Through Her Eyes

Through Her Eyes (2017)

It wasn’t being attacked by bleach six months before, resulting in permanent blindness, that was the worst thing Liam had endured in his seventeen years of life. No, it was the group therapy that happened because of it. He was now sat in a minibus that smelt of sweat and egg sandwiches. The whole journey he’d been trying to ignore his support worker, Claire-Anne, who was babbling on incessantly about God knows what. Sometimes he wondered if he would have been better off going deaf rather than blind. Maybe that way he could keep to himself without being called rude. After the attack, his step-mum had come up with the fantastic idea of sending him to a support group. She hoped it would help him reintegrate back into society and make some friends. Liam remembered thinking in that moment that those evil step-mothers in fairy tales seemed like mum of the year in comparison. 

He’d tried everything to get out of the weekly sessions. There was the usual faking an illness and even a failed attempt to run away. The latter had proven much more challenging when he shut the front door behind him and remembered he couldn’t bloody see. Despite his best efforts he was on the way to his fourteenth session. Claire-Anne had announced this week’s plans in her usual ‘you’ve just won a lifetime supply of pizza!’ tone.
              “Equine therapy!” Cue the sound of her lips sliding over teeth in one of her audible grins. Apparently, the right response to this revelation wasn’t;
              “What the everlasting fuck is that?” And he’d spent the next hour being reprimanded on his attitude towards the services being provided.  

So here he was, the minibus pulled into what sounded and felt like an uneven driveway. Liam could hear gravel under the wheels, feel them plunge into some sort of dent and then the grind of wheel on pebbles would start again.
“Have you taken us to the dump to dispose of our bodies?” Liam said, he didn’t need to see to know that they’d just driven into a shit hole.
“Don’t say that!” Hollie, a whiny sixteen-year-old spoke up from somewhere to his right.
“Why do you have to do that?” Claire-Anne said. Liam had never seen Claire-Anne before, but he knew she had this awful habit of shaking her head in disapproval because her neck clicked every time she did so.
“It’s not my fault she never grew up,” Liam said.
“That’s enough,” Claire-Anne was shaking her head again, a little more violently this time as the clicks were louder and more frequent. Liam was about to reply with a suggestion of serious chiropractic attention when Harry in the seat in front slammed his face against the window, it shook in a rippled effect down the bus.
“Nah, man, I’m not fucking with donkeys. My nan used to make me ride them when she dragged me to the seaside. One of them bit a hole in my favourite hat, can you believe it?”
“They aren’t donkeys, you imbecile,” Ruby, the know-it-all of the group said, “they’re horses.” Liam laughed, trust Harry to make the mistake. Liam was the blind one, but he had more chance of identifying an animal than Harry. Out of the other children in the group, Harry was Liam’s favourite, he was a nice enough lad who wasn’t blessed with brains and that suited Liam quite nicely.
“Come on guys, follow me towards the office. Liam you’ll be going separately with Claire-Anne. Today you are all going to look after and ride a pony!” Jack, the group leader and designated serious one, said. He herded the children like sheep out of the minibus.
“Fuck that,” Liam said, “There is no fucking way I’m getting on a horse. If you absolute twats don’t remember, I’m blind! I’m not letting some giant dog with hooves anywhere near me. I’ve heard those things can smell fear.”
“Stop making a fuss,” Claire-Anne yanked him from his seat, “If you’re scared then you can sit and watch.”
“There’s a slight flaw to that plan, isn’t there? I can’t fucking see.”
“Oh, Liam, I’m sorry you know I didn’t mean it,” Claire-Anne loosened her grip on Liam’s arm, “Please, Liam, everyone’s giving it a go. You’ll make your mum and dad so proud.”
“Unlikely,” Liam said, but reached for his support cane. 

It took Claire-Anne far longer than needed to get Liam out the minibus, because he liked to pretend that he was terrified of steps. He’d figured out how to navigate them near the beginning of his blindness, but every time he came to use them in therapy he’d make a show of it. Once on the ground he felt the squelch of mud under his battered trainers before he heard it. The overwhelming stench of horse manure and sweet hay mixed in a confusing combination of comfort and repulsion. Liam wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to how much smell there was everywhere. Always. He’d been told that his other senses might compensate, but he never realised by how much.
“Hey, Ruby, it smells like you here!” Liam said. Claire-Anne’s neck clicked furiously, and she moved Liam to a side.
“I won’t have this,” click, click, click, “I’ve spoken to you about the way you treat others here. Now if you don’t start behaving you will spend your whole time on the minibus alone. You don’t want that do you?”
“Actually, that’s exactly what I want,” Liam replied. Claire-Anne ignored him and began to walk ahead, assumedly towards the horses. Liam concentrated on his cane in front of him, but it kept getting stuck in thick mud. He had too much pride to admit to Claire-Anne that he’d like some more guidance and it was his own fault he’d turned down a guide dog. Instead he followed the sound of Claire-Anne’s boots squelching through the dirt up ahead, hoping no obstacles would block his path.

