Chapter Two ~ Beware the fluid of the Druid

May 31st, 2013 | By | Category: The Madness & The Magic

The stable lights were already on when they got back. Steamy clouds rose from the muckheap and greeted them with its earthy stench. Pure horse heaven to Ronnie. 

The yard bustled with life as people milled about on the end of wheel barrows, feed buckets toppling, head collars and hay nets hanging from handles and shoulders. The nausea still gnawed at her stomach as she dismounted and led Bob to his stable, glad of its discreet position around the back. Socialising was not on her agenda. 

 Bob had just one other neighbour. The lovely Kismet was a lady of impeccable manners and a thoroughbred of the finest breeding. Quite how two such different animals found themselves next door to each other was beyond Ronnie but it amused her. The small and delicate head of the grey, with her fine wisp of a mane, made quite a contrast to the roman- nosed cob and his coarse, black dreadlocks. They were the perfect Lady and the Tramp, the most unlikely of couples, although Kismet’s owner, Sophia – being too much of a lady herself – never mentioned it. Ronnie was grateful for her good manners. 

As Ronnie made her way to the tack room, a wheelbarrow appeared, followed by Sophia. She was quite the lady herself with horse and car to match. Her slick, dark green Mini Cooper shone polish perfect at alltimes, tempting Ronnie to cadge a lift whenever she could. She saw the sparkling dashboard, quadrophonic sound system and luxury oozing from every pore of its leather interior as having everything that her mother’s Morris Minor didn’t – style. The quirks of the ‘Minerva-obile’ had worn thin on Ronnie over the years and its quaint appeal no longer had the same effect on her. There was only so much travelling in a car without heating, sound system and a driver’s door which refused to open- that anyone could put up with. Cold, impractical and downright embarrassing; the ‘Minerva-obile’ had reduced Ronnie’s tolerance levels to well below zero.

 It was easy to see why she now leaned towards the thoroughly modern Mini. Clearly Sophia could well afford it, or at least Daddy the barrister could. 

Sophia beamed at Ronnie, “Hello you! Nice ride?” 

“Hi Sophia, yes it was thanks. Cold out there though. You’re here early tonight aren’t you?

You don’t normally get here until at least six.” 

“I know, that’s because I never normally get time off Uni’ but I only had two lectures this morning. Done and dusted by lunchtime and back home by two…” Thanks to mini hot rod, thought Ronnie. 

“Just managed a lovely schooling session with Kizzy, a complete darling as usual!” 

“Wish I could say the same for Mr Marley there,” Ronnie nodded at Bob, who – oblivious as most horses are to the mention of his name – was more interested in his hay net. 

“I say Bob, what have you been up to?” Sophia called to the munching in the stable. 

“Bobdecided to get away from me and leg it up Blind Man’s track for the road. Luckily a friend of mine stopped him or it could have been nasty.” 

“Did you come off him then?” Sophia asked. 

Ronnie hesitated. She didn’t want to lie as Sophia was hard wired to the truth. She was in training for it after all. Besides, she didn’t have the energy to make something up. 

“No, actually… I… got off to be sick. Wasn’t feeling too well, must’ve been something I ate…” 

“I find that hard to believe Ron, you have the constitution of an ox!”

The truth was she was right. And the truth, it appeared, was exactly what Sophia was going to get out of her. 

“Remember all that food and drink you devoured at the stables’ party the other week? You packed it away like a woman possessed! Andas I remember, you were completely fine the next day.” Ronnie stared into the space behind Sophia, who was right as usual. 

The party…yes, probably a good place to start. They always threw good parties at the stables’, someone’s birthday or leaving ‘do’. But she hadn’t felt like celebrating much… It had started earlier as she was getting off the bus from college. She’d heard the laughter first, and then she saw them… Joe and some girl – some ‘posh bird’ and likely daughter of a boat owner. Then the feeling had crept under her skin, declaring itself in no uncertain terms: You’re jealous. 

What was that about? They’d been friends for years, like brother and sister. She’d even looked up platonic in the dictionary. ‘Love and friendship but not sexual’ had stared back at her in black and white. Maybe she’d changed. 

