We fought over the horseshoe like we knew we would, eh? I don’t mean physically. We didn’t pull it between us like little mice with pea-bump biceps. Metaphorical mice, maybe. We went to solicitors the way we thought adults should. I told mine the clear story of how Mum had said, in 1993, in the garden, in front of witnesses, that the horseshoe was coming to me. The shiny, blonde solicitor looked sideways over the top of her MacBook and I had no faith. But then, suddenly, you let go. It came in the post. Nestled in a box of shredded paper with no words. With the tugging halted so abruptly, I went reeling back, clutching my prize.
It was so heavy and pleasing in my hand that morning. The rain was fine and persistent and I was drinking coffee by the kitchen window. Since the boys left home I don’t really bother with breakfast. I have coffee. A banana sometimes if I’m worried that my cheeks are starting to look like they’re pegged up. But that day it was just coffee and the tang of the horseshoe in my palm. I almost did lick it, you know? How ridiculous is that? Imagined somehow that I might get a little kiss on the tongue – the summer sun and the chalk path where Mum and Dad found the horseshoe might burst in my mouth. But I just held it very close to my eyes and remembered Mum’s face moving as she told the tale.
“And there was this horseshoe lying on the track. It was hooked round a flint, right in the middle of the path. Your dad said it was lucky it wasn’t ten feet further on ‘cos there was a big wet cow pat with flies buzzing over it. But, anyway, we brought it home. Quite unlike your dad to go along with something so silly, wasn’t it? But I just had a feeling it was a stroke of real, Sussex, luck.”
And then she’d put the horseshoe back on the little shelf thing above the sink with the spice box her cousin brought back from India after the war and the china girl with plaits. And sometimes we used to drag one of the ladder-backed chairs over and climb up, didn’t we? When they were out.
The walk was an act of desperation. There you go – a bit of that honesty you’re always saying we don’t do. I had the sort of panicked pain in my chest that feels like it will crack your sternum. The coffee was making my heart beat faster. And I was looking across the still, still kitchen and knowing that no-one would call. And so, in spite of the rain, I thought I’d drive up to the Beacon and walk from there to the windmills and back. Because it was somewhere up there they found the horseshoe, wasn’t it? And I know I shouldn’t have taken it. You don’t have to say.
The rain didn’t ease. The mist was like a curtain cutting across the weald. I struck out for the windmills anyway. There’s always other walkers up there, of course. People with convincing jackets. People with muddy calves on mountain bikes. People running.
I didn’t need a map. We used to rush ahead as kids and I could remember the dewponds and the gorse where we used to crouch and wee. Dad would have that old canvas rucksack from his scouts days and Mum never could do stiles without someone to steady her, could she? We laughed and ran and I don’t think it was always a race. Sometimes. But not always. And when we got to the windmills we always had that argument about which one was better – black Jack or white Jill. Mine was Jack, wasn’t it?
I should’ve worn a better coat. I should’ve taken something to eat. When I got to the mills I was shaking with hunger and cold. And I didn’t know why I was there. But I found a bit of low wall and I sat down, with a damp bum and a slow, blooming sense of my own ridiculous self. And when that sense was all unfurled, I started to laugh. I laughed at my soaked trousers, my growling belly, my fat pride that kept me fighting for the horseshoe. That kept me fighting you even though I couldn’t even remember which windmill was mine. A man came by with a wet brown dog and I heard you saying ‘chocolate lab’ and ticking it off in your I-Spy guide to dogs. And I remembered the summer we did fourteen I-Spy books. And you spent all your birthday money on toffee bonbons and they were cross with you. And we wrote that story about a girl who found a gun under the roundabout in the park. All that. Do you remember?
I think it fell out of my pocket up there on the Downs where they found it – where we ran and argued. But I don’t really know. Maybe I dropped it in the street before I even got into the car. Maybe I threw it from the Beacon in a great sweep of crazy. Maybe you never sent it to me. Maybe there never was a horseshoe at all.