He smelt the horses immediately. To his surprise they smelt sweet, peppermint and something sugary. Claire-Anne grabbed his arm as he began to walk further to get a better gauge of what exactly was that extra sugary scent.
“Careful, you won’t want to get too close,” Claire-Anne hadn’t let go of his arm yet.
“Isn’t the point of this whole trip that I will be getting close to them?” Liam shook her off, “I was trying to figure out a smell.”
“Don’t be so disgusting, they’re animals, of course they are going to smell,” Claire-Anne said.
“It’s not a bad smell.”
“You’re probably smelling tha’ apple-chaff,” a new voice sounded from Liam’s left and he instinctively turned his face towards the speaker as if to look at him, “it’s tha’ stuff we feed tha’ horses with. We just made tha’ feeds a little while ago. It smells proper good, doesn’t it?”
“Right,” Liam said. The speakers accent threw him off a little.
“Ya’ must be Liam, I’m Davie, we’ve got tha’ perfect horse for ya’ to work with ta-day. She’s actually my personal favourite, but ya’ mustn’t tell tha’ others that.” Davie squelched forward in the mud, presumably leading the way to this horse. Liam fumbled slowly behind. “Her name’s Collie, because she’s got black and white patches like a Border Collie.”
“Oh, she’s very big,” Claire-Anne said. She stilled beside Liam and he noticed her breath grow a little shallow. Scared of horses, he’d have to remember that for later. Before he could celebrate this discovery, a loud snort vibrated around him. The sudden noise startled Liam so much that his cane slipped through his hand. He waited for the sound of it hitting the mud, but it never came.
“Oh, don’t ya’ mind ‘er, she’s a gentle giant,” Davie said. He had an enthusiastic voice, but unlike Claire-Anne’s false excitement it sounded warm and genuine. “Ya’ll want this back!” He placed the cane firmly into Liam’s empty right hand. Liam listened carefully, trying to figure out just how close he was to this supposedly huge horse. The jangling of metal against strong teeth gave away where the horses head was situated, and he could just make out the sound of a tail slicing through the air, swatting at flies.
“What do I have to do?” Liam asked.
“She’s ready for ya’ to get on, thought we’d leave grooming and all that for another time when yar’ more comfortable around ‘er,” Davie said, “Put this helmet on and then if you find your way over to her side I’ll give you a leg up onto her.” Liam took the hard helmet he’d been handed and begrudgingly placed it on his head. He then shuffled towards the horse, the smell from earlier was much stronger and tangled in with the earthy smell of leather. He reached out with his free hand and connected with soft fur. It was silkier than he’d expected, and his fingers slipped through like it was wet. Liam folded the cane into its tiny retractable size and slipped it into his jacket pocket. 

“How do I get on?” Liam had moved his hands to the leather saddle and he gripped it as if it was the cane holding him upright.
Davie explained how a leg up works and Liam nodded and waited, still unsure exactly what was about to happen. Davie walked over and placed a hand on Liam’s lower leg that he’d held up as instructed. “3…2…and there ya are!”
“Fuck!” Liam said, “I want to get off!”
“It’s okay, she’s not going anywhere,” Davie spoke clear enough that he could be heard over the sizzling panic in Liam’s ears. He could tell he was up higher, but he couldn’t figure out by how much.
“I can’t do this,” Liam said, “Please, just let me get off! How am I meant to do this when I can’t fucking see what the hell I’m doing?” His terror was cut off by a slow, warm breath warming the fabric of his trousers by his ankle. Collie had turned her great neck, so her muzzle was bumping against Liam’s foot where it dangled by her side.
“She’s saying ‘ello,” Davie said. Liam let out a trembling breath and his sweaty fingers relaxed a little on where they’d been digging into the front end of the saddle. He crept his hand out forwards to where he felt the horse nibbling at the end of his trainers. He connected with velvety muzzle and Collie’s huge lips skimmed his fingers. He pushed himself back up in the saddle and gripped a bit of her mane in one hand.
“I’ll do it. But only slow and you better be holding her,” Liam said. What would the others say if they saw him get off and go crying back to the bus?
“Of course,” Davie confirmed. Liam felt the rope-like leather of Collie’s reins being placed in his hands. “If ya’ wanna stop then pull gently on ‘er reins and she’ll slow right down,” Liam nodded and allowed Davie to guide his fingers into the correct positions on the reins and then it was a deep breath and they were moving. 

He fought to keep his breathing calm but feeling the power of Collie beneath him was incomparable to anything Liam had felt before. For the first time in six months Liam didn’t have to worry about tripping over something or bashing into someone. This animal knew where she was going, she could see, and she was taking him along with her. He didn’t need to know where he was. His usual frustration and panic regarding the permanent darkness was diminished. Collie’s large stride thrilled Liam. He felt safe and sturdier than he did on the ground and soon he began to wonder how fast this animal could go with him.
“Can I go faster?” Liam asked.
“If ya’ want, if ya’ nudge ‘er sides with ya’ heels and click with ya’ mouth like this,” Davie made a peculiar noise, like the sound of hooves against concrete, “then she’ll speed up. Liam clucked like Davie had and nudged into the mare’s sides and Davie explained how to rise to her trot. Almost instantly the horse leapt forward into a springier gate and the wind whipped past Liam’s cheeks. The material of his jacket billowed against his arms. He let out an involuntary noise from the rush of adrenaline. For a few strides he bounced around in the saddle, reaching out to grab mane and hold on, but soon he felt the rise and fall in the strides and tried what Davie had said to do. “Oh wow! Look at ya, ya’ve got it already!”

At the end of the ride Liam wouldn’t admit it, but he wished he never had to get off Collie’s back. He never thought he’d be able to enjoy the highspeed sports he’d loved so much before.
“So?” Claire-Anne’s voice was full of hope.
“Maybe I could come back,” Liam said, “and I think I will go to that guide dog open day after all. You know, just to shut up my parents.”