‘Magic is all about change!’ Her mother’s words called out from the ether. But magical was not how she’d felt. Change was definitely afoot. Maybe one ‘posh bird’ daughter of a boat owner was enough to make the difference. By the time she’d walked home she was confused and scared. The party had been the perfect remedy. Gavin had been there … apprentice farrier and stable hunk. Gavin of fair face and fine body, oh god… that was it! 

“Ronnie,” Sophia touched her shoulder, “…You ok?” 

The girls plopped onto the straw bale outside the stables and looked at the ground in front of them, avoiding each other’s gaze. Ronnie dug her fists deep into the stiff straw. 

“Is there anything you’d like to talk about?” Sophia’s voice was low, “You’re not… pregnant are you?”
Ronnie didn’t speak. Eventually, she turned to face her friend, “How do you know I am?” she whispered. 

“Because I’m psychic and you’re bloody stupid!” 

“Don’t Sophia!” She pleaded, “Surely it can’t happen on a one night stand? Can it?” 

“Are you mad as well as stupid Ron? Of course it can… Did you not think

“I’d had a bit to drink, so you could say I was drinking instead of…” 

“…Thinking…?” 

“Don’t make this worse than it already is,” Ronnie groaned, “I can’t believe I was so stupid myself but I was upset and I just wanted to numb it all out.” 

“Numb what out?
This is like pulling hen’s teeth, thought Sophia. 

“The pain… okay jealousy I suppose. I saw my friend Joe with a…girl. We’ve known each other years and…” 

“Who, the girl?” 

“No, not the girl… Joe! We’re like brother and sister.” 

“Purely platonic then.” Patronising bitch, thought Ronnie. 

“Yes, that’s all…until now. Don’t ask me why it’s changed,” She shrugged, “It just has…” 

“Look Ronnie, it’s not worth beating yourself up about, really it’s not,” Sophia felt rotten. It was a friend she needed, not a lawyer, “What’s important now is what you are going to do about it.” 

She stopped suddenly and looked at the girl next to her. The girl she had only known since she’d arrived at the yard a few months ago. The girl who’d made her feel welcome, shown her round and given her the run-down on everyone. The girl who made her laugh with her sunny smile and quick wit and big heart. The girl who’d gone and got herself up the duff. 

“Can you remember what happened at the party? I have to say I was glad to get out when I did, it was all getting a bit raucous for me, plus I had that dressage competition the next day if you remember.” 

“Yes,” Ronnie sighed, “I can remember you going…just.” 

“You were well oiled by then, swaying at the side of the muckheap as I was looking for my car keys on the ground somewhere… And then you found them. 

“Did I?” 

“Yes! They were in your jeans pocket, you took them off me when I said I was driving back later and you would not accept that I wasn’t drinking. Kept trying to stick a cider on me…remember? By that time of course, you’d had a good few yourself!” Ronnie stifled a giggle as the fog began to clear, “I remember that, yes… didn’t touch the sides. That’s the trouble with the stuff… good old Druid Fluid… goes down far too easy!” 

“You can’t blame the drink Ron!” 

“Oh yes I can. Evil stuff, drink… should be a warning on the bottles,” She shot Sophia a rebellious look. 

“There is a warning you berk. It’s written in the alcohol percentage on the side!” She nudged her elbow into Ronnie’s side, “Honestly, once you’ve gone past the halfway mark there’s no stopping you and woe betide anyone who tries to. I gave up that night and that’s why I buggered off early too, not just the fact I had an early start but because you Rhiannon, were clearly on a roll and I’d had enough,” Sophia was getting all superior again, “ You can be downright obnoxious when you’ve had a few too many!”

“So you went and left me… thanks mate!” Ronnie hissed.

“Don’t be absurd! Shifting the blame will not get you anywhere.” Scoffed Sophia, “You’ll be telling me next you were raped for god’s sake, either that or the victim of an immaculate conception, one of the two!” 

“I’d rather the latter of the two thanks, I prefer angels to devils,” spat Ronnie.
Sarcasm, thought Sophia, really is the lowest form of wit.

“I’m sorry Ron but sometimes you take it too far.” 

