The International Writers
was coming and for the first time I wasn't looking forward to
it. I thought I was still being punished but mam said not to be
silly. I was to be sent to Jacks because it would do all of us
some good, and besides Jacks had specifically asked for me. No
matter how hard I pleaded, begged and swore I was going to Jacks,
and that was final. I didn't need my brother Jimmy to tell me
how lucky I was, I knew: I would have Jacks all to myself.
Jacks was Jacks because his full name happened to be Jacob Jacob Jacobs
and Welsh humour being what it is, his dad called him Jacks because as
he saw it, it was a shame to waste a good name. Jacks had lived on his
farm for ever. He reckoned it was more and anyway had been working with
horses for longer than that. He was old in the sense that anyone over
fifty was ancient in the eyes of a ten year old, but always seemed ageless
some how. He wore the same blue overalls and tweed jacket day in day out
and the only time I ever saw him without his Benny hat was at his funeral.
But, the best thing about Jacks was his smell. It's a mixture of horse,
hay, earth and peppermints with a bit of tobacco.
Jacks is my mam's uncle and my great uncle and had fought and won the
last war. I 've always been unsure of him. We are fond of each other but
we're not as close as Jimmy and Jacks. Jimmy's older than me by four years
although there are times when you wouldn't think so. Jimmy and Jacks get
on like a house on fire. They always spend time together: building dens,
Jacks shall we go fishing
it makes me sick. All I can do is watch
until I'm bored, at which point I'll go off and do my own thing. Jimmy's
a brown nosed bastard.
When I am doing my own thing Jacks and I usually come to blows. I've either
used something I shouldn't have or been and done something that I shouldn't
have. It's fucking stupid some of the time but often as not Jacks will
hit me for it. And boy that bastard can hit. Lie won't hold back like
mam, he'll full on pelt me. Only one, maybe two hits depending on what
I done, but by Christ they are enough. He has a way of hitting that makes
the backs of my legs sting for hours, really deep pain that make the flesh
heat up. But he never makes me cry. I won't ever let him do that.
So I was to spend the whole summer with Jacks all to myself. Mam kisses
me as I get on the train to my embarrassment and Jimmy's snigger. I know
she hopes Jacks' influence will do me some good, that I will come back
a different person.
The train dumped me at Clarbeston Road some time in the late afternoon.
Jacks was there all impatient.
"You've finally decided to show up then."
It's alright. I don't want to be here either you bastard. I'm not sure
what I expected. For us to run up to each other hug and kiss? I don't
"Let's be off then."
He takes my tartan duffle bag off me, slinging it over his shoulder. Without
looking back he heads toward the farm. Jacks' farm is a good fifteen-minute
walk west of Clarbeston Road. The village is just that. It has some houses
and a pub. There's a post office which doubles as a shop and that's it.
The whole village is built around the signal box-cum-station, which is
situated next to a level crossing. I always expect tumble weed to blow
along the street whenever I stroll along it, it's that bad and what's
worse, I have to spend summer here.
I spend the fifteen minutes trying to catch up with Jacks. We don't talk
until we reach the crest of the hill looking down onto the farm. Jacks
turns toward me.
"There's one thing I'll know and mark me if you lie..."
I can't look at him for some reason. I want to shout and scream. Punch
his skinny face in, bastard. My eyes are welling up. I don't know why.
"...are you doing drugs?"
His voice with its idiotic drawl makes me sick. No, I don't touch drugs.
"So, you're just a thief. Not stupid."
Yea, just a thief. That's all right then isn't it. Fuck, I really want
to hurt him.
"I'll tell you now. I'll not have stealing in my house. You'll know
the meaning of hell and discipline..."
The bastard pauses as if to make a point. He holds my gaze for a few moments
as though reading my mind. All I can do is shrug into my parker and look
away. He's won this round so we head for home.
The farm is quiet; it only serves to heighten how I feel. So much for
having Jacks all to myself. If Jimmy were here he'd be lapping it up.
Fuck off, Jimmy.
