The horse looked me in the eye and said . . .

 

The house has been emptied in readiness for decorations and Christmas lights. I stuffed a bin so full of rubbish I could barely wheel it down the hill to the crossroads where a white horse shivered and stared at me from a field. He came to the ditch, to the barbed wire fence. He wanted a hug, I suppose, and he was dripping wet and had no shelter from the wind so I stopped and rubbed his nose and talked to him for a few minutes.

I asked him what he thought Christmas would be like without a stable for shelter, or without God for comfort, now that we’ve both been forced to accept the barren indifference of the universe. The horse looked me in the eye and said, “The universe is not indifferent.” Then a magpie landed on the horse’s back and a white minibus passed en route to Carrick-on-Shannon with old mountain folk such as James, a bachelor who owns the horse but doesn’t realise horses can get very lonely if they don’t have company.

James is never lonely, though he washes his dishes alone and makes tea with well water and sips it all night with nobody but ghosts in the other chairs. Sometimes I see him beyond the wipers on winter evenings in storms of sleet, his tea-cosy hat cocked to one side as he wheels a barrow of hay to where the white horse stands. And as long as James breathes, the white horse knows that the universe is not indifferent.

The temperature went below zero last week and the mice arrived. I found one in the hot press. And I was reading in bed one night when I felt something move under the pillow. His tail was sticking out as he tried to hide so I grabbed him and flung him out the window. I suppose all animals want to gather around a warm hearth, though the flying mouse probably took a dim view of the universe.

Last Friday I was Skyping a friend in London who teaches in a school where they call her Mrs Brown because of her Irish accent.

She was chopping a cabbage and I noticed a mouse on the shelf behind her – a London mouse, though he looked no different than the ones in Leitrim. I was glued to the screen as his little snout dipped into a sugar bowl.

“Mrs Brown,” I declared, “we need to talk about mice.” “Ah yes,” she said haughtily, “you probably get a lot of them over there.” I said, “I’m looking at a mouse right now.” “Poor you,” she said.

“I don’t mean here,” I said. “I mean there: on the screen. I can see a mouse behind you on the shelf.” She froze.

“Where is he?” she whispered as if the mouse could understand English.

“In the sugar bowl,” I said.

She turned and saw the bowl. The mouse saw her. Then she screamed and I heard something clatter on the floor and the screen went blank.

Later she tweeted to say her iPad was intact and she was listening to BBC news. And then another tweet: “What does Morsi think he’s up to?” Tweets are invariably about big issues. Twitterland is a place where people can be shallow at a global level.

“I’m gone off Obama,” she tweeted, after Israel bombarded Gaza, as if Obama was an adolescent upstairs and she was listening to a squeaking bed.

When her iPad was back in action she Skyped again while she was dressing a roast for the oven and microwaving a mince pie. I said that’s dangerous but she didn’t heed me. She bit into the pie, its innards now as hot as the melting core of a nuclear reactor, and she screamed again as her tongue sizzled, and again the screen went blank.

I waited for her to call back. I’m always waiting, for one thing or another. In fact during December I do little else but wait for the darkening climax of the solstice and the light of Christmas. And as I waited I tweeted again: three tweets, like doodles scattered into cyberspace – horse, mouse, moon. A child born. Or not born.That’s how I tweet: just small things or single words. Like bread on the deep water, I cast them out for fun, or in quiet hopefulness. I float them on the waves to see what will return, because the horse convinced me the universe is not indifferent.

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