“Oh and you don’t? No of course you don’t Sophia. You’re far too clever,” Ronnie caught Sophia’s hurt expression, “Oh look, I’m sorry, I’m bloody sorry alright? What’s going on? Why are we arguing? I don’t wantthis!”

“Neither do I,” agreed Sophia, “Although it’s perfectly normal I think… under the circumstances… when emotions are high it happens all the time.” 

“It just did,” sighed Ronnie. 

“Absolutely…” Sophia smiled, “It did indeed.” 

The two girls sat in silence. The sort of silence that friends can sit in without feeling they need to break it somehow with superfluous drivel or daft banter. They were better than that. They were teetering on the edge of real friendship although they didn’t realise it yet, but they would in time. Finding themselves in unknown territory, they had arrived in no-man’s land…where a night of drunken abandon stretched around it like barbed wire, choking it with fear; because fear is what makes people react when they don’t mean it. And fear is the opposite of love. And if love is supposed to make babies and there’s no love, then there’s only fear. They were scared, but as the cords of empathy tightened between them, they found consolation in its power. Friends get closer when they share hard times. And horses can be counted on to interrupt in the rudest of ways. The girls were startled out of their heavy silence as a loud raspberry rippled out from Bob’s stable. Trust Bob. Divine timing was definitely one of his forte´s. It was hard to tell who was more surprised as the horse looked up with sudden alarm, dreadlocks flapping. 

“Nice one Mr Marley… we much appreciate a welcome break!” Sophia turned to the stable and back to Ronnie. The straw bale toppled forwards underneath them as they keeled over in a fit of giggles. It was just the tonic they needed. 

~~***~~ 

The sweet smell of molasses filled the early evening air as Ronnie mixed up the horses’ feeds. The colourful mix of grains, combined with the sloshy beet pulp and molasses was more than enough to tempt even the poorest of equine appetites. The sticky food stuck to the broken end of the broom handle as she stirred it round in a trance. This small and mundane act was her therapy as she lost herself in the fleeting moment of it. This she did morning and evening, every day of the week, from one month to the next as well as the mucking out and the riding and the thousand and one other jobs that are involved with looking after horses. 

Five years had gone in a flash since her fourteenth birthday, when the gift from her father in the form of Bob had bustled his way into her life. Mum said it was to lessen her pain and his guilt after leaving, what else? A horse was the perfect consolation prize to win her over while her father shacked up with some floozy half way across the country. 

Ronnie had given up analysing it, her mother did enough of that and in the end she wasn’t sure it did any good. People split up, relationships didn’t always work out and okay it was hard sometimes, but probably more for her mother than it was for her. Poor Mum had suffered, taken it badly and never looked at another man since Dad went. That was the trouble. 

She at least, had Bob. The gap left by an unhappy man had been filled with a happy horse. She knew who she’d rather have… and with no disrespect to her father as she loved him dearly – but he was better off where he was. She still got to see him once every couple of months or so when he came down with Laura his girlfriend – and that was fine. They stayed at the Old Druid pub in the village, she joined them for meals and they came down to see Bob and it all worked out. Mum was the one with the problem and five years had not lessened the blow. A man in her life could be the answer. Ronnie was sure of it. 

She slid the horses’ feeds into the stables and bolted them up for the night, locked up the little tack room next door and with a quick glance behind her, made her way down through the main yard and out into the car park at the front. Sophia should be back by now.

Right on cue, the dazzling headlights bumped their way into the makeshift car park of undulating water holes and mud. Ronnie stopped and waited, sliding her boot beneath the murky water of a puddle to see how deep it was and gently patting the sole of her foot up and down. The little green hot rod emerged with Sophia staring blankly ahead, casually raising her fingers at the top of the steering wheel as she pulled up beside her. 

“Did you get it?” Ronnie climbed in and carefully placed her muddy boots on the neatly folded plastic bag on the floor. Sophia didn’t say a word but reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a small paper bag and handed it to her friend. Ronnie took a sharp breath in as she pulled out the slim, long packet inside and stared at the pregnancy test kit. 

“When do I do it?”

“In the morning, first thing.”

“What if…”

“No ‘what if’s’. Just do it Ron, the sooner the better.”

“How long do I have to wait?”

