A Conversation with the Queen’s Horses
THE LANGUAGE OF MIRACLES
By Amelia Kinkade
The big iron gates slammed ominously behind me as the high-ranking official, the assistant adjutant, ushered me through the guarded private entrance, closed off to the public. It was my second visit to Buckingham Palace. During my first trip the autumn before, I had stood outside the front gates with the rest of the tourists, popping off snapshots, gaping at the spectacle from a distance, separated from the Queen’s abode by imposing guards and big, black wrought-iron fences.
Now, barely five months later, I was inside those gates. My floral scarf whipped in the wind, so I nervously tucked it into my beige cashmere jacket to sop up the trickle of perspiration dripping down my chest. I hurried to keep up with the quick stride of the captain of these barracks, the assistant adjutant. It was a cool, crisp May day in London, a far cry from the 100 degree plus temperatures I weathered in my native Los Angeles, but the last time I’d sweated like this, I’d been in a Beverly Hills spa, inhaling eucalyptus. I tried to remember to breathe. As I strode across the palace yards, flanked on both sides by British military officials, the cheerful sun beamed down on my flushed cheeks and lit the castle walls in pink pastel hues, like a watercolor painting. Every ounce of my courage and talent was about to be tested.
As a “corporate enabler” and international translator with a growing reputation for solving problems in management and for creating cooperative teamwork, I’d been brought in as a troubleshooter on “official royal business.” The military was having problems with a few of its personnel. Some of the older employees were growing discontented, and a few of the new foreign recruits were having difficulties adjusting to their environment and workload. None of these employees spoke English.
I was met by many more men in brass-buttoned uniforms who saluted me and clicked the heels of their shiny black boots as I passed. The assistant adjutant ushered me inside the building and down a long corridor, lined with cubicles where employees worked. The adjutant said, “I’m not sure we picked the best time for you to talk to them. We just served them lunch.”
“It’s okay,” I said nervously. “Maybe they’ll speak to me while they’re eating.”
“This is Captain Harris,” the adjutant said. “His performance has been excellent for years, but lately he’s been quite argumentative. He’s seems to have lost his spirit. He’s not nearly old enough to consider retirement, but he seems a bit discontented with this job. Ask him what the trouble is.”
As I walked into Captain Harris’s cubicle, he was facing the other way, eating a bowl of oatmeal. When he saw me, he did a double take, and then went back to his lunch.
“Oh, I thought you were a carrot,” he said.
I was utterly bewildered. I’d worked with a number of mentally challenged employees in the past, but no one had ever mistaken me for a carrot before.
“What?” I asked.
“Your sweater,” he said. “It’s my favorite color.” I looked down to find I was wearing a bright orange sweater under my jacket and the hot coral color did actually form the elongated triangle-shape of a carrot.
“Well, his peripheral vision is not very good,” I said, jotting notes in my notebook, “especially not on his right side.”
“Did you bring me any carrots?” he asked.
“No. I’m sorry, I didn’t. I understand you haven’t been feeling yourself lately. Are you having problems with your diet?”
“It’s very boring,” he said moving over to a plate of dry-looking salad.
“And your digestion?” I asked.
“Not very good since my coworker left. Have you seen the cat?”
“No, not yet. What color is it?”
“She’s gray and white striped. She visits my cubicle at night. She’s been cheering me up since my friend got transferred.”
“Do you know there’s a gray and white cat in this building?” I asked the assistant adjutant.
“Oh, yes. That’s Emma. I didn’t know he liked her.”
“Tell him everyone likes Emma. She does wonders for morale,” Captain Harris told me.
“Ask him if he wants to retire,” the assistant adjutant urged me.
“Of course not!” Captain Harris answered indignantly. “I’m one of the Queen’s favorites! I’ve won many awards! I could never retire. It would disappoint her. We have to practice marching in the parade this Saturday, and the entire team is counting on me to be in charge.”
When I relayed the message, the assistant adjutant’s eyes bulged.
“Yes!” he confirmed. “They have a practice on Saturday. Well, if he enjoys his work, and he’s looking forward to the big event, ask him why he hasn’t been able to concentrate lately.”
“Your boss has been concerned about your performance,” I prodded. “Are you not happy working here anymore?”
“I miss my friend. Bernard. They moved him into the cubicle on my left. We enjoyed working side by side and talking after work. The little cocky whippersnapper was so full of himself. He made me laugh and feel young again. I was just beginning to show him the ropes when they shipped him out. He got transferred up north to work in the beautiful countryside while I got stuck down here. I want to go up there, too. Or I want him to come back. I miss him terribly. We need to be together.”
When I relayed this message, the assistant adjutant was visibly shaken.
“Please tell him to bring Bernard back,” Captain Harris said.
“He’s lonely,” I said to the adjutant. “He misses his friend who used to stand on his left. He gives me the name Bernard. He says Bernard has been shipped up north to the beautiful countryside to work, while the Captain has to stay down here all alone.” The adjutant was speechless. When he found his voice, he said excitedly:
“Yes, it’s true! There was a boy standing on his left named Bernard! I never knew he meant that much to the Captain. Bernard got transferred up to Prince Charles’s hunting facility in the midlands a couple of weeks ago. It’s true! The countryside is green and beautiful, and all these boys have more fun up there hunting in the woods. We ship them back and forth so they get a change of scenery. We thought the Captain was too old to want to do that anymore. Bernard! That’s astonishing! How could he possibly tell you his name! Whoever would dream he could call his friend by name!?”
What’s wrong with Captain Harris? Why wouldn’t he know his best friend’s name? Is he senile? Is he deaf?
No. He’s a horse. Captain Harris is one of the royal procession horses of Queen Elizabeth II. I was invited to Buckingham Palace in May of 2002 to work with the Queen’s household cavalry just as the horses were training for Her Majesty’s Royal Jubilee. A few days later, I was further honored by an invitation to Prince Charles’s hunting facility, where I got to meet Bernard in person and give him a kiss on the nose. Animal lovers, have no fear. Both boys were joyfully reunited shortly after my visit.
Excerpted from The Language of Miracles by Amelia Kinkade. Copyright © 2006 by Amelia Kinkade. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of New World Library. $15.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-972-6657 ext 52 or click here.