I took Stanley out in early morning to avoid the upcoming rain and sleet. We got to the horses half a mile down the road, T and Gala. They were higher up the pasture, but both cantered down the slope towards me, knowing what I carry in my pockets.

Gala is the big boss. She paws the ground eagerly, waiting for my approach. But the fence is electrified, so I walk towards the wooden fence where there is less risk of harm from all that anticipation, Gala walking alongside on the other end of the fence, totally unbothered by Stanley, Stanley unbothered by her because he pretends she’s not there (what horses?). Her smaller brother, T, heads straight to the wooden fence.

But lordly Gala is first, as usual, so I give her a nice big Gala (what else?) apple. She bites into it and one-half falls outside the fence, which I immediately pick up and hold out to her. As she’s busy crunching away, T arrives, a little careful of Gala, and I give him his big apple. He holds on to all of it and turns away, knowing his sister will go after him if he asks for more attention.

So far, it’s the usual routine. Cold raindrops begin to fall and I turn back on the road with Stanley. I heard a snort and soft whinny, look to my right, and there is T. For the first time in all the months I’ve visited the horses he’s following us on his side of the electrified fence, which scares him. Gala is somewhere else, enjoying the last taste of apple and ignoring him for the moment, and he’s following us on the other side, looking intensely at me.

I walk over to him, surprised. While Gala is always more reckless around the electrified fence, T is far more apprehensive of it, as am I, and stays far from it. Why is he here now? He knows there are no more apples, my pockets are empty. He keeps a few feet back from the fence, but when I arrive he approaches even closer, keeping his head high, looking me straight in the eyes. What’s keeping him there, rooted to the spot? What does he see? What does he say?

Surely not what everybody else says.

You’re so strong, they say again and again.

I don’t want to be strong, I say back. Let me finally swim with the current rather than against it. Try surrendering.

People like you don’t surrender. You are a strong woman.

I don’t want to be a strong woman. Go find yourself a new role model.

Strong, strong, strong.

Get that word out of my dictionary, please. What I want to do is learn to melt, like the snow melting in the rain now.

You can manage so many things. That’s because you’re strong.

Get me off that island. That’s what being strong often is, my own little island with my own little name on it, hovering over waves.

Being strong is how you survived all these years.

I need to give in a little, bend my knee.

You ain’t bending.

Not even to myself? Not even to my needs? Whispers of the body, whispers of the soul?

A car comes down the road and I look out for Stanley, step away, and when I turn back to T he has also backed off because Gala the dominatrix is now heading our way to remind him who’s boss.

Stanley, too, hurries me on the road, happy to get away from his what-horses?. But in my mind I’m bending, bending my head against the hairs of T’s mane, hearing that loud heartbeat, warmed by the heat of that large, white body.