Rode, made breakfast for the dear Stepfather, wrote 3,447 words, watched a couple of lovely races at Ascot, adored the dogs, adored the horses, made a few plans. Laughed and laughed, right from the belly, for the first time in a long time.
It wasn’t that kind of sad laughter that you do after a loss, where all humour has a tinge of melancholy to it. It was pure, proper guffawing.
I was sitting on the red mare at the time, and I found the thing so funny that I actually fell on her neck, unable to sit up straight. (She was practising for the Standing Still Olympics at the time and did not move a muscle, despite the rocking and rolling human on her back. She is such a shoo-in for Rio I would put your shirt on her.)
It was something that the friend who shares my paddock said. It does not bear translation, so I won’t try to explain it. It was an in-joke about my sweet, funny mare, and nothing really tickles me more. She makes me laugh just being her own, dear self; when the brilliant human observation was added the whole thing was irresistible.
The way always to make my father laugh the most was to tease him about some idiosyncrasy of his own. The more people told him stories about his own absurdities and catastrophes, the more he would laugh. His shoulders would hop up and down and he would gasp oh oh oh and he would start crying with mirth, so he had to take his specs off and mop his eyes. There was a story about a brown shoe in a shop in Wantage which his old friend Bill Payne used to recount, and, no matter how many times he told it, it made my father helpless with laughter.
I inherited this from him. If you want me to weep with laughter, tell me about my own idiocies. (I can sometimes make myself laugh by telling some of them to myself.) Now I discover that my second funniest thing is a little tease of my mare. Even funnier was that as we shrieked and whooped about her own ridiculous quirk, she stood blinking at us, maintaining her dignity with as much aplomb as if she were an empress on a royal progress.
How lovely to think of all that laughter.
I start to remember this now, from after my dad died. The grief crashes in waves obliterating everything, so that all one can do is try to survive. Then, the crashes start to slow down, come farther apart. They can still slam one to the beach, knocking the breath from the body, but they are not now fatal. One is not drowning but waving. I am no longer clinging to the wreckage, but am swimming on my own. The sea is still stormy, but my arms and legs are working again. I don’t get cavalier about this. I remember that none of this can be rushed. Time is the only thing that works. Well, time and love and trees and soup and red mares and good friends and the kindness of strangers and the good old British Blitz spirit and a lot of protein and some stoicism and sharing with the group and writing it down and trying to get enough sleep and going gently and sometimes even just being a bit damn cussed.
Of all the loves, the one with that mighty red mare is the most profoundly consoling. All are vital to me, and all are healing, but she has the miraculous ability to banish sorrow entirely for the time I am on her back. It’s like she throws a switch. When I ride her, my poor singed emotions find their rest. So it is appropriate that she was the one who made all that glorious laughter.