• Published 29th May 2020
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Mothering, Someday - Impossible Numbers



Mare's Day, a tribute to motherhood. Twilight Velvet is the ordinary mother of an extraordinary family; Derpy is the opposite. They normally wouldn't cross paths, but in a town where an outsider can become Princess of Friendship, anything's possible.

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Confession of Dreams

While the three of them waited, the two muffled voices rose from the kitchen again.

“What exactly did you do upstairs?” said Golden Harvest warily.

“Er… I… stumbled across… something…” mumbled Velvet. “In…”

“Mom’s reading room,” admitted Dinky between the two of them.

Golden Harvest gave a very tiny: “Oh.”

Velvet winced. She didn’t like that “oh”. Nothing good ever followed an “oh” dropped on top of a conversation so hard it crushed it dead.

Thank you, Golden Harvest, she thought. As if I wasn’t worried enough.

The door creaked open.

Dinky a.k.a. “Element Mare” hopped up and onto her hooves, alert.

Then Amethyst traipsed into the room, determinedly not looking in their direction, and took up station behind her mother’s chair like a bodyguard, still staring determinedly at anything but the three of them. Soon followed Derpy, wings splayed as though she was being held up by a hostage-taker.

At once, “Element Mare” dived back into her seat and pretended not to be out of breath from all the smiting earlier. Golden Harvest flicked her cape off her lap.

When Derpy sat down, she put on a smile. It was the worst smile Velvet had ever seen.

Where before, Derpy’s mouth had leaped into a full embrace of her face without care or conscience, now her mouth had to struggle as though in a half-nelson against the burden weighing it down.

Velvet’s gaze begged at Amethyst’s, but her face was very much not open for business and said so in a very loud stare.

“Sorry I interrupted,” said Derpy, in a strained cheer held at gunpoint. “Ooh that’s a nice outfit Dinky. You did a very nice outfit – I mean, made a very nice job on that outfit Dinky. I like it very much.”

“Everything all right, Derpy?” said Golden Harvest, nerves jangling on each word.

The moment Velvet and Derpy locked eye-to-eye, Derpy’s wings lowered but never folded up.

For a few breathless seconds, the only sound was the slurp of Derpy enjoying whatever was scolding her mouth in that chipped cup.

Nearby, Amethyst’s face achieved a temperature more usually associated with meat lockers. Or dead penguins.

Finally, Derpy stared away, ear twitching. Whatever she was listening to in her mind, it wasn’t cooling her off anymore. Her cup rattled slightly on its saucer.

“Thank you for the coffee Ammy.” She strained each word through her teeth. “You always brew the best coffee and no mistake. I am very proud of you.”

Mom,” hissed Amethyst, just quiet enough for Velvet to hear it. “It’s just coffee.

“SO!” Derpy gasped and covered her mouth. More timidly, she said, “So what were you talking about?”

Dinky kept her head firmly down. The Element Mare’s mask fell off.

Noble in the attempt, Golden Harvest coughed before the troops. “We were talking about… my… uh…”

“Oho that sounds very interesting do go on,” said Derpy.

Velvet caught Amethyst’s glare. If looks could kill, they said. If looks could silently assassinate, hide the body, burn it, and bury the ashes, more like.

Then she realized what was going on.

Derpy was acting.

And while Derpy undoubtedly had many fine qualities, a secret talent for thespianism was never going to be within a country mile of being one of them. The smile struggled. The eyes had permanent stage fright. The whole body corpsed.

Velvet knew she had to do something about it. She’d been the one who’d stepped into Derpy’s room and seen all the mothering manuals. Now she understood exactly what the acting was in aid of.

She opened her mouth to mention it…

But no. One look at Derpy’s frightened eyes told her not to try. A brutal truth might work on Night Light, say, or on someone like Amethyst. They preferred things to be put straight. But Derpy would notice the “brutal” first. No one with a mind as cotton soft as hers would want to get involved with that kind of harsh word.

In any case, Velvet didn’t like a direct assault on the front either. That could lead to shouting. She hated shouting.

So something else would have to do. A diversion. A way to approach the problem from the side, softly, softly.

“We were just talking about Carr– Sorry, Golden Harvest’s family,” said Velvet.

All eyes – except Dinky’s, which remained fused to the floor – focused on her. Scrutinizing her, hopefully or fearfully or with cruel death in mind.

One bit of Golden Harvest’s speech stood out to her. Velvet turned to face her more comfortably.