“You don’t, its instant, pretty much. There’ll be a line that appears… if you are that is.” Her frostiness unnerved Ronnie. 

“Do you fancy a drink? I could do with one myself,” said Sophia checking her mirror.

“Good thinking Batman,” Ronnie managed a weak smile as she clicked her seat belt into place, “Don’t mind if I do.”

~~***~~ 

Leaving Sophia’s car at her house, the two girls walked to the pub – a very convenient stone’s throw away. The fire crackled and spat from the hearth in the dark and dingy building that was the Old Druid. The less than crowded room with its dark and intimate corners gave them all the privacy they needed. It never seemed to change and Ronnie loved the feel of the place. It transported her to another time, way back before the modern world took its hold over the country folk and pushed them headlong into the towns and cities. Way before it sucked them into the fast lane of life and its constant traffic and noise. Before it took them away from the fields and the forests and the birdsong; before it seduced them with faster and bigger and better. She loved the tiny alcoves and low beams of solid oak, worn smooth with the years. She loved the sparse furnishings and the picture of the old Druid over the fire place, arms outstretched to the moon and surveying the room from his circle of stones. She also loved the cider. 

“Cheers good friend,” said Ronnie as she raised her glass first to Sophia and then to the old Druid above the fire, “And to you sir… your very good health.” She was sure the sparkle in his eyes twinkled back at her. 

“They might not have much else in here, but this stuff makes up for it,” Sophia smiled at the golden liquid in her glass. 

“Can’t beat the Druid fluid,” said Ronnie, “They brew it here you know…” 

“Anyway Ron,” Sophia frowned, “Are you sure about…you know…Gavin. Are you sure it actually happened?” 

“Well as sure as we’re sitting here and he’s up there,” Ronnie stared at the picture, “It was a moment of madness, fuelled by a mixture of self-pity and a sort of weird revenge thing that came over me.” 

“Not to mention that stuff…” Sophia raised her eyebrows at Ronnie’s glass. 

“Well yes, the main culprit as we’ve concluded so far.” 

“Where… did it happen?” 

“In the hay barn,” Ronnie’s matter of fact tone was strangely calm, “Right at the back and if you must know, I was a willing participant and I didn’t care. I knew Gavin liked me; he’d been giving me the eye for ages. So that’s it,” she downed her cider and made her way to the bar. 

“Oh go on then…” answered Sophia to Ronnie’s questioning look, “Sod it.” 

“Another two please Ernie!” Ronnie strained over the bar and called down the other end. The landlord finally appeared. He had rather a peculiar likeness to the Old Druid himself. In fact, thought Ronnie, it probably really is the old boy reincarnated. Who was to say it wasn’t? She mused over this while Ernie took his time over the re-fills. He was in no hurry and neither was she as her eyes wandered about her while she waited. The poster caught her eye immediately. The face stared back at and her heart lurched. Only one person could do that… Joe… and his band of merry music men – The Planet Reapers. She’d chosen the name after he’d asked her advice one evening at rehearsals. 

“What d’ya reckon on a name then Ron? We need one; our first gig’s coming up.” 

“Well considering the state you were in tonight,” (a little herbal recreation never seemed to go amiss); “I’d say you were off the planet so… how about The Planet Reapers?” 

“Nice one Ron, that’ll do,” Joe had grinned at her. That was it. One satisfied customer. No deliberating for hours. No seeking approval from any quarter. No checking to see if anyone else had the same name. It didn’t matter. A decision made then and there. They all loved the name too. Joe and The Planet Reapers were born. She thought what a great photo it was. The lads in full flow and clearly rocking it out as only they knew how. A wild eyed Stag with hair and drumsticks flying at the back, bent over his bass was a shaven- headed Rocco and striking a Hendrix pose in the front with his precious Fender was Joe. 

They were playing at the Old Druid that Saturday and it was bound to be a good night and she wanted to be there. She’d been there right from the start, cheering them on from playing to one man and his dog to places that had been heaving from all sides. 

She turned to Sophia, “You’ll come on Saturday won’t you? Joe’s band is playing here. Should be a good night!” 

