velcro, Boy finally began to roll.
“Yes!” she cried, as he scrambled to his feet. “Good lad.”
High-stepping through the churned up water, the trio made their way up the incline, where the pony gave himself a good shake. Kath laughed as gobbets of mud landed in her hair. She reached up to wipe them away at the same moment Joe did and their fingers touched. They grinned and he nodded at her legs.
“I thought I was the one wearing waders.”
From foot to knee, her legs were caked with mud. Kath groaned.
“Not the ideal look for an interview.”
“You were going for an interview?” he asked, changing back into his shoes.
“For promotion,” she answered, picking up her own. “But it’s fine. The other candidate is far better suited than me. I’m not really leader material.”
“You’re kidding,” Joe spluttered. “You just did a brilliant job of telling me what I needed to do!”
She snuffled a laugh. “Thanks.”
They reached the yard and Kath led the way round to the stables, where she started hosing Boy down.
Joe stood ready with a towel. He cleared his throat.
“Umm, what I said earlier, about looking out for my uncle. I shouldn’t have said that. He’s not your responsibility after all and I know he isn’t the easiest of men to help.”
She shook her head.
That’s not the point. I should have checked, it’s what we do. I know he’s fought long and hard to keep this place going. That’s hard to do single-handed.
She turned off the tap and carefully replaced the hose.
“I suggested to him once that he could renovate the stables, get some income from livery. I used to love riding as a kid and would’ve been happy to help. He seemed quite taken with the idea.”
Joe’s brows shot up.
“So that’s why he phoned! A few months ago Uncle contacted me, asking me to come and see what could be done here. I was living in Seattle at the time, managing a riding stables in Washington State, so I couldn’t help. But then I split with my girlfriend and it seemed like the right time to come home.”
“Thank goodness you did, or who knows what would have happened?”
Leaving him rubbing Boy down, Kath went in to fill the food and water troughs.
A few minutes later Joe led the pony into the stall. Once they were sure he was happy and settled, they closed the door.
“Will you still go into work?” Joe asked, as they strolled towards the house.
“Not today,” she answered. “I’ll phone and explain what happened. I’m sure they’ll understand. Will you be going back to see your uncle later?”
Joe looked intrigued. “Yes, why do you ask?”
Kath inclined her head. “Well, I was thinking, if this stables idea is going to go ahead, then I’d love to be involved – and maybe not just at weekends.”
His face lit up. “That’d be great. We already know we make a great team! See you later then, Kath.”
As she crossed the road, Kath felt a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. A small Boy’s calls and a man newly arrived sleepless from Seattle. Perhaps that movie wasn’t so soppy after all!