He entered the yard, passing a knot of parents talking. Being the first day of school, a lot of parents who had first graders had descended onto the schoolyard bringing their kids to school. By this time though most of them had left and no one really noticed him. He crossed the yard, and as he neared the barn passed an assortment of buggy's and waggons standing around. He stopped in front of the open barn door, Doll snorting and neighing in response to the horses already in the barn.
He concentrated on making sure he had a good grip on the reins as he led his horse between the two rows of horses on each side. He tied his horse on in an empty stall, removed the offensive bridal and hung it on a hook as he left the barn. He was now thinking of how he'd get off the yard without his buddies seeing this bridal with the blinkers on it. He could just imagine the laughter, the scorn and the finger pointing.
With lunch-pail in hand he walked towards the one-room school.
Upon entering the building through the huge double doors, he was hit with the very familiar smells of chalk, books and old wood. Memories of grade one assailed him and he was glad he was back. He hung his jacket on the lower row of hooks alongside multicolored rows of kids coats.
He paused before he entered the large classroom of about thirty kids. He could hear the teacher going through the role-call, moving from one grade to the next. He wondered if his name had already been called. He could see the huge furnace vent at the back of the room and some of the older kids in the last rows near his door. A few of them saw him, snickering... one of them whispering, "You’re late!"
He knew, from last year that the grade ones sat right along the far wall from where he was standing. The grade two's would be next to them. Suddenly he remembered he'd know them from last year so would know where to sit. Unfortunately, he'd have to walk right across the whole room to get there.
The teacher, caught sight of him skulking along halfway across the back of the room turned out to be very nice. She was new and was trying to get to know each student as quickly as possible. She seemed very attentive and interested, asking questions and talking the whole time as she settled him into a desk in the grade two section. She'd placed a reader before him to read as she finished going on through the names of the higher grades.
Mike relaxed, enjoying the huge class-room. The thing he liked best about it was the blackboard. This was no ordinary blackboard. He had one at home in the house, which his dad had put up for him to do homework on. But, mostly he drew pictures on it. Also, it was small. This one was huge. As high as the teacher could reach when she stood on her toes, and stretched across the whole front of the room, passed behind the teacher's desk and on. It turned the corner at the far side and went along the next wall, past the girl’s cloakroom door, going on till the boys cloakroom door he'd just entered at the end of the wall.
He loved this backboard. Last year he'd been asked to draw Christmas decorations for the Christmas program the school put on for the parents. He'd used coloured chalk to draw Christmas candles on the blackboard. He remembered he'd been given large sheets of paper to draw the candles on that first, with his pencil. Then the teacher had suggested poking holes through the paper along the lines, which was then used as a stencil for each candle. He remembered holding the paper against the blackboard and tapping the brush over the holes, chalk dust rising in the air around him. When the paper was removed, the dust having gone
through the holes revealed the whole candle....
He jolted upright in his chair as a new thought splashed across his mind. Later, he would remember the experience, likening it to seeing a sudden, surprising bolt of lightning in the night sky. Like the whole bolt, every aspect of it. All the branches of it, even the glow of light on the clouds around it, everything.
For the rest of the day, Mike disappeared. I mean, at recess. He was there for every class, intense and excited. But for recess, he was gone. No one asked for him and no one noticed.
At three-thirty pm the school bell rang announcing the end of the school day. Mike was strangely relaxed considering his concerns of the morning. It was like he'd forgotten all about his anxiety about the bridle with the blinders.
He chatted with the guys as they made their way across the yard to the barn. They would all now hitch up or mount their horses and be on their way home. Mike could not help but smile as he put the bridle with the blinkers on his horse in the stall. He mounted using the stall wall and burst out of the barn door, leaning back in his saddle, working the reins trying to keep the eager, cooped up Doll under control.
Every horse was always excited to get home after a day in the barn, this was no surprise. But each of his friends stopped what they were doing as their off-hand glances towards him struggling, turned into stunned stairs and then outright laughter and general excitement. Kids began to run and call ahead as he moved along. Everyone began to crowd around to get a better look. By the time he went past the school building on his way to the driveway, the new teacher was standing on the steps watching as he went by. She laughed and waved. He tried to respond with a wave but ended up with a half panic wave, as his hands were full trying to control his horse, keeping her moving slow enough, so kids could keep up admiring the blinkers on his horse!
"Be careful Mike," he heard her call. He nodded and smiled broadly as he relaxed the reins, letting his horse break into an eager gallop home as he exited the yard.
All the way home Mike replayed the drama in his mind. How he’d pocketed the tin of paints and brushes. How he’d emptied a tin holding coloured pencils, laying them down neatly where the tin had stood. Then stopping to fill the tin with water at the pump outside on his way to the barn. There, in the middle of the isle, he planted himself on the floor with his bridal and the paints. He knew exactly what he wanted to do, so began immediately covering the very black blinkers on both sides with several coats of white paint as a background. He had not finished his work when the bell rang at the end of the lunch hour.
He'd been so immersed in his work, he'd forgotten all about lunch. It wasn't until he went to the barn again during the afternoon recess that his stomach reminded him he was hungry. He actually bit into a sandwich, but again in his rush to finish before the end of recess, forgot all about eating.
He’d finished the one blinker during the noon hour, so now all he needed to do was finish the other one. Since he’d done the background at noon all he had to do now was paint the large eye in bright blue, outlined in black, on both sides. When he’d finished that and the bell had not yet rung, he had, as an afterthought added long generous eyelashes on each of the four eyes.
He knew he’d have to explain all of this to his dad. What he would think about it, he had no idea. All he knew was he’d changed something embarrassing into something funny. Exciting even. Everyone had loved it. He decided it had been worth it and was willing to pay the price, whatever that might be.
His heart was bursting and he just could not stop smiling all the way home. His horse apparently felt the same as he did, moving along at a steady trot all the way home, not even thinking about stopping to graze anywhere all the way home.
"So Mike, tell me about the blinkers." his father said, as they were putting feed into the troughs for the milk-cows that evening.
"The lamp of the body is the eye, Therefore when your eye is good, your body also is full of light." Luke 11:34
Photograph by: Cliff Derksen
Taken June 2013