“Did you say your mother left the farm to go travelling?” she said innocently.

All eyes turned to Golden Harvest’s. Even Dinky’s looked up.

“Well,” said Golden Harvest, stumbling over her words. “Yes. She didn’t want to run the farm, you see. She wanted to see the world, you see. There were more exciting jobs, you see. My great-grandmother did the same, y-you-you see.”

“But she just left you? What about what you wanted to do?”

Derpy’s poor acting piped up, “I’m sure she had her good reasons didn’t she now?”

Golden Harvest shrugged helplessly. “Someone had to look after the farm.”

“But did you want to?” Velvet pressed the point.

The more she pressed, the more Golden Harvest shifted trying to sit comfortably. “Well… it had to be done.”

“What if it didn’t?”

“Well, it did. I didn’t mind. All that much. Didn’t make a lot of money, but so what? It was the family farm. It had to be done. And I’m not bad with carrots.”

“Never wanted to leave it to do something else?”

Miss Velvet,” snapped Amethyst sharply. “I think that’s enough interrogating out of you.

Golden Harvest dipped into her tea, slurping hastily. Time to back off, but Velvet felt it had to be said. She hadn’t enjoyed watching Golden Harvest struggle, either.

The story she’d uncovered, however, struck a chord with her. Details leaped out accusingly from her past. Velvet bought herself strength through the cappuccino heating her mouth.

She swallowed. “No, I understand. I had my own dream once. I wanted to travel the world myself.”

Derpy stopped gurgling her coffee. “That sounds fascinating please do carry on.”

The mists of memory, like the steam of the cup, swirled but gave no clues until she peered closer and sniffed, diffusing them through her life’s breath. Old heat of embarrassment. Snatches of shouted arguments. The leaden, sinking feeling of her whole future disappearing into the choking depths, never to be seen alive again…

“My mother used to be an explorer,” she said. “She used to tell me stories of all the places she travelled to, all the funny creatures she met and tribes she learned from. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.”

Dinky tugged at her leg. “I want to travel when I grow up too!”

“You do?”

“Yeah. To all the countries I’ve read about. I want to see if they’re like the books say.”

One ally already. Velvet let Dinky pick up and drape her motherly forelimb over her little shoulders like a blanket.

“That’s what I told Mom too,” said Velvet to her. Dinky drank the words through her eyes.

“How wonderful,” said Derpy weakly.

“It was,” continued Velvet. “All through college and all the way to university, I held on to that dream. Mom laughed and said I’d better not start a family, then. And I asked her why, and she said, ‘Because as soon as you’ve got a little one on the way, you can’t look danger in the face the same way again.’”

“Oh I’m sure you can there’s no reason to give up on a dream.”

Velvet ignored this. There’d probably been an instruction in one of those mothering manuals upstairs, and it doubtless read something like: “A mother must always say something encouraging.” The sheer effort to remember that one made Derpy’s breathing slightly louder. She was starting to shine with sweat.

“I didn’t even stop when I married Nigh– I mean, my husband.” Velvet hummed idly. “He wasn’t the adventuring sort, so I kept it to myself at first. I didn’t want to upset him.”

Golden Harvest stirred on her seat. For her sake, Velvet stared off into the unlit fireplace until she relaxed again. Close to Velvet’s side and under Velvet’s leg, Dinky snuggled up tighter, completely trusting.

“Besides,” Velvet said, “he had his own duties up at the pala– I mean, at work. He loved it so much. I couldn’t just take that from him because of my own selfish wants.”

“That is very commen-endab-able –” Derpy began.

“And how is that selfish?” blurted out Golden Harvest. “I don’t see there’s anything wrong with a pony wanting to do something for themselves, for a change.”

“So long as they discussed it with the relevant parties,” muttered Amethyst.

Two more allies? Velvet risked a glance, but between Golden Harvest’s bristling outrage and Amethyst’s subarctic stare, there was clearly still some loyalty yet to earn. Meanwhile, Derpy had stopped trembling, but in its place, she began to lock up and close in on herself. Even her splayed warning wings curled over, about to clamp down on herself.

Perhaps it was time to pick up the pace?

“Yes, yes, that’s what I did. Of course I did,” Velvet said soothingly, and steeled herself with another sip whilst Amethyst grunted cynically. “I finally plucked up the courage to tell him about it. I thought he was going to say it couldn’t be done, or that I was letting him down in some way. But in fact, he liked it. He loved the idea. He couldn’t jump on it fast enough.”

