Here’s the scene: a boggy field in late winter, saturated and dense. Here are the many moving parts: the sheep and the Grey Horse; a marooned car; a marooned Caterpillar tractor; important visitors; a teenage daughter coming back from her Dad’s by train; a lunch for eight; and a posh rented BMW with a flat tyre. Soon the two business colleagues it contained, were wishing they were back in Delhi where everything in their world works perfectly.
It was a Sunday. The handsome man was here again and the combination meant that breakfast would probably be late, except that no, it wasn’t. But it was all very hurried and the mucking out was done at speed. Hotpot and the Grey Horse listened with some slight worry hovering about their ears to a soft muttering, as she filled the haynets and checked the water. He would be expecting a decent breakfast and there was the lunch prep to finish. Vegetarian lasagne (mostly done), garlic bread (done), salad (not done). Chocolate mousse, cheeses all ready for the table, which was yet to be set for eight. Eight!
In the paddock the mud lay soft and suspect. By mutual unspoken agreement the sheep and the Grey Horse knew that they would be staying out of the field that day. The hard standing of the yard was an altogether more reliable surface. Besides, the lazy drizzle oozing from the sky was seeping slowly into the bog, so that it was only getting deeper. This was not a day for rolling.
A little bit later and with some surprise they saw the handsome man get into the car parked a couple of metres into the field. She’d left it there facing forward and ready to go to the station. Hotpot explained to the Grey Horse that it was probably because she had to fetch the girl to bring her home for lunch. Yet there was the man, starting the car and reversing it further into the field. Hotpot couldn’t work this one out at all, so he turned his back on the man and the car and started instead to pull on the hay. He kept a watchful eye on the Grey Horse who was dozing and twitching his head from time to time.
When next they looked, in response to some heavy revving noises and billowing clouds of diesel fumes, the car was somehow at the bottom of the field and up to its axels in mud. The man was struggling up the hill through the bog and towards the yard. The sheep positioned himself between the man and the Grey Horse. His sheepy brain wondered momentarily why the man had put the car so far down into the field and had spun its wheels so very deeply. The sheep suspected a devilish plot and stamped his foot, levelling his hard boney face at the man, ready to ram. Just in case.
And now she’s there too with her hand over her mouth in horror or humour and starting to wonder if this man of hers was quite the full ticket after all. “Why,” she was saying “what possible reason could you have for driving the car down there?” And he answered, well babbled, something about being sure to be able to leave the field to go to the station. “I thought you might need a run up and then when I got stuck here I thought it would be less muddy down there.” There was a note of feeble embarrassment in his tone and an expression of blank disbelief on her face. “Less muddy down there? Down there closer to the river than up here at the top of the hill?” And with her expression set in a mask of faux patience, she set off down the hill to try to get the car out. Turning the steering wheel full lock left and right, reversing, four wheel drive on, four wheel drive off, differential lock on and off. None of it made a speck of difference, except in the copious quantifies of warm mud being sprayed across the field and in the width of the ruts, now more like trenches. “We need a tractor, and I need to get on with lunch. And we need to get to the station soon.” Huffing off, he hurried in her wake trying to keep up with the conversation already happening on her ’phone
It was quick enough to concoct a plan: the farmer would come with the Cat to tow out the car. She’d ring a brace of the lunch guests to ask them to collect the daughter from the station when they were on their way. The important lunch guests travelling from Delhi via London where they were staying with relatives who would also be coming for lunch(!), were due in about an hour. The cooking was incomplete and then Mother arrived with a face on because she’d got the time wrong and was an hour early. She sulked her way through a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits rolling her eyes at the tale, listening with renewed conviction that her daughter was useless in every respect. She had no faith in either of her older daughters, no empathy, sympathy or care and was smug in her conviction that the cooking would be rubbish and the disorganisation and chaos would lead to disaster. She was looking forward to telling her much loved and mostly absent third and youngest daughter that the first two were total jokes who had no idea about anything.