Jacks unlatches the back door and motions me inside. The kitchen is typical
Jacks. At home we don't have the mod cons but we do have a toaster, electricity,
oven and the like. But this hasn't change since the last century. The
stove is an old fashioned iron-plated job that's heated by wood and coal.
The kettle is an old black pot boiler with a matching pot that's huge.
The only modem thing is the sink with its' running water. The lights are
electric but old-fashioned electric. The flex is black with the two wires
entwining and the switches are the round type with a little lever to switch
on and off.
Jacks dumps my bag in the corner and asks if I'm tired or hungry. I don't
know. I don't even care.
"Sit there then and I'll fix you something."
Don't force yourself. I don't want to be any more trouble than I already
"What ? "
Nothing. I take a seat in this poky threadbare chair and watch him. I
drift in and out of daydreams of beating the shit out of Jacks. He's trying
to tell me off, telling me I'm a drug user. No matter how much I say no,
I'm not; he calls me a liar and then a thief. He goes for me, grabbing
the top of my arm. I pull away and threaten to hit him if he comes any
closer. He laughs, so I lose it. I punch him in the face, my fist connecting
with his nose, which shatters, spilling blood. My left hand follows up
into his stomach. He doubles over and I punch him down to the floor. Exultant
I look down on this feeble old man and decide to teach him a lesson, emphasizing
each point with a kick. I am not, NOT A LIAR. And I'm not a THIEF.
Jacks startles me with a cup of tea and two pieces of fresh bread. It's
smeared with thick butter and homemade jam. My favourite. Jacks smiles
and nods. Warily I bite into the luscious bread, watching Jacks watching
me. I disregard him and concentrate on how hungry I am and how delicious
it tastes. He smiles and heads toward the door.
"There's chores to be done. Meet me in the stables when you've finished."
And with that I'm free.
I find Jacks a good hour later. He's in the stable. He looks up for an
instant and then continues shoveling shit.
"You're finally here then."
Ignoring him I look around for something to do. By the looks of it Tilly
is yet to be done. Tilly has the temperament of a lady. She's quiet and
gentle and very affectionate. She bobs her head at me and nuzzles my neck.
My anger melts. I turn away from the hay net and hug and pat her. It's
good to see you too Tilly. I scratch behind her ear and blow gently down
her nose. I can't describe that moment, the smell of horse, leather and
hay. The feeling of power and if you like sexuality.... no, sensuality
that comes from these creatures. There's just something about horses that
Jacks stops and looks at me. I'm not sure what he wants. But he just smiles
and carries on. It takes me awhile to get back into it. I start from the
head down. A brush in either hand circling down to the left and then back
up to the right. Jacks finishes before me and sweeps and cleans Tilly's
stall. I'm sure he's only doing it to make me feel slow and stupid. I
finish off and then look around to see what else is to be done. Jacks
comes back from the shit pile.
"Finished? Good, c'mon on then. There's still Morgan."
met Morgan but I have heard a lot about him. Mama will read Jacks' letters
to me instead of bedtime stories like she does with Jimmy. He hates
me for it because I get to hear about Jacks before him.
Morgan is a Merlyn Cymreig. It's a top breed in Welsh ponies. Unfortunately
Morgan was involved in some road accident and had his leg broken. A
broken leg can often mean a horse's death. I've never understood why.
I know it's all about money and cost, a broken leg on a horse can cost
its owner thousands. The operation saves the horse but then the horse
is no longer useful. It can't work - it cant race, show or carry
riders. It's simply cheaper for the owner to kill it.
Jacks was visiting his vet friend when the call came in. To cut Jacks
story short, Jacks bought Morgan from the owner for the price of a dead
horse. Its common practice to sell the carcasses to factories and the
like for about five hundred quid. Jacks' vet friend owed him a favour
or two and did the operation and treatments at cost. Morgan fully recovered.
His only legacy is a small scar and the inability to be ridden. To this
day Morgan is Jacks' pride and joy.
The bond between the two is evident. The way Jacks smiles, his skinny
face lighting up as he flashes yellow teeth at Morgan. I feel like I'm
intruding so I just watch from the side. Jacks' smile is infectious.
