I see him all around the barn.
Horses are not allowed loose on the property of the barn. (For the non-horsey: while nothing toxic is planted, it’s nice to have pretty flowers. There are pipe corrals and dutch doors: horses “meeting” each other could strike out and hurt themselves.)
Tiny finagled becoming the exception to this rule. I’m sure this surprises no one: he often became the exception to most rules. One or the other of us would let him loose as we passed his stall. He didn’t eat the flowers (odd for Mr. Mouth), and had no interest in investigating other horses. Probably because he was predominantly human. The only danger Tiny posed was to bipeds bearing cello-bags of carrots.
Since he died, I’ve been seeing flashes of him everywhere: in his favorite paddock, up behind the upper arena where the grass is sweetest in the spring, in his stall, mouthing the ribbons. (Overnight, flowers, notes, gifts began to appear on his stall door. It’s beautiful.) When I turn to look at him straight on, he disappears.
I assume it is a natural, calming trick of mourning. I’ve found it comforting.
Thursday night, I was submerged in sleep, the deep blues of dream strata far above me. In my dream, I was making waffles. The kids were waiting at the table already. Vanilla, butter, and waffle-steam scented the air. Shaun sat down, and they all held up their forks, making me laugh: we love your waffles. Hurry up!!
It was a happy, syrupy, waffle-stuffed dream full of love.
Christmas growls so low it’s almost inaudible: a low threat warning, a deep rumble in his gut. I panic. This is real, not part of my waffle dream. I claw my way up through the diaphanous layers of earlier dreams, heart pounding. I feel a tug on the blanket. Christmas leaps back like a cat, totally silent. I feel his rigid legs bounce off my feet. WAKE UP, I tell myself. NOW.
A familiar whuffle of warm breath crosses my cheek, the two puffs widely spaced. I am wide awake. A large soft muzzle bumps my chest. Scratchy forelock hairs tickle my forehead. I open my eyes. In the darkness of the bedroom, there is a denser, more compacted darkness, soft and velvety, draft-horse shaped, looming over me, nudging the covers as if for carrots.
Christmas is standing at the foot of the bed. Immobile. The hair on his back is sticking up.
A thought comes to me: not carrots. Waffles. Sounds good.
What is waffle?
It really IS you! I start laughing, and crying. Tiny reaches out and holds a fold of the covers, a mischievous glint in his eye: I’m gonna yank it!
Christmas backs up into Shaun, and she starts to move.
Tiny drops the covers and bumps me one more time on the chest, right on my heart.
I reach out to rub his personal sweet spot on the poll, under the heaviest part of his mane. He vanishes before I can touch him.
As soon as Tiny is gone, Christmas lets out a volley of loud WAKE UP barks, scaring the bejesus out of Shaun, who wakes up, and leaps out of bed looking for an intruder. I tell her there was a noise outside. We investigate outside, though I know we won’t find anything. I couldn’t tell her about Tiny in the middle of the night.
I lay there for a long time after getting back in bed, willing the feeling of his breath on my face to come back. I had to stay content with the memory. It didn’t happen again.
Honestly? I don’t know what occurred. I felt wide awake. But it doesn’t matter if I was awake or asleep. It doesn’t matter if it was an act of grace, or a pointed cry for psychotherapy. Tiny came to see me: I’m not leaving. I’m still here. Remember me.
As if there is a chance any of us will forget.
I went back to sleep. When I woke up, the grief was still there, but swept clean of despair. I no longer felt trapped in the tangle of my feelings.
I don’t truly hear his message until Saturday, when his visit clarifies into something solid. I collapse in a fit of laughter and tears. It’s so Tiny to be playful and flip a thing back on it’s head before giving it back:
I’m never, ever letting you go. Be free. So… where are the waffles? Is that syrup?