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~Author Jennifer Leigh~

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Mare's story
This may be the beginning or perhaps it'll end up in the middle of a novel.

I lay on my side in the dark, and can feel my baby kick.  It’s a girl, this baby, I can tell by the way I carry her.  For a long time she lay right under my heart, but she’s moved back and down, getting into position for birth.  She kicks me in the side and I comfort her, talk to her with my inside my heart voice, and tell her she’ll see the light of day soon enough.  My back strains and I roll over, not an easy task, and call to Peony, my daughter.

“Daughter,” I whisper, “speak to me and soothe me while I hurt.”

Peony, pretty but slightly selfish, told me to be quiet, that she hurts as much as I do.  It’s worse for her, Peony says, (she always has a worse calamity, she loves drama, Peony does) since her baby is a boy, and everyone knows, boys are harder to carry than girls.  They kick more, they seem eternally hungry even before they’re born.

I nickered comfort to Peony.  This is only her second foal, and she’s worried, as all young mares are.  Peony is six years old, I’m three times that, and tell her that all is well, and God is watching over us.  My daughter snorts and paces in her stall, back and forth.  The sound of her hooves swishing through the straw lulls me to sleep and for awhile, I rest.

The pains start to come sometime in the dark part of the night, when even birds stop calling, and foolish mice, smelling our grain,  skitter through the barn.  An old barn owl watches the mice run and fluffs his feathers as if to say: you are too small to worry about.  A black and white cat, feral and conniving, catches three mice, one, two, three, in quick succession, eating one and taking the other two back to her litter of kittens.  I hear those babies mewling, and start to anticipate my own baby’s sweet smell, the feel of her mouth on my over full teats, the taste of her soft, soggy fur as I lick her clean.

Soon Michelle will come into the barn, and I’ll struggle to my feet, because I’m not ready to tell her I’m laboring.  She’ll feed me green hay that’s so leafy and rich I can barely contain my hunger to eat it one small bite at a time.  Michelle’s family owns me, and Peony, and all the rest of the horses, but Michelle loves me the best.  She’s told me so, and I’ve never heard her say those words to another horse in our herd, and I know all the horses well.

Peony picks at her food and complains, dips her muzzle for a drink, but only takes a sip.  My daughter must learn that babies come when they do, and she’ll have to wait for her little colt, my grandson, to be born.

A pain rips through my shoulders, down my spine, then spreads down over my heavy belly.  It’s as if someone has taken my body and squeezed every muscle, and I groan with the sharpness of this pain.  I’d like to weep or fight against this pain, kick my stall and neigh out loud about how much this hurts, but I’m trying to set a good example for poor Peony, who complains to mask her fear. 

But, if I am honest, and I am, it’s pride that keeps me from crying out, too. I am the eldest mare in the herd, the Lead Mare, and I won’t show anyone that I object to the birthing process.  From somewhere deep inside, lodged next to my filly daughter, I pull an ecstatic whinny from me and call out into the early morning light.  I realize that my whinny sounds far from jubilant.  I sound desperate, and indeed I am.  Baby’s coming and the pain is sharpening, pure, white, and clean through me.

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