The horse entered the scene from the west.
She was a chestnut mare, about five years old, beautiful against the greens of the trees and the greens of the grass, and she was called Jennie.
She was a calm horse with a rich mane and a plodding gait. She seemed content in the way that horses have when they’re on a route they know well with a rider they know better.
Jennie’s rider was slumped on her back, as though lulled to sleep by the familiarity of their path. His battered black suede cowboy hat was tipped down over his chin, the chinstrap swaying lightly with Jennie’s steps.
Jennie eased her way over to the fence, coming to a rest just outside the arc of the gate, her well-shod hooves dancing patiently on the grass. She glanced sideways at the chickens across the yard, their squawks drowning out the quiet puffs of her breath.
The chickens were bright white, startled awake by Jennie’s return. They announced their hunger to anyone who was listening, flapping their wings indignantly.
Next to the coop was a picturesque farmhouse, two, maybe three rooms in a square enclosed by faded white siding. A blue porch fell off into three concrete stairs, and a beaten path ran to the stoop through the grass like a poor red carpet.
Tall evergreens smiled down on Jennie, their rich color a testament to the blue sky and shining sun. They formed a protective circle around the property, opening only to allow access to a mountain road, and the only thing that appeared missing was a curl of smoke rising out of the red brick chimney.
And still Jennie waited, her right eye now firmly fixed on the bundle of hay leftover from breakfast scattered on the ground inside her paddock. She didn’t mind the weight on her back; the rider in his age had become an easy burden. She lazily lowered her head to the ground and tugged on a few blades of grass, idly swatting a fly with her tail.
Night came to the clearing slowly and the chickens climbed over each other into the coop, quieting down in the comfort of the walls. The sky above the evergreens darkened to a deep purple streaked with cotton candy pink, then a strange gray. A single star shone down, then there was blackness, and then the world was alive again with moonbeams and shooting stars and Jennie’s eyes reflected twinkles.
Through the darkest hours of the night, Jennie stood and still she waited by the gate, lifting a hoof every now and then to shift her weight. An owl alit on a branch on the edge of the clearing and Jennie whinnied but soon ignored it. The bird twisted its head, its eyes wide and glinting and visible. The picture was still and the darkness blurred together, and then the owl took off soundlessly, and still Jennie waited.
Morning came imperceptibly, first just a graying of the sky, then a hint of blue in the west and a wash of orange in the east. Pinks and yellows and reds played tricks on the clouds and the evergreens seemed almost black against them. Jennie ate bare the ground around her hooves through the early hours.
By the time the sun was high, the chickens were angry and hungry again. One fat one made its way over to Jennie, and Jennie skittered back against the fence. The bird flapped its wings and picked a new direction. Jennie resumed her post, one eye following the path of the chicken until its distance was satisfactory.
And still she waited.
Time passed and the scene stayed mostly the same. The chickens roamed, and Jennie moved slowly throughout the day, stepping along the fence as she consumed the grass around her. A small fox skittered along the edge of the clearing, its head perked high and eyes locked on the coop. In its fierce focus, it didn’t notice Jennie until it was upon her, and then, startled, ran back into the trees.
And still Jennie waited, through another night and another day and another night.
On the third morning, a horse entered the scene from the east, this one mottled and snorting. Jennie was waiting just outside the arc of the gate. The horse drew up close and its rider dismounted. Jennie eyed him sleepily. She waited as her rider was taken from her back; the mottled horse was tied to the fence next to her. Jennie sighed and danced softly. She moved worlds lighter, as though she hadn’t noticed the weight of the rider until he was gone.
The man came back without her rider and mounted the mottled horse. She was left alone for some time and she waited by the gate. The chickens continued their play, and a small blue bird hopped from leg to leg on the fence post next to her eye. He sang her a song and she listened.
The sky was light purple, then gray, and a steady drizzle landed on Jennie’s twitching muscles. And still she waited.
The sun rose higher and burned off the clouds. The man and the mottled horse returned, and Jennie neighed. There were others behind him, and Jennie became nervous, shuffling around and snorting lightly. Her eyes danced, trying to follow all of the movement. Horses were led over to her paddock and tied to the fence. A young man took her reins gently after tying up his horse. He opened the gate, led her into the paddock, and closed it behind him.
Jennie ambled to her water trough. Her ears fought, alternating between the clucks of the chickens, the whinnies of the horses, and the cries of women inside the farmhouse. She made do with the leftover hay and meandered over to the edge of her paddock. Sated and contented in the shade of the evergreens, Jennie lay down and rested.