Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Lost Jockey

The jockey was lost in a forest, a forest deep in winter. A minimalist forest which also seemed as if it had recently been touched by a wild fire. A fire that had spread indiscriminately, torched the foliage on the ground and left some blackened stumps which pristine snow now covered, but the evidence was there for the trees were bare and brittle. A light wind might cause them to snap or disintegrate into wood chips, and yet they were still standing. Still rooted where they'd probably been for hundreds of years. In the exact same location. With no branching out for they grew up not outwards. Stretching for the sun with its jaundiced light, all of them perfectly shaped as if pruned by nature's hands to a standard regulation.
The jockey nor the horse noticed this detail in their present surroundings; both too consumed with seeking a way out, praying for a sudden clearing and a return to a landscape they recognised. Otherwise, from a cursory glance, onwards or backwards, it all looked much the same. Perpetual. White under eye and hoof with parallel lines of naked trees. The few leaves suspended here and there unobserved, as the combination of the black on white and the eerie light was deeply unsettling. Discomfiting to their accustomed steely verve, which in itself was strange, because had the jockey been in full command he would have seen that him and his racehorse complemented the backdrop beautifully. Their colours echoing the black and white forest like a game of backgammon, draughts or chess and they were the pieces in play.
But the jockey was unused to feeling this lost and the dark racehorse was sensitive to the increased slashes of his rider's whip and his ever-tighter squeezed thighs around his sides. The displacement that both felt was uncommon. And although they appeared to move as one, they were not as one. Man and beast were separate, not joined together as would normally be the case. Their forward motion and rhythm was not fluid. It was disjointed, irregular, one a fraction out of sync with the other, except that neither knew which one was at fault or who should adjust to correct it.
The jockey, despite being a Grand National winner, had no experience of this kind of affair, and the racehorse had long-forgotten his experiences in the hands of a novice. There was no situation that compared nor could alleviate their alarm. The ground they found themselves travelling was more punishing than a manicured racecourse. Even at their great speed, which the jockey enforced, the horse was wary of unseen obstacles and the jockey was irritated by this minuscule hesitation, hunched as he was over the horse's back. The horse yearned for his trainer and a dirt track, an amble in arable countryside, and not the torture of the jockey's never-ending pumped adrenaline. But onwards they rode. And rode. Pushed to and through the limits of their own fatigue.
Until the same thought occurred to both of them as one, horse and rider, man and beast: were they missing magical openings in this unchanging forest? If they both slowed, what would they see?
The horse decelerated to a trot and the jockey relaxed and sat back in the saddle, his grip on the reins and the whip loosened. Their breath and sweat mingling, rising together like mist in the cold air. Weariness making itself felt as each gradually returned to their rested rhythm; man and beast entirely spent in their own manner. And as they calmed, the silence of the forest made itself known, seeped in like a chill and made both of them shiver for they had come to a complete stop too quickly and so the quietude that was natural to the forest to them seemed supernatural. There were no sounds, or at least none that man and beast could discern even though they both listened intently. Neither was there any presence of animal, bird, or plant life, except the mostly leafless trees.
Now at ease the jockey surveyed the winter, almost burnt to a cinder, landscape and realised the picture was not at all how it appeared. Like wallpaper there were places where the pattern didn't quite match and it took on a 3D effect. He realised these were exits, openings to God knows where, which had escaped him and yet always been there.

Picture Credit: The Lost Jockey, 1948, Rene Magritte