Sophia shifted in her seat, “You mean … Joe…the one you…? Oh… yes I’d love to. Could do with a night out… What sort of music is it?” 

“A mixture really, a lot of rock covers but they do their own stuff too and it’s great. Joe’s a good songwriter…” her voice trailed off. This was madness, thought Sophia, shoving things under the carpet was not her style but she was going along with it. She’d become fond of Ronnie in a short time and didn’t want to rock the boat. She was clearly a bit of a wild child and surely it wouldn’t hurt to let her hair down and join her. Besides, she didn’t know that many people in the village whereas Ronnie did, and she quite liked the idea of getting out a bit more. That was her Saturday night sorted out then. 

They drank further into the night and munched on crisps and peanuts and laughed and joked and wobbled to the toilet and back and finally; got up to leave. As they did, a couple came in and approached the bar, passing the girls on the way. Her eyesight and reflexes not the best, Ronnie knocked her glass over, spilling the last of its contents onto the female of the couple. This did not bode well in Ronnie’s favour.

“Oh!” The female cried, “Thanks very much!” 

 Ronnie was too busy to hear or notice, caught up in an attempt to remove her jacket from the back of a chair. This was no easy feat, considering the said chair appeared to have claimed the jacket in a (chair) stranglehold – and wasn’t letting go. 

“Ron, what are you up to?” She recognised the voice. 

“I’m soaked!” said the female, turning to the voice for support. 

Ronnie looked in the direction of the voice. ..Joe. Again. How come she hadn’t seen him for ages and then he appeared three times (she was counting the poster) in one day? And the female? It had to be ‘Posh Bird’- daughter of boat owner – of course. Great. Posh Bird was puce in the face and Joe wore a smirk of what appeared to be embarrassment and amusement. An odd combination, she thought, but nevertheless appealing in a charming sort of way. At least he was gentlemanly enough to feel one and friendly enough to feel the other. How considerate of him. 

“Oh shit…I’m sorry,” she said to Posh Bird, “Didn’t mean to…” 

“No of course you didn’t, I’m sure.” Posh Bird was seething. 

What a horror, thought Sophia, and went off in search of a cloth. Ronnie fumbled around in her (chair hugging) jacket pocket and brought out a grubby hanky which she passed to Posh Bird in her most humble, apologetic manner. Looking at Joe and with lips tightly pursed, Posh Bird took it and dabbed at her wet clothes before handing the soiled specimen back to Ronnie. It was an awkward moment to say the least.

“Well Joe, fancy seeing you… again,” Ronnie couldn’t help herself.

“Penny,” Joe’s eyes were fixed on Posh Bird, “This is Ronnie, an old friend of mine… we grew up together,” he added quickly. As pissed as she was, this was not lost on Ronnie.

You bastard she told him silently.

“Oh Penny!” She exclaimed, “Is that short for Pen…el…opee? Charmed I’m sure.” Ronnie thrust out a sweaty hand. Ignoring the gesture, Posh Bird shot a filthy look at all of them.

“Right, well pleased to meet you,” she clipped, regaining her composure, “See you around sometime,” and strutted to the bar.

 “Yeah, whatever,” said Ronnie, her hands boldly forming a W shape in mid-air. 

“Ron… no need for that,” Joe glared at her, “You’ve had a bit too much. Maybe going home’s not a bad idea.” 

“P’raps I should, p’raps I shouldn’t,” clasping her chin, she began to sway.

Sophia finished cloth duties and moved in swiftly, taking a firm grip of Ronnie’s elbow and aimed for the door.

“I’m Sophia by the way,” she called behind her, “Nice to meet you!” 

“And you,” said a dazed Joe.

“We’re coming on Saturday…to see your band,” Sophia pushed a reluctant Ronnie outside, “See you then… bye!” Posh Bird shot a dark look at Joe. 

“Mine’s a large one,” he said, looking up at the picture on the wall. And for a mad moment, he could’ve sworn … the old Druid winked at him. 

~~***~~

Sheena Cundy is a witch, wife, mother and emerging Crone. Singer and writer of songs and stories, reader and teacher of the tarot and horseriding. Lover of all things mundane and Magical – even the menopause.  www.sheenacundy.weebly.com

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