Number 51 – Horses are not the only signifiers of difference.
Some days, when the alarm jolts her awake at 4:45, her first reaction is one of shock,a disbelief that sleep is over for another 18 hours.
From long experience, she knows that the only way forward is speed and decisiveness. It is much, much worse if she waits or God forbid, allows herself to hit the snooze button.
A deep breath and then kick the duvet back, dislodge the dogs and out of bed into the unheated bedroom.
She puts her jeans straight on, on top of her pyjama bottoms, no loss of precious body heat and then hooded top, baggy jumper and jacket.
Her gloves and hat are downstairs next to the car keys.
The dogs have already raced downstairs to wait at the kitchen door quivering with excitement as they stand there, ready for breakfast.
She checks her watch, 4.53 and puts the kettle on, makes a cuppa and drinks it standing at the back door assessing the weather before she collects up the dogs and leaving her cup half full drags them around the block.
She rarely sees anyone else, it is too early for anyone to yet be on their way to work and fate too late for even the most hardcore party animals.
The dogs know how these morning walks go and are business like,keep their sniffing and snuffling to a minimum and 10 minutes later they are back home.
She grabs work bag, packed lunch, her work clothes on hangers and her after work stuff and by 5.20 she is in the car, glad that there was no frost last night and so no window scrapping and rubbing to freeze her hands even before she has started.
She reckons that she could do this drive in her sleep and probably has done, only coming properly awake when a car pulls out unexpectedly.
At this time of the year,the whole drive is in darkness, only the world service in the radio to break the silence all around her. Over the years she has listened to hours of the world service and has absorbed all manner of strange facts. She tries to keep them to herself, but occasional one pops out, usually followed by a silence from her work colleagues and a metaphorical step backwards from them, another layer of distance.
The stables are completely dark, she uses her phone as a pitiful torch to unlock the chain around the gate and even before she parks she can hear them greeting her or at least greeting the arrival of breakfast and morning.
The horses are all looking over their stable doors.
Alice whinnies whickers, an oddly small noise from such a large animal.
Oliver starts to kick the door, panicking that today will be the day that he is left hungry and alone and the pony, the pony simply stares as he does every morning as if her arrival is simply an unexpected surprise.
She has the morning routine down pat, feed, put on rugs suitable for the weather and then the trudge to the field, hideous in wet weather when the mud threatens to suck the boots from her feet.
She once found herself wondering how long she would lie her undiscovered if she did actually fall and drown in mud that comes above her knees.
The answer was frightening and that thought,along with a whole mental box of thoughts to be ignored, has been put to one side, pushed down into her own figurative mud and left to drown there.
The stable work is reassuringly routine, she sets herself little competitions, like to shave time off her personal records and on the best days, where nothing goes wrong, she has a precious 10 minutes before she needs to head off to work and then she stands looking out towards the field and as night turns into early morning, she watches the horses become visible and smokes a single cigarette.
She needs to get the time of her arrival at work exactly right, too early and the night security man will have to let her in and will see her in all her hay, mud and straw covered glory, too late though and there is a danger of bumping into early bird colleagues before she has sneaked into the workplace gym showers and transformed into her daytime self.
Her cubicle is anonymous,no photos of family, partners, smiling faces on holiday beaches. She doesn’t have any of those and over the years she has learnt that photos of the horses,of events they have done, even a rosette or two simply set her even further apart. So, she has compromised on a photo of the dogs and a mug with a thelwell pony cartoon.
She has worked in offices ever since she left school, happy enough with the routine, the regular start and finish times, the 60 minute lunch break and the work that she leaves at the door even before she reaches the door.
She is told that she lacks ambition, but works hard, is rarely off and is happy to allow her co workers to have holidays to fit around families, Christmas and school terms. So, she stays here for the moment.
There will come a time, there always comes a time when she needs to leave and then she will gone with as little fuss as she arrived and within weeks,sometimes days, nobody there will quite be able to remember her name properly. She may leave the mug behind but she will carefully remove the dogs photograph.
TO BE CONTINUED