I have a new piece of short fiction up at Casper Review – In the Flat Field. It’s been a while since I’ve written any short fiction, since I’ve been in novel writing mode since the beginning of the year. This particular piece had been brewing for a while though, and so I took some time out to get it down.
It’s actually, mostly, a true story. Based on two different stories about my paternal great grandfather, Robert Baillie. He was a coachman in Paisley, where my family are from (it’s just outside Glasgow). When William “Buffalo Bill” Cody brought his show to the UK in 1887, some of his horses were stabled at my great grandfather’s place. He loved horses. A love that my grandmother, Jessie, inherited.
The first of the two accounts that went into the story too place during World War One. Robert was part of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, and during the Retreat from Mons, had to be physically dragged from the battlefield because he was stopping at every injured horse to end its suffering. There’s not really very much known about his war experiences beyond this. Until recently my father wasn’t sure what regiment he had served in. We had thought it was the Black Watch, as most of my war generation family members did. I do remember hearing a story once, possibly from my grandmother, that when he returned to the UK, I suspect from Mons, his boots were still covered in the thick mud of the trenches. I suspect he was the kind of man who didn’t speak much of what happened. Like my great uncle who served in the RAF Regiment in Burma, and spent time as a Japanese POW. Never a word spoken of what happened to him there.
The second story I believe took place prior to Robert joining the Army. He was in the rooms above the stables in Paisley with his daughter (my grandmother), who was only a small child. She was playing in front of the fire. Below in the stable was an old donkey that was on its last legs. The story goes that there is an old myth among horse people, that no one ever sees a donkey die. And so my great grandfather had been tasked with keeping a watch over it (he was also on fire watch, I believe), to witness that moment. But he really wanted to run over the road to the pub and get a pint in before they closed (they closed very early during the war). But unable to leave my grandmother, or take her with him, he nailed her dress to the floor so she would crawl near the fire or hurt herself. He then ran over the road and had his pint. When he got back, Jessie was fine, still nailed to the floor. The donkey, however, was dead.
I’m really pleased to be able to share this story, and very grateful to Casper Review for giving it a place to live. Seriously check them out they’ve some great writing up there.