• 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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Derpy and the Spirit of Friendship

The letter-posting went so long without a word that Velvet wondered what she’d just said to silence Derpy so.

“Anyway! You’re from Cloudsdale, I take it?” said Velvet, about as nonchalant as a door salespony wedging a hoof in before the owner sees what they are.

As though the words were being wrenched from her, Derpy conceded, “I was born up there, but I’m from Ponyville.”

Then Derpy lapsed into dutiful silence again, apart from the snap of letterboxes. Velvet sensed a chasm opening up, but the imp in her insisted on leaping.

“I’m going to visit my daughter later,” said Velvet.

No reply.

“So… you’re going to visit your mother after work?”

A long, quiet moment.

Very long.

In the end, Derpy said, “No.” It was the coldest word she’d said yet.

Velvet herself took a while to unfreeze.

“I’m so sorry,” she blurted out. “I didn’t mean anything. I only –”

“It’s OK. You didn’t know.” Derpy still spoke like a winter chill.

Velvet knew only one way to restore the balance. “My mother passed away a long time ago. I can understand if you –”

“Oh, my mother’s still alive,” said Derpy. The air frosted up when she spoke.

Oh no, thought Velvet. I’ve just walked into that.

Her horrible side glanced at the mismatched eyes. They said things, didn’t they, like “a face only a mother could love”? It wasn’t a phrase to be taken for granted, Velvet felt. And frankly, she knew about parents in the colder, harsher climes of Canterlot society that treated love to their children in the same way an employer might treat a shirking employee.

All right, Cloudsdale was a long way from the elitism of Canterlot, but there were still some rankings and competitions, weren’t there? Who was to say Cloudsdale didn’t have its own version of the hovering parent, especially since they actually had the wings for it?

And – Velvet hated herself for thinking like this – Derpy was slow. The rotten Canterlot part of her had to admit it needed a bit of patience to keep up, or keep down, whichever.

Plus, Derpy was a bit too happy, a bit too naïve, or at least – Velvet insisted on correcting this – she acted very much like someone who was too happy and naïve. Canterlot types generally didn’t trust emotion. In a high society where rank was everything, relying too happily and openly on friends could end with your good name being tripped into the mud by a rival hoping to get invited to more parties with newer, less easily roused friends. Being too happy or naïve was the stuff of commoners.

Worse, the unspoken word hiding behind “happy”, “naïve”, and “slow” was: “stupid”.

Velvet probed at the thought, realizing that one of the reasons she was so happy with Night Light and her children was because it had never occurred to her there’d ever be a chance of them turning out “stupid”. One of the reasons, she insisted.

But she would’ve loved them anyway, regardless!

The horrible part of her whispered: you haven’t passed a test when you’ve never been tested on it.

All this passed in the silence between two sides of a letter-delivering walk, and then Velvet couldn’t bear it anymore.

“I’m sorry,” was all she dared say.

Still no reply.

“We can still talk, can’t we?” she murmured, barely breathing the words in case she sounded too forceful.

“You’re from Canterlot, right?” said Derpy. Neither malicious nor welcoming.

“I promise I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“That’s why you get all those books and things.”

Velvet heard the slow, ponderous tones and relaxed slightly. There was no accusation. Derpy simply worked her way along a train of thought until she was back in the engineer’s room again. After that? How would she steer?

“We got ours from the library,” said Derpy, pouring a drizzle of cheer onto her voice now. “I couldn’t get many when I started out, but then Ammy took on some jobs, and now we buy them for Dinky, I can’t move for the things.”

“My mother passed down her library to me,” said Velvet, hoping this was the right thing to say.

“Your mother read you stories too?”

“Yes, lots. We could be awful for tall tales.”

Derpy seemed to be thinking. At least, she glanced up at the sun more with her good eye.

“You love your mother very much,” she said.

“Yes.”

“I want to be a good mother too.”

Velvet touched her with a glance. “I’m sure you are. You’d make a good friend?”

Then Derpy nodded; she must have reached a conclusion. “I know you’re a good mother. It’s the way you talk and look. I can always tell.”

She went to deliver a letter. When she came back, the sunshine meeting her face had to compete with the sunshine coming out of it.

“And,” she said in a rush, “because I know you’re dying to ask: yes, it was because of my eyes and because I’m not as good a flyer as the other pegasus ponies, but then I made a decision to move away from home, and I moved to Ponyville, and then I met lots of good mothers and lots of good friends, and then I realized I never wanted to be a flyer but I always, always, really, deep down wanted to be those two things, and if you were mixed in with the Ponyville friends I’ve made, you’d fit right in.”

Velvet had never been in a criminal court, but in that flash of a second, she felt what it must be like to hear the gavel go down and the voice cry out: “INNOCENT of all charges!”

“I’m sorry if I scared you,” said Derpy quickly, noticing the sigh. “I don’t like remembering my Cloudsdale time. Anyway, you didn’t know.”

“I must apologize, I swear, I meant nothing by –”

Derpy waved her down and threw a Velvet chuckle back at her. “No problem! It’s like my Ammy said: There’s no point saying sorry to your friends, because they already know.”

“You’d stick out like a sore hoof in Canterlot,” said Velvet, giggly as a child. “They only say sorry if it pays off later.”

“I think Ammy was trying to be cute, though. I mean, she had broken into the cookie jar again.”

