Once upon a time, on a bright cold day in autumn, Father raised his hoof.
There was no sudden silence, because all the birds had already fled.
It was raining.
This came as no great shock. After all, rain was a perfectly natural phenomenon. What was surprising was the lack of foresight Father had displayed. When organising a family reunion, most ponies would normally hold it at their house, mansion, or some similarly covered venue. Would it have been too much of a stretch to check the pegasi weather forecast? I mean, it’s not like he walked past the noticeboard half a dozen times a day.
Oh, wait a moment. I’d nearly forgotten who I was talking about.
That would require him to actually acknowledge that we, unicorns, whom above all others reflected our beloved rulers in our image with our grace and elegance, must consort with those featherbrained ruffians collectively known as ‘pegasi’ about something so basic as the weather.
Alright, perhaps that was being just a little indecorous. Some thoughts are better kept inside the confines of one’s own head, and that’s no way to initiate a conversation with anypony.
Even if they are a racist screwhead.
Was that being a little too hard on him? Perhaps, perhaps not. We haven’t talked in years.
Father aside, it more or less described every other pony in the park I had the unfortunate circumstance of knowing. Not that I’d say it aloud – I, at least, had that much common sense. Father, on the other hand, was about to display his lack of such rather prominently.
When I speak of the others, I use the term ‘family’ loosely. For most ponies, family evoked feelings of welcoming warmth, of hearth and home. Remembrances of childhood, of welcomed embraces by blurry faces, the echo of a stern voice. Each and every one underlined by the self-same acknowledgement of connection and understanding that was not so easily dismissed by age, distance or memory.
I haven’t spoken to my ‘family’ in years.
Celestine Park, the venue of choice, was situated at the southern end of the Ardour Pass, the only break in the Canterlot Range for several hundred miles in either direction. It owed its popularity among unicorns to its proximity to Canterlot itself, and to pegasi for both its verticality and its unrivaled seasonal influx of migratory birds. The latter was the reason I’d agreed to come in spite of the company; perhaps it was different for others, but I’d never lost the childhood spark of wonder that comes from observing those creatures that dared to claim the sky as their own.
And yet in spite of all of this stood Father, oblivious. Fixated merely on the current object of his hatred: a group of weather-pegasi tending to the storm above, controlling and corralling the herds of cloud as they thundered through the passage above.
I wish I could talk to him now – just a few minutes to explain to him the differences, the divisions in the way we saw things. With a little bit of luck he’d listen, and though I doubt he’d understand at first, perhaps the antique cogs of preconception would begin to turn, slowly. Gradually realising that something, somewhere, might be stuck.
He takes a breath.
This is my chance. What should I say?
“Excuse me Father. Would you mind if I take a moment out of your time?”.
Laughable! I’d sound like one of those Manehatten door-to-door salesponies.
“Hey, wait a minute!”.
Even worse. All that would do is initiate a screaming match.
A tirade of abuse escapes from between his lips, the rain too loud and his voice too blustery to be able to make out individual words. It doesn’t matter; the tone and volume make it clear enough. A few pegasi turn and glare but most ignore him, the rain getting too heavy to warrant responding in kind.
Now I knew exactly what I should have said to Father. It would have been lengthy – perhaps too lengthy to be delivered properly. The ideas I come up with were never very pragmatic.
It would have started “Once upon a time” and ended “A sad story, don’t you think?”
Once upon a time there lived two foals.
He, a unicorn, was born into minor nobility, a vessel for his father’s dreams and aspirations that had died along with his wife at birth. Struggling to reconcile his father’s perceptions of others with his own, seeing so much more to the world than the narrow halls of ancestry and tradition walked by those around him. And yet always failing to vocalise his consternation, hoping to avoid the conflict between familial identity and self-actualisation.
She, a pegasus born into an earth pony family, suffered no such conflict. Embracing the differences between her family and her form, she forged a comfortable, contented path between the two.
Time passed with shocking swiftness, and soon both had become adults in their own right, as all living creatures are wont to do.
One day, quite by chance, they met in a park.
“The birds. Whitetail Songlarks. Are they not fantastic?”
Something about the tone of casual wonder in the pegasus mare’s voice made him respond against his normal inclination.
“I have several at home” he remarked in an off-hoof manner.
To his surprise the mare laughed, gesturing at the birds flitting through the trees above them.
“You enjoy watching them, yes?” she asked, a hint of a smile gracing her muzzle.
Obviously. He nodded.
He remembered, recalled younger days of watching birds soar above the golden glistening parapets of Canterlot, with a grace that put the self-fashioned poise of those around him to shame. Marvelling at their freedom, their disregard for those destined to toil below them.
Trying to coalesce that into one sentence, fumbling, failing.
“It’s nice to know… that something in this life has that freedom.”
She shook her head in amusement, before responding in her lilting tones.
“What, then, is the use of your caged birds?”
From that innocuous conversation began the start something else. Their lives intersected; the stallion’s memory of his father’s attitudes dulled by years of absence. She became his new family, as he slowly let those of his past slip behind him. Always hoping, in the back of his mind, to reconcile the two, a sanguine expectation that surely others could learn to change as he had.
It was only years later at a family gathering in the same park that the extent of his father’s indiscretion, prompted by a group of ponies in the wrong place at the wrong time, resurfaced in the stallion’s mind.
As the unicorn stood there he saw in his father the birds, caged, wings clipped by the resentment and narrowed perception of hereditary tradition. Unable to let go of the past, unwilling to give up the self-assuredness gained from putting himself above others, he had clung to the ‘old ways’ until they had come to define him, destroy him.
And in that moment the unicorn saw himself, bound by his own fear of familial judgement, of having to choose one family over the other. Understanding now why he had unconsciously been avoiding talking to his father about her all these years. Realising that there would always be some things, some ponies, that he could never change. That would never change. In that moment, finally realising for the first time the reality of the decision before him.
That one way or another, it was time to let go.
And it broke him.
A sad story, don’t you think?