After her mother’s death, Erin wants nothing to do with memories. Her mother’s horse, however, can’t seem to forget.
“Leave me alone!” Erin let the screen door bang shut behind her.
“Erin. Honey, come back.”
Erin broke into a jog, running across the road to the boarding stable. The center aisle was empty when she entered the main barn. A few horses nickered a greeting to her.
Mom had loved this place, and Erin had loved it because she loved Mom. Why did she have to die? Cancer. Erin hated that word.
She headed straight for her special hideout in the hay loft. Only after she hunkered down in the place hollowed out among hay bales did she let the tears spill over.
Why couldn’t Aunt Lisa leave her alone about sorting through Mom’s things? Looking at stuff wouldn’t bring Mom back. Erin just wanted it gone. All of it. She didn’t want to talk about Mom, didn’t want to look at pictures or save her jewelry. Memories hurt, and well meaning friends and relatives were making it impossible to block those memories out. Erin tried to avoid them, but some, like Aunt Lisa, were persistent.
Now she stood and wiped her eyes. If Aunt Lisa didn’t see her in the yard soon, she’d start looking for her. Erin didn’t want anyone to find her special place in the loft.
She began down the stairs but hesitated when she heard voices in the barn below.
“I’ll get Ashling, Laurie.” It was Chris, one of the stable hands. “She’s been acting weird ever since Erin’s mom stopped coming around.”
“I know,” Laurie said.
Ashling was Mom’s horse. When she closed her eyes, Erin could still see Mom riding Ashling in the ring. It was amazing how Mom could sit erect yet still manage to look relaxed. Ashling’s ear would twitch back, completely in tune with everything Mom asked of her.
Erin’s eyes popped open at the sound of a feed bucket clattering to the ground. A stall door slammed shut.
“Chris?” Laurie yelled. Another bucket hit the floor. “Are you all right?”
Chris didn’t reply for a minute. Fear began to twist Erin’s stomach. Had Ashling kicked him?
Erin dragged in a big breath of air. Chris sounded out of breath but not hurt.
“She’s getting dangerous,” Laurie said.
“I know,” Chris agreed. “She never really liked anyone beside Shari.”
“Shari and Erin,” Laurie said.
Ashling kicked the side of her stall.
“Mr. Merillat says Erin doesn’t want anything to do with her, and he doesn’t know a thing about horses,” Chris said. “If something doesn’t change I’m afraid we’re going to have to tell Mr. Merillat to put her down.”
Erin wondered if Dad would let them. He knew how much Mom loved Ashling. But Dad might not have an option.
Erin waited till Chris and Laurie went out back with a load of manure before slipping down the stairs. She stopped in front of Ashling’s stall.
There had been times when she had watched Mom riding and thought Ashling’s dappled gray body seemed like an extension of Mom’s. The horse reminded her of Mom more than anything else.
Tears sprang to her eyes. Spinning away from the stall, Erin, fled from the barn.
That night, as Erin tried to sleep, Chris’s words kept haunting her. Ashling might have to be put down. Mom would have cried at the thought.
Erin swung her legs over the side of her bed, a new image appearing in her memory. Ashling snuffled Mom’s shoulder. Mom laughed and said, “You know what I smell like, silly girl.”
Erin padded into the living room. Mom would be disappointed in her if she didn’t at least try to save Ashling.
Working quietly, Erin found a box marked “clothes.” She opened it. The faint smell of Mom’s shampoo and perfume clung to the clothing. Tears blurred Erin’s vision. Finally she pulled a stained sweatshirt out and clutched it to her chest.
Pulling on her boots, Erin slipped out the front door. Her shadow, elongated by a street light, stretched across the road as she ran toward the barn.
Pulling the barn door back, she fumbled for the light switch. A few horses shuffled about sleepily. Not Ashling. Erin winced when she heard hooves crash against wood.
She hurried down the aisle and peaked through the metal bars covering the top half of Ashling’s stall. The mare backed into the far corner.
Erin stuffed part of the sweater through the bars and waited. At first nothing happened. Erin sighed. But then, Ashling’s nose twitched. Her ears pricked forward and a soft, vibrating nicker formed deep inside her chest.
“Good girl.” Erin smiled.
Ashling stretched her neck out, making little wuffing noises.
Erin stepped back and pulled the sweatshirt on. Then she slid the stall door open and stepped inside.
Ashling rushed forward, almost knocking Erin over. For a moment, Erin was scared. Then Ashling bumped her nose into Erin’s chest.
Erin scratched the pure white dapple on the horse’s forehead, just like Mom always did.
Ashling’s nose never strayed far from the sweatshirt.
“You miss her too, huh?” Erin kept doing little things Mom had done with the horse. “Well, I’m not her, but she taught me. She said I was good with horses. Even with you.”
Ashling’s ears flicked toward her.
“Silly girl. You almost got in big trouble chasing Chris and Laurie away all the time.”
The horse bumped her again.
“Yeah. I guess I’ve been silly too.”
When Ashling nickered again, Erin laughed and put her arms around the horse’s neck. Ashling had been a part of Mom, but Mom was also a part of Erin. The stuff from the closet still wasn’t important. But Erin’s memories of Mom? She didn’t want to lose a single one. And she didn’t want to lose Ashling either.