“Haha,” murmured Golden Harvest into her mug. “I’ll bet your mother liked that.”

Velvet smiled at the memory of the letter. “She almost jumped on it with him. I had to remind her about her hip and what the doctor’s orders were, and even then, I had to call in the doctor himself to rein her back!”

Dinky rested her head against Velvet’s chest, and thus Velvet felt the little laughter shake through her.

“Everything had been organized,” continued Velvet. Mostly by Night Light, she added privately. “We were about to set off for our first stop in the dragon lands, but –”

“The dragon lands?” Amethyst’s laugh was much less charitable. “Are you mad?”

“I was just thinking we should jump in at the deep end.”

“Of what, a lava pool?”

“I have to agree with Ammy,” said Golden Harvest nervously. “That does seem a bit extreme.”

“My husband and I were willing to go,” said Velvet.

Both of them backed off slightly, though Amethyst looked ready to charge in again at a moment’s notice. By her side, Derpy stopped curling in on herself.

“We had lots of countries and cities planned out. This was going to be the grand tour. Trottingham, Griffonstone, Frankoponi, Qilinland, Didgeridoo: the works.”

“Wow,” breathed Dinky.

“And we would’ve too, except…”

Velvet paused. She swirled the last few drips of cappuccino and what little foam remained. Some of the native storyteller in her warmed up waiting.

“Except what?” said Golden Harvest.

Velvet sighed and stared back at the fireplace. “Except I found out I was going to be a mother.”

“Oh. Uh… congratulations?”

Despite Amethyst’s tutting at Golden Harvest’s simple-minded comment, Velvet gave a wan smile.

“I had to make a choice, then,” she said. “I couldn’t go globetrotting when there might be a little one dragged into it. We both panicked at the news. Our child was going to be our first. I cancelled the trip.”

“I should think so, too,” muttered Amethyst.

“Ammy don’t be rude to our guest although your opinion is welcome and it’d be a funny world if we were all the same.” Derpy had to breathe hard to recover from that one.

“No, it’s OK,” said Velvet. “She’s right.”

Amethyst’s eyebrow was intrigued strangely.

“My husband said, after our child was born, that we could try the trip again later. That’s what I thought I could do at first. It was like… I was going to love my son, yes, but suddenly he was in my way. I know you’re not supposed to think that, but –”

“No, no, it’s understandable,” said Golden Harvest politely. “Very understandable.”

“And I did love him. I really did. The day my son was born was a day I could never forget. Over time, I… changed. I wanted to spend more time with him, help him do what he wanted, find out everything about him, push his skills to the limit, and give him the best life he could hope for. Travelling could always be done later, I kept telling myself. It was only a matter of organization.”

Golden Harvest’s sigh was wistful, drawn to the full extent, as though measuring out life by its dying breath. When Velvet breathed in for the next haul, she fancied the farmer’s essence rushed in and mingled with hers. For a moment, kindred spirits.

“Did you ever travel, then?” mumbled Dinky under her chin.

Velvet screwed up half her mouth in a mock smile. “Just before my son was ready to leave the nest, I was blessed with a daughter. After so much practice, I’ve been a pure mother ever since. Even when they both left home, I still feel like a mother waiting for them to come back. Clearly they won’t, but… it’s hard to put into words…”

“What about your dream?” said Golden Harvest urgently. “Nothing’s stopping you from travelling now, is it?”

A frown flickered over Velvet’s face. The question didn’t fit. Yet this time, it didn’t bounce off either. Something stuck, wedged in painfully.

“I think,” she said, phrasing it as carefully as she could, “I’m past the point when I can chase dreams like that.”

“Maybe you could talk to your mother about it? I’d do that, if I were you. Maybe there’s still time.”

Something caught in Velvet’s throat. Dare she tell, or should she let it lie?

Grimly, she shook her head. “I don’t think so. My mother won’t be travelling anymore.”

Derpy put her hooves to her mouth, all thought of curling up forgotten.

Next to her, Amethyst said in an unusually tender tone, “I’m so sorry, Miss Velvet.”

Velvet blinked at her in surprise.

“Oh,” said Velvet, mustering a little cheer in spite of herself, “don’t be silly. You couldn’t have known. These things just happen. She was happy, at least, and she got to see both my children before she went. No regrets.”

Amethyst shuffled her hooves uneasily. Around Velvet’s waist, Dinky squeezed tight.

