In two days, I think, it will be the anniversary of my mother’s death. Anniversaries are stupid things, I think; you don’t need a special day to miss someone. I look up, into the furry belly of my brown mare, who is already growing her winter coat and is as soft as a teddy bear. I am on one knee in the mud, wrangling with a recalcitrant rug strap. The mare stands sweetly, like a benign rock of ages, dreaming her morning away. Both horses are very still. They are like that, some days. They beam peace into the air. I have no idea how they do this but it is as palpable as an embrace. I stand with them for a while, moving gently from one to the other, a scratch here, a rub there. They blink their liquid eyes and breathe gently through their nostrils. I stop missing my mother and feel part of the living world.
A faint gleam of light breaks through the flat sky and I walk down to the village to get my Racing Post. I ring up the dear Stepfather. He has been out and about, seeing all his old friends. I hated saying goodbye to him when he went back to the south; it was one of the greatest wrenches of my life. But I hoped this was exactly what would happen: he would have the balm of all those long friendships. And so he has. He told me of a dinner he went to with four widows. How lovely, I thought, people who really know about death. I imagined them swapping bereavement stories, feeling passionately relieved that they did not have to explain themselves. Loss is an awful sort of club; only when you get your membership card will the doorman lift the velvet rope.
‘Did you talk about death?’ I say, half laughing.
‘No,’ he says. ‘We didn’t mention it.
I laugh properly. ‘So sorry,’ I say. ‘I forgot you were all British.’ (He is in fact half Canadian, but has lived in Britain for so many years that he has become the very epitome of the English gentleman. He still puts on a tie every day.) My generation do speak of sex and death and politics at the dinner table. For that generation, the eighty-somethings, those three subjects are utterly forbidden.
We talk about other things and then I say, quietly: ‘I miss Mum very much.’
He says: ‘So do I.’
I stop and look at the burn. It runs, brown with peat and glittering with light, against a line of old stones at that point, and makes a singing, rushing sound as it hits them. This is your life, right this minute, I think: the hills and the trees and the water and a dear voice on the telephone and a heart that still aches and a laugh that can still laugh.
I’ll take that, I think. It’s not so dusty.
And then I go home to watch Cheltenham.