‘A Father in Zion’ is the eighth piece in our Story: Retold series, published in association with The Rhys Davies Trust. It is inspired by the Caradoc Evans short story, ‘A Father in Sion’.
The lights of the ambulance flickered less regularly on the walls of the room as the vehicle went away. The lights catching on the walls gave the room a pulse, and it was as if the pulse slowed down and then stopped once the ambulance had gone.
She stared at the rods and splintered planks and at the stretched webbing straps hanging from the ceiling. The webbing had been under such tension some of the brass eyelets had fired from it across the room. The closest she could come was that it was like being at the scene of a car crash, except it was difficult to understand.
She turned to the constable and he indicated the exercise book and the pile of sketches on the windowsill. The shadow of the three iron bars laterally across the window outside fell over the papers on the inside sill making it appear they were taped down.
She picked them up. Designs. Strange technical drawings, pulleys and lifting mechanisms. In the exercise book, a log: measurements, sizes, dates. Number of times covered. From: and names of villages or farms.
The paper looked somewhat damp to the eye but she could not feel whether it was or not through the gloves. The place smelt of damp, and horses.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Sadrach stared at his hands. The dubbing had collected where his nails met the skin. She was worth the effort. ‘Surely, right now at this moment is it happening,’ he thought.
‘Pride is a sin; but I am gleaming like her bridle with the thought of her. It is not so much pride, Lord, but love.’
He had the illusion the polished smell of the chapel came from the dubbing on his hands and that all in the congregation would know by that how devoted he was to his mare. He wanted to breed spectacularly from her, and it was his enterprise to have her put to the best bloodlines he could acquire.
Sadrach swelled at the idea. He smiled fondly at the coy nervousness she always seemed to show at first, a reluctance almost timid.
‘Is it not right, in the eyes of God? Do You not give the horse his might? As Job asked: That he may paw the valley, and exult in his strength.’
He sat, as if raptured by the minister’s words, though it was to his own internal sermon he heartened. ‘Yes. It is heavenly to breed her on this Sabbath.’
He thought of the sire’s chestnut flank, hard and glistening like a pew end as he stood up to sing.
She whinnied and screamed. The children’s eyes went wide at the sound so that Sadrach said to them, ‘It is natural.’ She whinnied and screamed uncontrollably. ‘Is it not how you came to the World, children?
‘It is with beasts as it is with men.’
The air filled with whinnies that fell to a kind of warm sobbing, filling Sadrach’s eyes with pride.
‘This is what she needs. Your mother is not as she should be.
‘Get her ready, when the sire is done.’
Sadrach planed the last sharp edge off the timber and looked up at the discreet tapping a little bird made as it picked the putty from the window frame. He fitted the mat over the plinth, and, with the same tapping rhythm as the bird, fixed it in place with escutcheon pins.
A strange canvas harness came down from the ceiling by the head of the plinth; from the walls, straps with buckles came to the side of it. The plinth itself could be lowered and raised once the horse was on top.
Achsah approached the door demurely when she heard the latch and lowered her head as Sadrach came in. He held out a handful of sugar.
‘Thus far it might be she has brought forth only runts and jump mares for me,’ he thought. ‘But she was so very young when I started her.’
He rubbed her flank and patted her, his hand wet from her mouth. He fitted the bridle over her head.
The fresh air from the open door seemed to bring up the smell of the straw.
She paraded, as per instructions. ‘Head up,’ he shouted, and she lifted her neck straight, stretching the skin where she’d been bitten in coupling. The whip was like a brief burn, a splash of boiling water, sound slicing the air until the snap against her skin. The weights hanging on her tits tugged with the brief jerk as she stood up more straight.
He long reined her, putting her through her paces, her thighs taut with her feet angled into the horse-hoof boots.
‘Behold,’ she heard him quote, ‘we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.’
‘How was it?’ he asked, as he led her back to the stable.
‘He was big. I thought impossibly big.’
‘But you managed.’ He offered her another lump of sugar.
‘The machine is nearly ready,’ he said, running a comb through her hair. ‘Soon you’ll have the real thing.
‘Miriam,’ he called the youngest child. ‘Get your mother a bowl of oats.’
Original illustration by Dean Lewis