But when the Cat arrived with the farmer, his wife and their small child it was too tempting to stay indoors critiquing the table settings and sneaking a peak at the dessert ready and waiting in the fridge. By the time she had walked down to the paddock, the sheep and the Grey Horse were on full alert staring at the farmer, the Cat and the man. The farmer and the man had hooked a thick heavy duty cable to the car and were ready to start dragging it out of the swamp. Mother, now looking forward to the spectacle, joined the small audience ready and waiting to watch the show. The man got back into the car and the farmer was in position, his engines loud and bellowing, diesel smoke rising. Slowly the Cat started to move forward squirling slightly as it did so. The car also moved slightly sideways, ploughing into the mud as it started to shift.
She was in the yard calming the Grey Horse, who was shaking his head as his anxiety rose. All this noise, all these people. The rest, the Mother, the farmer’s wife and the farmer’s four year old son were standing in the field staring in fascination and ready to cheer when the car lurched free. No one doubted that this would happen. And as they watched in eager anticipation, two lunch guests and the daughter arrived from the station and ready for food. Her sister and brother-in-law had no idea why they had been required to get the girl from the station, only that “it would be a big help”. The daughter was annoyed at being collected late and annoyed at being hungry and with not much sign of lunch in sight. But the unfolding scene intrigued her. She stood with her mother and aunty and uncle as the Cat’s engine rose in volume and pitch.
As the Cat moved forward taking up the slack, the cable stretched taut under its slick of wet and drew a mostly silver line across the dirtied field. The engine’s smokey voice was rising louder and higher against the still grey light and the diesel fumes puffed black monsters that stretched upwards with the sound. But the car moved only slightly, as stuck in its furrow it shoved hard against a wedge of thick grassy mud. A ripple of field neatly draped over the the car’s front bumper, looked like a curved and grassy sofa.
As the two men stared, baffled and confused, a pistol sharp crack shot through the revs and the smoke. Its echo moving at speed up and into the woods beyond. As the cable snapped, the freed line waved and sung, hurling a whipcrack path through the grubby air. The silver grace of the once tensed line was a whistling series of curves gleaming with menace. They danced across the grey light with vicious intent. The trajectory was lost momentarily in the smoke layers and the line hung weak and lazy before falling at speed to make a final slice and land some few inches from the little boy. He was standing patiently holding his mother’s hand and felt the hint of razor sharp filaments reach to kiss his cheek.
For an awe filled moment, no one moved and then hands went to mouths as they as one stepped back in horror. The farmer’s wife took up her unharmed child and hurried back towards the yard. The mother followed and all stood gathered in a wild and disbelieving chatter. The two men in their vehicles stared in disbelief at the broken cable, unaware of the mortal danger the farmer’s little boy had been in.
As one, they looked up at the retreating audience and in a moment the farmer was driving the Cat as if to make for the gate to fetch another cable. Except that he wasn’t. Like the Discovery, the Cat was digging its way deeper and deeper into the mire. Like the Discovery, the Cat was soon stuck and immobile. The farmer clambered down and muttering to himself, stomped up to his wife. “I’ll get the tractor.” As he left, his wife said to no one in particular “But who’s going to drive the tractor if they’re driving the Cat and the car?”
Back to the kitchen some of the party trooped. The daughter was after a little early lunch and with her mother got the veg lasagne into the oven. And then the phone rang. Handing her daughter another hastily toasted cheese and onion sandwich, she hung up and said: “That was Naresh. He wanted to know if we could help him fix the flat tyre on his rental car. He’s not sure where he is, but wants us to know that they will be late. He’s going to ring again to find out what we can do to help them.” Mother and daughter stared blankfaced across the kitchen, trying and failing to parse this information into something that fit with the unresolved disaster still occuring in the bottom paddock.
Watching the scene the Grey Horse had been standing very still, apart from the occasional shake of his head. He had come to terms with the noise and the people and was trying to hear the conversation between the man and the farmer’s wife. The brother-in-law and the sister were listening in disbelief and wondering how long it would be before lunch was ready. And then here comes more noise and commotion tearing at the day’s grey pallor and interrupting naptime.
…to be continued.