The other day, I woke up in the hayloft above the horse barn, to voices.
I have to admit I was momentarily surprised to wake up there. I'd gone up into the hayloft to look for Rick's knife, which had fallen off his belt somewhere. He had class that morning, so I'd agreed to look for it for him. The hayloft was one of the places he'd said he'd been. I hadn't meant to fall asleep, and woke up disoriented.
(By the way, when I say "horse barn"--there's only one barn on campus, but almost a third of it is partitioned off for the horses, with a separate entrance. That third is the horse barn.)
The voices I heard belonged to Kit and Joy. I felt torn. On the one hand, I wanted to listen. I'm curious about people. On the other hand, I didn't want to eavesdrop. But if I revealed myself, they'd feel obligated to include me in the conversation and then I wouldn't be able to observe how they interacted with each other. Politeness triumphed over curiosity and I stood up to climb down out of the loft--and banged my head on a support beam of the sloping ceiling. I said some words and sat in the hay for a bit, rubbing my head. It really hurt.
"What's that?" asked Kit's voice.
"Daniel, I'm guessing," answered Joy. "You ok?"
"Yes," I said, weakly. "Just gimme a minute."
"What's he doing up there?" Kit asked, speaking to Joy.
"Hitting his head, obviously...I expect he fell asleep. He went up there about half an hour ago."
"To take a nap? He's on the horticulture team in the mornings, isn't he?"
"I don't think he meant to. Poor boy's exhausted. Do you know he gets up at four in the morning."
"Oh, for heaven's sake."
Joy was right, I do get up at four, but I don't see how she knew that. An occupational hazard of having professors who are witches is that they sometimes know things they shouldn't. In any case, they seemed to be talking about me as though I wasn't there. I lay quietly in the loft, smelling the hay around me, and listening to the women and the sounds of birds and grasshoppers and cicadas outside and the buzzing of a couple of flies around the shifting and occasionally grunting horses.
There are four horses on campus right now. Sometimes there are more, when Joy takes on boarders or fosters rescues. These four, though, are hers, her partners in a kind of therapy she offers to people on and off campus. It sounded like Joy and Kit were brushing one of these horses in the cool of the barn.
"I so like doing this," Kit was saying. "I wish I could ride them, but whenever I try, I feel so awkward."
"They don't think you're awkward," Joy said, meaning the horses. "They think you're small and...cute? They like you."
"So you say."
"Ask them! You know I could teach you."
"You say that, too."
"Why don't you learn animal communication?" asked Joy. She meant psychic communication with animals.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know. Maybe I'm, afraid they won't want to talk to me," Kit suggested.
"You're worried you won't be able to do it, aren't you?"
"You don't have to be a star at everything, Kit. It's ok to struggle, sometimes."
"Yeah, I know. I'm just...not any good at struggling." Something in Kit's voice suggested she knew how ridiculous that sounded. "You know, when I got my ring I thought 'now I finally belong.' Like, I belong here because I'm good at what I do, because I can teach."
"I can't picture this place without you anymore."
"And yet you started here before me. You joined the Six before I did."
"That's true. One year earlier. That's not very much."
"We never knew each other as students."
"No. Hey, listen, how about you teach me how to talk to plants and I'll teach you how to talk to animals. Deal?"
"Ok, deal." Kit giggled a little as she said it.
"And no backing out of your end! If you teach me, you have to let me teach you!"
"On my honor as a witch. Pinky-swear?"
"Pinky-swear!" Joy was laughing now.
"Oh, jeez, is Daniel still listening?" this was Kit, almost whispering. I instantly wished I had not been. The last thing I wanted to do was make Kit uncomfortable.
"Oh, I'd forgotten about him!" admitted Joy, whispering so I could barely hear. Then, in a normal tone of voice, "do you really mind if he is?"
"No, I guess not. Do you know, sometimes I think he knows everything that goes on around here? He listens to everything. People talk to him."
"Yes. It's his gift, or one of them. He's going to make a fine priest."
"Not a witch?" Kit uses the term 'witch' for both males and females.
"No, I don't think so. There's nothing of the uncanny about him. He belongs to a different archetype."
"You're right. In his company I feel...as unselfconscious as if I were alone, but I'm never lonely around him. It's quite a gift."
"Of course, he's listening to this, too."
"Let him. If anyone can avoid getting a swelled head it's him. He deserves to hear the truth."
"Then, again, he may be asleep again," suggested Joy, in a whisper.
"Oh, for heaven's sakes. The poor dear."
They left a few minutes later, without saying much else. I heard their steps, and those of the horse, on the concrete slab floor. I stayed in the hayloft, thinking about things.
I had never heard myself spoken of that way before, especially not by anyone I admired as much as Kit. I had to enlarge myself somehow to take it in. Then, too, I had never heard Kit talk in tones of vulnerability before. I can't picture this place without her either, and she is fantastically skilled at so much. Could she really think, on some level, that all that skill is just barely enough to let her stay?
I found Rick's knife, there in the hay, where he left it--sheathed, fortunately. It's a lot like mine, although his has an antler handle and its decoration includes a raven feather, whereas I have a bone handle and an owl feather. I took out my knife and contemplated it for a long time.