White jaw bone hanging slack until the boy beneath the sheet pulls on the wire, making it clack clack clack. The adults laugh and cheer, children scream with delicious terror, some very little ones have not developed a taste for terror. It is sour on their small pink tongues and they press tear streaked faces into denim clad legs. The Mari Lwyd struts and jerks along the winter dark street, the boys growing wilder with each drink, raucous, ribald comments thrown between them like grenades.
Her empty eye sockets swivel towards me and I feel seen. We are both poor mares I think, dead behind the eyes.
We stand looking at each other for long minutes, until the ghost of the horse she was shimmers around the bleach boiled bones of her, weaves through the legs of the boys who control her. The crowd noise fades into an old night, a blood red moon, stars in unnamed patterns. I see her moving across the hill side, mane streaming behind her past long dead trees, hooves beating out a heartbeat on the earth.
After the wild evening the Mari Lwyd is buried deep in the earth until next year, behind the barn and the boiling vat that stripped the flesh from her bones. As a wolf grey twilight bites and fluttering rags of rooks return to the skeleton trees around the village, I slip into the barn, leave with a bundle wrapped in rags and dirt caked hands.
I stroke her smooth bone skull gild it with gold leaf. I stick seed pearls from my grandmother’s broken necklace across her brow. Whisper into the hollow shell of her ear that she is a queen. The whisper echoes through the spaces and voids of her skull, coming back to me amplified and sibilant ,”a queen, a queen, a queen”
She lives in my orchard now. When I visit her on October evenings, when the wind has a different scent, when it is warm and damp with ending, I bring her apples, pour out cider onto the grass between us. Wild bees have made a hive of her beautiful skull, and amber tears of honey drip from her eyes.
Biography: Karen Arnold is a writer and psychotherapist living in Worcestershire.