Golden Harvest brushed something off the little filly’s face, then wiped it off on her own chest. “That was your dream, wasn’t it? Travelling with her?”

This time, Velvet didn’t worry about shedding any tears. She’d shed all the ones for her mother a long time ago.

“It would’ve been nice,” she admitted, “but my duties to my family –”

“– were elsewhere,” Golden Harvest finished. “I can imagine. It had to be done.”

Another ally had accepted her. Velvet and Golden Harvest looked down; between them, Dinky sniffed and clung on tighter.

“What did you plan to do with your farm?” said Velvet. “In the future?”

Golden Harvest shrugged. “Find someone to take over for me, I suppose.”

“Your sister?”

“No, I couldn’t ask her to do that. Not if she didn’t want to.”

“Any… children of your own?”

Golden Harvest laughed. “After having Dinky run around my farm like a lunatic? I’d need some persuading, Velvet. I’m sure I’ll think of something.”

That just left the two silent ponies. Amethyst had been standing up the whole time, and looked like she hadn’t enjoyed it.

“Don’t you want to sit down?” Velvet made as if to haul herself out of her chair.

Despite the shuffling hooves, Amethyst gave her a cat’s idle stare. “Don’t need to. I’m perfectly comfortable standing, thank you. Want a second cappuccino?”

“Please.”

Well… if not an ally, then at least not an enemy. Good enough.

Empty mugs on the tray, Amethyst slunk out of the room. And that left Derpy, sitting silently on her chair as though mortified by the mere thought of moving.

Or of revealing she was a Bad Mother.

“Ha,” said Velvet. “I’d never be able to tell Amethyst was one of yours, Derpy! I don’t think I’ve seen two such different ponies.”

Derpy wiped her brow. “Haha that is very funny Miss Velvet you tell such good jokes.”

Miss Velvet. Miss Velvet. A bad sign.

“Derpy,” she said kindly. “You don’t have to act.”

“I do not know what you are talking about I am always kind and supportive and caring and natural.” Derpy’s one stray pupil started wandering across her eye as though stressed into shifting.

Just then, Amethyst popped her head back into the room. “Anyone else want a refill?”

And then it went wrong.

Derpy somehow tripped herself out of her seat – not even noticing she’d knocked her mug onto the floor – and yelped. “I’ll get the drinks Ammy! I can do it!”

Amethyst erected a suspicious look against her. “Mom, I’m perfectly capable of pouring tea.”

“So am I! Although you are too!” Derpy’s face writhed between the agony of self-sufficiency and the insult she feared Ammy was hearing. “I can do it! I’ll prove it!”

Amethyst’s body reached a conclusion before Velvet’s brain did: she blocked the exit as Derpy approached. “Noooo,” she said slowly. “How about I take it as read you know which way to hold a kettle, and you sit down and relax?”

Another spring went twang in Derpy’s mind where the blockage in the machinery began to crack things around it.

“You’re always very good at looking after the house!” she said desperately. “Why don’t I get the drinks and make myself a worthy contrution?”

“Contribution,” corrected Amethyst. Her sniperscope eyes picked out Velvet. “It’s. Just. Tea.”

“No really I insist although you know best Ammy!” Derpy started to flap and hover over her; Amethyst responded by rearing up protectively.

Mom! I’m not putting up with this! Sit down!

“I’m not arguing!” Neither was Derpy sitting down. “I’m not arguing. I’m not, I never, I wouldn’t.”

The rest of Amethyst cocked and fired at Velvet’s astonishment. “This is your doing, Miss Velvet! Now you’ve gone and upset her!”

Before Velvet said anything, Dinky leaped off the sofa, cape fluttering. “Hey, don’t you shout at her! It’s not her fault!”

“No arguments,” mumbled Derpy in the midst of her own private mental collapse. “No arguing.”

“She pried where she wasn’t supposed to pry!” Amethyst threw down her j’accuse card.

“She didn’t know!” countered Dinky. “It’s not like nasty prying!”

“What Mom thinks in private is none of her business!”

“Mom asked her to come here! She obviously trusted her!”

“Oh gosh…” Velvet covered her face.

No bad words…” Derpy flapped harder, blowing Amethyst’s mane about. “No bad words!

In that flash, Velvet spotted the worry grimacing over Ammy’s face… then anger seized the reins.

“You’re defending her!?” snapped Amethyst.

“Well, you’re not!” snapped Dinky back.

They ended up face to face.

