I carried my lantern in one hand, a ward against the dark that cast a soft warm light in a circle around me. Tiffany was safely aboard the bus and off to school, and i ducked quietly into the paddock through the strands of the electric fence. Two soft nickers greeted me, one deep and one slightly higher but more rumbling. A moment passed and a snort from farther off let me know that all three were aware of my presence.
From the darkness a black and white nose snaked into my lantern light, shadows dancing on his chest, curl covered upper lip wiggling back and forth in anticipation. His little black minion follows at his side, nipping crankily at his knees over the fact that he has turned his attention from her to me. Finally I hear the clattering of tiny hooves on hard packed dirt and a fluffy red blur comes sliding toward me. The two little ones dance their morning dance and I laugh. Sparrow prances on his toes while Mary glares at him and cocks a leg, pins an ear, threatens. he comes to me, knowing she can't or won't fulfill the threat if he is by me.
Brego gives himself a shake. He has no sharp angles, only straight lines and full gentle curves. Even his straight lines are softened by the thick rabbit-fur halo of his winter coat. I step in close and press my forehead to his neck, hand resting on the gentle arc of his face. he turns his nose back to me as I lean on him, wrapping his neck around me while Sparrow comes up along side and presses the flat of his face against my hip.
Mary tosses her head, impatient. She likes the attention, but she likes the food more. She groans and leans back in a cat-like stretch that just accentuates how short her front legs are and how close to the ground she already is. I laugh softly, "yes, ma'am, what ever you say."
They amble into the barn through their door as i walk in and close the smaller door behind me. I flick on the switch and the light from the bulbs is harsh and glaring after the lantern light. I catch Mary and take her into the stall, otherwise Brego will drop half his feed for her. She is already as round as a beach ball. Sparrow can clean up Brego's feed and make use of it but Mary very much needs to NOT get any more than she already does. Once she is tucked in with fresh water and a small handful of hay I mix up Brego's feed and he lifts his nose at me, one ear pinned in Sparrow's direction the other forward and following my every move. I make him back up a step and wait until i put his feed in his bucket. The impatience is clear on his face but he waits.
"OK, go ahead..." I say softly. Mornings are not a time for harsh words, and so i seem to whisper for no reason.
I check each horse over, using my eyes and my hands. Mary's blind eye had a bit of yuck that i clean gently. Sparrow has a small chip out of one hoof, but the trimmer comes tuesday so i am not concerned. I pat Brego on the shoulder, run my hands down each leg. I laugh to myself as I hear donkeys bray to each other. They live a mile away from me and almost a mile away from each other but their noise carries as far as a train whistle. Brego pauses in his chewing to listen to them, then nickers softly and goes back to chewing. I run my fingers under the long slick hair on Brego's legs to check the skin. He stops chewing and turns, dropping a mouthful of sticky feed on my back, but he looks and feels fine, healthy.
Sparrow stands in the barn door, slipping closer to nibble up a few fallen pieces of feed. I pat him on the rump, pick up my lantern and turn off the light switch. It takes my eyes a few moments to adjust to the dim lantern light again. In the distance a fox barks and is answered. It doesn't sound like a dog bark, it is high and wailing. I smell wood smoke in the air, carried on a light cold breeze. Far to the east the sky has a chilled crystal quality, not quite light, but the promise of light just on the verge of of breaking the horizon. For a moment i hold my breath, clutch at the world with my heart, and think to myself with a grin, "Nothing sounds quite so good right now as a hot cup of coffee."