But horseshoes were not the only reason he liked his job at the Horseshoery.
He also enjoyed the opportunity to see Mrs. Cradle every day.
Greg had harbored a crush on Mrs. Cradle, who lived across the street, for nearly as long as he'd worked in the Horseshoery. Everyone told him he was crazy.
True, the lady hated everything. He'd watched her cycle through occupation after occupation, rejecting all of them for one invented excuse after another. She'd quit the bakery because she hated the way sugar smelled. She'd quit the library because she couldn't stand the deafening quiet (and also some of the books had words she couldn't possibly pronounce in them). She'd quit the daycare because children's fingers were too small and it unnerved her.
But she'd been at the stables for quite some time now, and it seemed to Greg that she actually liked her job there. Sure, she claimed to hate the horses, tending them only for the sake of preserving precious space in the graveyard, but Greg knew better. He'd watched her out of his Horseshoery window, distributing the horses' feed, brushing their manes, washing their flanks, and he saw a glimmer of joy from time to time that hadn't existed at any of her other jobs.
One day, he worked up his courage and brought her a fresh batch of horseshoes, as a gift.
"No, Greg," she said. "Our horses don't need horseshoes, I've told you that."
"Well, yes, I understand," he'd respond. "And I think it's great that your soil is so soft. What if you kept them just in case?"
Mrs. Cradle heaved her body around, as if flailing might help her make a point. "But Greg, saying 'just in case' is as good as asking for a drought! I do not want your horseshoes."
"I was only trying to be helpful," he said, hanging his head.
"I do not need your help. But thank you just the same."
Greg felt sad. He thought Mrs. Cradle would see that he had noticed her noticing the horses, and that she would embrace the gift as thoughtful, if not entirely useful.
But he realized that was silly. Mrs. Cradle was a practical woman. She needed a practical gift.
She was also an independent woman. She didn't need any handouts.
So Greg mulled over his options, trying to come up with a solution. He waited a week before returning to Mrs. Cradle's stables.
"Hello," he said to her.
Mrs. Cradle glanced up from feeding a horse. "Are you back to give me more useless things?" She asked, wiping her hand on her apron.
"Not at all. I came to tell you that horse you're feeding looks ugly from the left."
She peered at him, then her mouth twitched ever so slightly upward. "Yes, doesn't it?" She said. "And it emits the most foul odor."
"Right. But also, look at how it limps ever so slightly when it walks."
"Are you making a crack about him not having proper shoes?"
Greg waved his hands. "No, no! I mean, look at how he...er...farts all the time!"
Mrs. Cradle grinned. "It's true. He does fart all the time. Wretched creature."
Greg smiled. The settled into an easy back and forth, sharing many unpleasant pleasantries, while gently patting the horses and brushing their manes.
Mrs. Cradle hadn't needed assistance. Just someone to talk to.
This was written in the same universe as this entry, where kathrynrose suggested a romance between these two characters. The idea stuck in my mind, and this seemed like a good topic to run with it!