“Stop arguing!” snapped Amethyst, more viciously. “You’re making things worse!”

“Then you back off and leave Velvet alone!

“Don’t tell me what to do! Neither one of you has the slightest clue what Mom –”

“Hey, you’re not the boss, Ammy!

“And you don’t get to tell me what I am and what I’m not!”

“You big bully!”

“Immature little loudmouth!”

No thinking wrong thoughts!” yelped Derpy, and she clutched her head tight.

Golden Harvest jumped to her hooves. “Ammy! Dinky! Please stop arguing right now! This isn’t helping anything. Now.”

Both sisters glared up at her, then followed her much sharper glare to Derpy, who was utterly in a flap overhead. As one, they wound down and backed off, dusting themselves off and coughing awkwardly.

Velvet’s heart stuck in her throat. Such loud voices, and so close too. Such anger. So many sparks crackling in the air. She’d never, in all her years, heard her Shining and Twilight dare talk to each other like that…

It must’ve been her fault. She opened her mouth but had barely apologized when Golden Harvest shook her head meaningfully.

Yet Velvet almost didn’t believe what happened next.

Both sisters took a moment to frown down whatever had riled them up a second ago. As one, they breathed the leftover furies out.

“Sorry, Ammy,” said Dinky quietly.

“Point taken.” After a harsh throat-clearing from Golden Harvest, Amethyst tossed out a more sincere: “Sorry, Dinky.”

“And?” prompted Golden Harvest.

Dinky and Ammy turned to the flapping panic trying not to break out overhead. “Sorry, Mom.”

Smiling like a broken window, Golden Harvest put a hoof on each shoulder. “There!” she said brightly. “I’m glad we can calm down for five minutes. Girls, why don’t you fetch the gifts and I’ll have a word with your mother. In the kitchen. Understand?”

“I know where they’re kept,” volunteered Amethyst. “Come on, Dinky.”

“OK, Ammy.”

Once the hoofsteps trudged upstairs and the ceiling rumbled with two ponies walking, Golden Harvest turned back to Derpy. “A word in the kitchen, Derpy?”

Utterly defeated by the force of gravity, Derpy landed with a thud on her backside. She barely seemed to notice. Velvet watched her heave and lurch her way through the door, and came to a decision. After all, she was the one to blame…

As she followed, however, Golden Harvest blocked her with an extended forelimb.

“I think it best if you stay here –” she began stiffly, but Velvet’s mind was made up.

“Let me talk too. I need to get something off my chest.”

“I’ve known Derpy a long time. I know how to make her feel better.”

“And then in a month’s time, she’ll need to feel better again?” Velvet noticed the surprise flash over Golden Harvest’s twitching face. “Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve talked to dozens of mothers back home.”

Golden Harvest glowered at her, but on a low heat, not yet ready to roast. “Why did you go in her room, Velvet?”

“Stupidity,” said Velvet, blunt as a farmer. “And a title caught my eye. I have something like it at home.”

The heat was turned down, but not off. “All the same, I think it best if I was there.”

“Fine! Absolutely! I agree completely!”

Giving her a fervent I-hope-I’m-not-making-a-big-mistake-here glance, Golden Harvest beckoned her to the kitchen door.

Muffled voices overhead sounded a lot more civil than usual.

Velvet cocked an ear up. “Are those two –?”

“Hm?”

“Ammy – Sorry, Amethyst and Dinky. Are they… always like that?”

“What do you mean?”

Worry, shame, and a fear of hearing an earful again left Velvet grasping at word scraps. “They…? The argument… I hope I didn’t…?”

“Oh come on. You’ve seen foals argue, haven’t you?”

As if confessing a dirty secret, Velvet mumbled, “Not mine.”

“Ha,” said Golden Harvest.

“I’m serious!”

“You should count yourself extremely lucky, then. Don’t worry about it. It’s normal for those two. Different temperaments, you see? Try locking a mule and a rabbit in the same pen together for months on end, and you’ll see the carrots fly all right.”

“I wasn’t worried,” lied Velvet like a defensive teenager. That world-weariness field was sapping her of adult dignity.

“Don’t ‘worry’ about them,” said Golden Harvest, punctuated by a definite hollow laugh. “Their bond is tougher than you think. It’d take more than a cute spat like that to break them apart. Come on.”

To the kitchen, Golden Harvest led the way. Feeling like a stock animal dragged to slaughter, but determined to face the axe for Derpy’s sake, Velvet glumly followed the tail of the farmer.