Morgan is truly a beautiful animal. He stands about sixteen or eighteen
hands high. Thats about five foot something. His black coat glistens
and flexes with powerful muscles. His mane and tail are black as are
his eves. He has white socks on all but one of his legs. He's gorgeous.
Jacks turns to me and smiles.
"Come here boy. Meet Morgan."
I'm scared. I want Morgan to like me. They both watch as I walk toward
them. Jacks talking low into Morgan's ear. Still smiling. Morgan's head
lifts a bit. I stop.
"Ssh. It's alright lad. Come on boy. Slowly."
I resist putting my hand out quickly. Slowly with palms up I manage
to stroke the flat forefront of Morgan's head. I can tell Morgan's unsure
but Jacks and I look at each other grinning madly He likes me. They
both like me.
"Go and open the paddock for me boy and I'll get him ready."
Nodding with enthusiasm I rush out my sudden movement frightening Morgan.
He starts. His metal hooves scraping the concrete floor. I freeze arid
turn round. Sorry. Jacks gives me a look and then nods me on. I move
slower this time.
The paddock is
a training area where horses and riders practice. It's a fenced off
area rectangle in shape. It's about forty feet wide and say sixty, maybe
more long. It doesn't have grass but instead soft fine sand, which is
better to fall on. I unlatch the wooden gate, watching Jacks lead Morgan.
Morgan's clip clop walk is a little pedantic.
"Aye, it's his bad leg, always plays up when it's wet."
I shut the gate after them and climb up a rung. I watch as Jacks twirls
in a small circle at the paddock's centre. He leads Morgan on at a slow
walking pace building up to a quick canter and then to a walk again.
He never uses the long training whip with a full whack but instead touches
Morgan's haunches with it. I can see the muscles working, flexing and
moving under the taut black coat. But something is wrong. Jacks stops
every now and again cursing at Morgan as he readjusts Morgan's head
collar and bridle:
"What's the matter?"
"The bastards is spitting his bit out."
If Jacks wants to show Morgan in next year's dressage competition Morgan
needs to be broken in terms of saddle and bridle. The bit is an important
part of the bridle that fits into the back of the horses mouth.
If Morgan's spitting it out it means that Jacks can't control or manoeuvre
him. One of the key elements of the dressage competition or even basic
horsemanship is control of the horse.
So why is Morgan spitting his bit out?
"The bastards before me, neck-tied him."
Neck tied. If you've ever watched the show jumping on the telly and
seen the horses with bowed heads and long arched necks then chances
are you've seen a horse that's been neck-tied. That shape - the long
arched neck and bowed, straight face is seen as THL perfect shape for
a horse's head. But not many horses are born like that. The trick is
to only have about three to four inches between the horses head
and the wall. Not only that but the rope has to be tied lower down,
forcing the horse to adopt the desired pose and shape. Once that's done
the horse is left like that for its entire first year.
The result can be one fucked up animal. But apart from spitting out
his bit, Morgan seems exceptionally quiet and well mannered. I'm a little
confused and a bit uncomfortable at why Jacks is getting angry with
Morgan. Before I can do anything Jacks is launching into Morgan.
You can not only hear the swish of the whip as it flicks through the
air but also the sharp wet trill as it connects with Morgan's back and
haunches. Jacks is going mental, shouting and screaming. I don' t know
who is more frightened, Morgan or me. I don't know what I can do.
Morgan's trying to get away from Jacks and the whip, but is cornered.
To escape he has to climb up the bank and hopefully jump the wire fencing.
But the bank's incline is too steep for Morgan and combined with Jacks
yanking and pulling on his training harness Morgan keeps stumbling.
I expect him to fall and break his legs at any moment. I can't just
stand there, I can't. I have to do something. I start shouting as I
climb over the gate and run toward them.
I don't remember much after that. Grabbing Jacks' arm and shouting:
he's had enough, he's had enough. Jacks' face, his anger and maybe hatred.
Morgan rearing on his hind legs and then the blow. Such a powerful and
searing blow across my face that I black out. I can't remember who hit
me: Jacks or Morgan. It doesn't matter I don't want to remember. Whatever
happened, whoever hit me left a long thin whelp across my face. It runs
from my right temple down to my left cheek.
