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This is what brave looks like
My mother, young, wearing her once-best coat drawn across the belly that will soon be me, stands alone outside our farm house a mile as the crow flies from any other farms, houses, families. Close by, pregnant ewes crop the frost-hard field, their long teeth gouging the rust-red earth. A black and white collie fawns at my mother’s feet, then pricks up his ears, yaps, once, twice.
It is as she feared.
The hunt is coming down the lane in a jangle of stirrup cup and martingales and yards-of-ale horns, baying hounds and the view halloo, red coats, pink coats, sweating flanks and steaming dragon breath of thoroughbred horses. And my mother in her once-best yellow and black check coat is the only thing between the hunt and those ewes heavy with the as-yet unborn lambs she’ll need to sell to feed her own as-yet unborn lamb – me – and she knows, she’s been told many times, that the worry of a pack of hounds will make those ewes scatter their babies onto the frost-beaten earth, too fast, too soon, and so my mother stands, small though big-bellied, bars the gate, stares up at the Master of Foxhounds, his whip the height of her cheek, his posh boy drawl loud in her ear, his shiny black horse with its shiny steel horseshoes hot beside her, and the pack spills round, huntsmen and women demanding their rights to be let in, barely holding their horses back. She stands. Her brought up a townie. Her knowing that the hunt has ancient privilege. Her knowing that my dad’s gone and she alone must shepherd those sheep. A flash of red shadows across the field. A promise of blood. The Master pushes forward towards the gate. She’s inches from his shiny black boots. The hounds give tongue, a whipper-in calls ‘Tally-ho’, and my mother stands her ground, feels my kick to urge her on, insists, ‘No!’
Anne Summerfield writes short and long fiction and poetry. She has had work published in print and online journals such as Bending Genres, Flash Frontier, Flashback Fiction, New Flash Fiction Review and Jellyfish Review, and in anthologies, most recently 100 Voices for 100 Years (Unbound, 2022). She has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award twice and has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Hampshire, England.