“Ha, if it was a Canterlot jar, that’d be a front-page scandal of the week.”

“But it’s OK because sometimes work stresses her out. And they’re very good cookies.”

“I don’t get involved much in Canterlot politics. Too much stress.”

“Sometimes, I sneak a few too.”

Then they looked at each other.

“I’m sorry,” said Velvet. “I was rabbiting on. You were saying?”

“No, I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening.”

“You were saying?”

“You were saying?”

“You first,” they said at once.

They shared a few chuckles, and then continued along the road, round the corner, and down another grass-strewn street. This time, the envelopes said “All Apples Avenue”. By now, they were so closely matched that the letterboxes snapped shut at the exact same time.


As they walked on to the end of “All Apples Avenue”, and then turned into “Cool Carrot Carriageway”, Derpy peered over to the saddlebag clasped against Velvet’s side. “Oh, I forgot to ask! Are you visiting your mother, too?”

Ah. Derpy didn’t have the best memory for conversation, then.

Velvet covered her face quickly, then turned back and shook her head. “Hm?”

“Those flowers. They make a beautiful bouquet.”

Velvet glanced at the golden stems and rosebuds peeking out. And the thorns. One couldn’t forget the thorns of a golden rose.

“Actually, they’re for me,” she said, hoping the pegasus took the flint of a hint in her voice.

“I thought you said you hadn’t visited your daughter yet?”

“Well, they will be for me once I give them to her.”

Derpy nodded, mouth puckered as though drinking the spring of sudden, upwelling understanding. Then she said, “I’m confused.”

Velvet weighed her chances. The mare seemed nice enough.

“Is she sick?” said Derpy, immediately all concern.

“No, it’s nothing like that.” Velvet watched the grass below, anything to avoid seeing the reaction when she said… “She’s a lovely girl, really. Unfortunately, she’s also a busy one. Rushing off to save the w– do important work here, do important work there, meet up with so-and-so from this-and-that… Sometimes, she loses track of time. So when she was younger and just starting out with all her busyness, I got into the habit of buying my own flowers and giving them to her so she could… find time in her schedule to… give them to me.”

What’s she going to say, thought Velvet weakly: that’s awful, that’s bad, that’s pathetic, that’s silly?

Either Derpy could read minds or she didn’t work on a normal script, though, because her next few words were a hearty: “Oh, I have that problem all the time!”

Velvet looked up into a smile that hadn’t dimmed one bit. “Y-You do, sorry?”

“Only the other way around. My girls always remember to get me something, but I need a bit of help when I give them birthday presents or Hearth’s Warming gifts.” Derpy tapped her head knowingly. “Not because of busyness. My memory’s like one of those things with holes in.”

“A net?”

“I dunno. I forgot.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Velvet before she could clamp her mouth shut.

An awkward silence watched them post another letter each.

“If I’m honest, I never liked trying to read calendars anyway.” Derpy’s eye began to wander again.

Velvet’s own eyes, in perfect treachery, leaped from the letters in Derpy’s satchel to Derpy’s pupils pointing in two directions whilst she focused on reading the next address. The obvious question leaped forwards and was promptly tackled by tact.

“It’s nice,” said Derpy quietly. “They could’ve hated me for getting it wrong, but they worked out this system instead. Now we’re so used to it, it’s like a family tradition.”

And Velvet let out a breath that had been weighing down her chest for some time. “It is, isn’t it?”

“You too?”

“Well, before my daughter moved out, yes.”

“You miss it a bit, don’t you? I can tell.”

“It’s just not the same.”

“But look on the bright side: you’re still keeping some of the traditions alive.”

Puzzled, Velvet followed her gaze to the golden roses poking out.

“Oh,” said Velvet, caught out. “Why, yes, since you put it that way…”

“I know mine will if ever they want to move out,” continued Derpy.

There was no threat in the voice, nor any naïve optimism, and certainly not some lying desire to look good. Such was the easy conviction that held her tone steady that, for a moment, it was possible to see the soft cushion and the thundering iron in her words both at the same time. Solid certainty, made peaceful and gentle.

Velvet stopped and watched her flap towards the next letterbox. She barely remembered to mail her own letter opposite this time. She had met ponies who’d slick a conversation and scatter a few promises and, where her family was concerned, shower her with praise for being such a good mother. Nourishing as the words were, she could drown in them at times. Canterlot family life was a swim, an easy paddle, or a scramble for a lifebelt, but always changing out on a fickle sea.

So she’d never met anyone who could be sun, earth, and sheltering cloud all at once. Derpy’s mismatched eyes still slightly put her on edge – subconsciously, Velvet was waiting for the mare to crash into something – and yet a few minutes in her company left Velvet feeling like she’d come home. To a home she didn’t even know she’d had, but which nevertheless was finally a place to rest her head, put her hooves up in front of the fire, and dry off in cosy comfort.

Velvet’s smile rose like steam from a cup of hot chocolate. “Your daughters and you are very lucky.”

“Thank you! Wow, I’m getting this job done faster than I expected.” A bright spark lit up her face. “Hey, why don’t we go and get lunch at Haute Cuisine’s? I could always do with a big break after a shift like this one.”

Despite the worm of urgency wriggling through her, the rest of Velvet suddenly felt young and healthy again. “Of course. I’d love to, Derpy. Lead the way!”