I must have passed out because the next thing I remember is waking in
Jacks' bed. He is looking down at me. All he can do is say sorry: I'm
sorry boy. The look on his face makes me want to cry, to hold him but
I want to hit him more. I want to scream and shout but all I can do
is turn away and pretend to go to sleep. All I can think of is Morgan.
Why won't he take to his bit?
I can hardly speak at all. When I do, it is to ask Jacks about how a
bit fits into a horses mouth. How it actually works. And for the
first time I'm happy to listen. I hardly want to punch Jacks at all.
Instead I watch him as he chats about horse's anatomy. The way he rubs
his bristles when he's thinking. How his eyes flicker every now and
again. We talk and discuss the simplicity of the bridle and how it works.
Horses have a natural gap between their back teeth and their jawbone.
The bit fits perfectly into this gap and when attached to the reins,
allows the rider complete control of the horse. Jacks and I discuss
various types of design. We even discuss the idea of a bridle without
a bit. But as ever it all comes to shit and life soon returns to routine.
Routine means one of two things: I've either forgotten to do something
or have done the bloody thing wrong. Jacks keeps on at me with one fucking
"If you're going to do a job, do it properly or not at all."
I usually opt for not all.
And that's fine. I want to do my own thing anyway. I only have one thing
in mind: to sort Morgan out. I spend hours just staring and watching
Morgan. Looking for some clue as to what we could possibly do. Jacks
and Morgan will exercise in the paddock and I'll follow them. I'll watch
from the gate but I can't see the answer. I can't think how. Jacks and
I will bicker about it. I keep on asking him why? Why would being neck-tied
make Morgan not take to his bit? And then the answer came just like
that. It 's all about taste.
Morgan must associate all those hours of discomfort with the taste of
metal in his mouth. He must associate the bit with pain. Jacks looks
like he doesn't see what I'm getting at. It's simple. If Morgan associates
the taste of metal with pain then surely we can get him to associate
the bit with something nice. What if we smeared jam or honey over the
Fuck off then. I only want to help. Jacks smiles and then laughs. I
don't know if this is good or bad. He startles me by tussling my hair
before rushing off toward the house.
We smear Morgan's bit with jam and then place it in hiss mouth. He chews
and licks on it. To our surprise Morgan accepts it straight away. I'm
sure we both expected him to spit it out well I did any way. He's happily
licking and sucking at the bit as Jacks leads him around the paddock
a few turns. But then the inevitable happens. Morgan spits it out. I
want to cry. Fuck, it hasn't worked.
I can tell Jacks is as disappointed as me. He leads Morgan past and
then stops. He...he then puts his arm around my shoulder.
"Not to worry boy, it was the first go. We've... well you've done
more in the last five minutes than I have in the last few years. Be
proud boy, I am."
But it hasn't woredk. Morgan spat it out. Couldn't he see that? It hadn't
work. I knew what he was doing. He was trying to make me feel better.
Bastard. Why can't he just shut up, just shut up and leave me alone.
But Jacks won't. He chases after me calling my name, shouting at me
to stop. I don't know where I am; I just have to get away. I fall and
the next thing I know Jacks is on me. He has hold of me. His grip hurts
my shoulder where he's got hold of me. I try to pull away from him.
Twisting as Jacks slips and falls, his footing sliding from him in the
mud. He lands next to me wrenching my shoulder.
Somehow I get up and sit on his chest. I don't clearly remember how,
only that I want to hurt him. Hit and punch him because my idea hadn't
worked. All Jacks can do is hold me away at arms length as I howl, swear
and punch at him. I get weaker with each swipe of my fist until I finally
collapse. I expect Jacks to push me away or hit me or something. He
doesn't. I feel his scrawny arms hold me to him as we both cry.
For the rest of that summer we never spoke of that moment. Instead we
took great pains in avoiding the whole situation. We did learn to give
each space and for the first time to talk to each other on a level pegging.
Admittedly it was all focused around Morgan but I didn't mind because
for the first time in my life I had Jacks all to myself.
© Marc George April 2007
Stories in Dreamscapes
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