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Running with the horses


The girl’s job was to gather the manure, but there was pleasure to be taken in this work because foals trotted alongside the carriages, wagons and traps, sucking at the udders of the mares as they ran. It was easy to lure them by cupping her hands and calling, ‘Cos, cos, cos,’ and, though the pony found nothing in her empty palm, it left its silken touch, which tingled for a long time, on her skin, before it turned and ran after the wheels, kicking up a tiny, curled trail of smoke in its wake. This was almost relaxing. They travelled along the road, letting the hot, floury dust percolate between their toes and looking to see if they could spot anything glittering or find pieces of green or brown glass that they could play with and make some interesting patterns.

       Some yellow butterflies flew behind the girl, overtook her and then, drifting onto the blue chicory flowers again, receded into the distance. Somewhere beyond the Stepura’s pigsty a cock crowed briefly, as if it were merely yawning and shaking off the remnants of sleep. A dog clattered its chain, Manya Karpenchykha’s horned goat rose to its legs and stretched the rope on which it was tethered as it pulled towards the girl, and she quickened her step. Her mother, as always, had said, ‘Just go there and back,’ but the ‘there’ had stretched and become slower.

       When she stepped onto the road, above which the air hung languorously warm with the afternoon, she lost the capacity to move swiftly and her pace became slow; lingering rather than walking, like the sunlight glittering over the road. If she narrowed her eyes, she could see through her eyelashes how the ‘sunshine people’, woven from threads of glittering, tremulous air, passed over the road. The girl became akin to them, as if floating; as if she also drifted over the path with only her heels skimming the ground and the road became barely visible.

       The bucket struck her tiny knee painfully. She opened her eyes and almost ran along the track through the fields to the collective farm stable. It was at the end of the same road where their house, with its glassless windows and low roof of corrugated tiles stood. The ‘sunshine people’ distended and faded away and the waft of air, warmed by the sun, made the girl, who was hot with running, close her mouth and breathe deeply through her nose. She smelled the fragrances of all around, tasting them ever more keenly; the maize, withering in the Chumachynnyi’s garden, with its shaggy head bowed on the milky stalk, and the poppy, desiccated and grey, between the Haiduks' potato plants. The green tomatoes, watered yesterday by Kukulevskyi, made her breath grow moist as they respired moisture bitter with their unripeness.

       When she was still some steps away from the wide-open doors of the stable she was struck by the sharp scent of hay, the dry, timber flooring and sweaty harnesses. The girl held her breath as she entered the twilight of the interior with its empty stalls. Horse flies buzzed industriously, trying to cower in the corner where the pregnant mare, Raketa, trampled, quietly panting and wafting her tail. When she caught sight of the girl, the mare turned and looked at her warily. The girl saw herself in the mirror of those equine, black eyes, shrunk to the size of a puppet with a bucket in her hand.


From Episodic Memory, a novel by Liubov Holota, translated by Stephen Komarnyckyj. Now available.