They say all rivers run to the sea, and on that day, the river ran to a sea of sorrow.
Aunt Connie and I had enjoyed a leisurely afternoon, talking and having lunch. Even with an age difference of almost twenty years, we were like sisters, comfortable together, often sitting in easy silence.
“You want to take a walk?”
“We could check the horses.”
It was spring. Faraway hills were blushed with green, tender blades pushed up through moist soil, and the warm air was fragrant with growing things. Heading for the lower pasture, we strolled along the fence, checking for broken strands. I kicked at a heap of dry horse manure, knocking one into Connie’s path.
“You rascal!” With a grin, she punted one back at me.
Suddenly, Connie touched my arm. Following her gaze down the gently sloping field, I saw one of the mares, and by her side, a newborn, spindly-legged foal. The foal took off at a rollicking gambol, then its dam cantered in a wide circle around her cavorting offspring.
“Will she let us get close?” I asked.
“Doubt it, but we should be able to see if it’s a colt or filly.”
The foal hid by the mare’s flank, almost as if knowing our intent. Dust-coloured and wary-eyed, it finally bolted from its hiding place; it was a filly.
“Well, that’s Dove accounted for,” said Connie. “I think the foal is a couple of days old.”
“Look, there’s Dancer! On the riverbank.” The bay mare was staring into the steel-hued river, where it oxbowed around the lower edge of the field.
“What’s she looking at?”
Dancer galloped along the bank, pawed the ground, and neighed nervously. Connie shook her head. “I don’t like this.” We broke into a run.
I leaned over the embankment, peering into the muddy eddies, silt spilling from the soft edge. Connie lay down so she could see better.
I lay down next to her. The earth was eroded from beneath us; we were actually suspended over the silently surging river. I gasped. In the murky water below, I could see tiny hooves bobbing, then receding under the waves again.
“I’m going to the barn for rope and a lead. Stay here.”
I couldn’t have moved if I tried. I was mesmerized by the sight of those hooves disappearing and resurfacing. Then, slowly the foal’s body turned, glistening and shining, rocking in its liquid cradle, then sliding beneath the soundless waves again. I jumped when Connie put her hand on my back.
“I’m taking Dancer to the corral.”
Dancer was easily persuaded by the oats in Connie’s hand, but still eyed the river guardedly, sidestepping nervously when Connie snapped the lead to the halter. She paced the rails when we left her in the corral.
“What are we going to do?”
For an answer, Connie took off her boots and rolled up her jeans. I did the same. Further up the shore, where the bank was less steep, Connie waded through the muddy water to the undercut.
She was already squatting in the dirty surf, knotting the rope around the foal’s neck when I got there, my feet numb from the icy water.
“You pull. I’m going to push.”
We were no match for the weight of the foal and the spring current of the river . Time and again, we had nearly pulled the glistening ebony body free of the cove, only to have the river tide defeat us.
“I’ve an idea.” Connie splashed across the narrow channel to a slice of land that had slipped away when the undercut was formed. With all her strength, Connie pulled on the rope, and the foal drifted free of the watery crevice.
Together we dragged the foal upstream to where the bank was not so steep and pulled her ashore. We rested, lying on the grassy verge of the river, stroking the satiny coat of the dead foal with tender fingers.
“She was probably playing too close to the edge,” I guessed.
“Probably,” agreed Connie.
“And the bank gave way.”
When we had caught our breath, we released Dancer. With tears streaming down our cheeks, we watched as she gently pawed her baby and nudged her with a velvety muzzle.
For a full day, Dancer stood over her. Every so often, she cast her steady, sorrowful gaze over the slowly undulating grey river.
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