n the small pasture, one horse lay on the ground and the other stood beside it, unmoving, the day just beginning to warm. Later they would run circles in the dirt and buck, kicking up their legs, thrilling, it seemed, to be themselves on that clear afternoon. In adjoining fields, the raspberry vetch bloomed raspberry; Eastern bluebirds paused on fence posts. The sleeping horse slept, until it did not; the sky pinned up translucent clouds, mottling the blue until sunset, a swath of orange-red shifting to magenta, violet, indigo. Night cooled. By then the horses were in the barn. Beyond the far fence, Holsteins dozed upright by the cracked paved road.
She knew nothing about horses. Or about the rural roads winding through the foothills, or the owl she spotted across a half-acre lawn, winging east at her approach. She’d arrived having driven ten hours, the last stretch on back roads after dusk, deer somewhere, everywhere, in the peripheral dark. Finally, she turned onto the farm’s narrow lane, high beams exposing five yards at a time, until a broad looming figure blocked her way: a thousand-pound hallucination, resolving as a motionless Holstein. Others stood nearby. She tapped the horn, then inched the car closer. Sat. The cow raised its head an inch, two, lugubrious, and stepped to the grass.
That morning in the pasture, the horses stayed photographically still. She learned: yes, they did this. One stood watch as the other napped. Mostly they slept standing, but also this. She watched the standing horse watch the napping horse; she watched the napping horse nap. What was it, then, to let go, to lay in the late season grass, and from there fall further, the light syrupy, the sky melting into fractals, the drumbeat of one’s small fears silenced. And as if the watcher’s breathing, audible then implicit, filled that drumbeat space; as if the standing horse’s very stillness stilled the percussive thrum.
Or, for that matter, when such wild energy surfaced later, and the two horses galloped and bucked, one then the other—what was it to inhabit those ecstatic bursts, that gallop? After a few minutes, they shook their heads and slowed, grazed, now and then assessing the fields and hills beyond.
She saw the horses for weeks, and not again. It was a temporary world. More temporary.
After that—after the fields fringed with raspberry vetch, the fence, the narrow road, the Holsteins, and even the horses themselves had softened into dark planes under sublime dusks—she lost track of those weeks. Certain years emptied of color. But the image of the upright, motionless horse and the horse on its side in the grass returned to her, one standing watch as the other slept. This she did for her mother, in a series of rooms, in winter. Everything then happened indoors. Beyond the windows: white ground, black branches, sky thickly woolen in pale or charcoal gray. Once, out in the snow-packed yard, silhouettes of deer.
That too falls away. In a city on the coast, catmint blooms by the porch, a spill of green streaked with purple. Early June. There is no snow. There are no horses. Stillness is a kind of waiting, just the grassy space in which a life might appear. Here she is; here, it seems, an ocean of grass. Another after to transform into now.
Tuesday, the sky slips into time-lapse, cumulus clouds rushing toward solstice. The porch trellis is dense with grape leaves; the air smells of pollen and toast. From an idling car, a radio announces the tides at Newport, Narragansett; the porch tilts southeast, and a door nearby judders open. It’s the Russian émigré neighbor, in his softened ball cap and buttoned shirt and plain gray suspenders. Perhaps his tiny, vibrant wife is reading. Perhaps his tiny, vibrant wife is drinking tea. A pop song spills from the radio, tonight’s the night, a driving beat then a Doppler fade, and the neighbor, David, calls out hello. How is everything? he says with Russian inflections, the final sound—k—like a dollop of jam. Before he walks up the block and becomes a hat among azaleas, he offers ginger candies in bright paper. As if he’s her sweet weary uncle, the long lost bookseller; as if candy is precisely what she needs. It might be, offered in this moment, this way, with such echoes. Perhaps for him as well? A present-tense kindness gleaned from another life, or series of lives. It is Tuesday. They are living in the present tense, the ginger tangy and sweet, tides synched to a crescent moon. Near the corner, blue chalk animals range the sidewalk; green letters, awkward and ecstatic, run A to J. David pauses and steps carefully around them, then heads toward the boulevard, accompanied by his mild, dreaming terrier.