The barn needed fixin' again. There was always something needing fixin'. The fence, out by the pigs, big brother was workin' on that. And sis was buckin' her apples. Even Granny was mendin' the comforter, what with fall a'comin an all. Something always needed fixin'.
Apple Bloom kicked the iron post with a hoof, lightly. The metal post gave a little twang. She kicked it again, watching the powdery, dry dirt around the base of it puff up with the kick. It left little, still, dust ripples that kinda made the dirt look like water, only it wasn't, 'cause it was dirt.
Twang. She could probably help with somethin'. She probably should help with somethin'. But she didn't want to.
Apple Bloom clomped over to a horseshoe, laying in the dirt. There were a bunch of 'em, from the last time her sis played with Rainbow Dash. They was always playin' and roughhousin and stuff when Rainbow came over. Apple Bloom put her own hoof over the huge horseshoe. It was painted blue. The paint was chipped all along one side, letting the metal shine through. Not shine, exactly. More like a dull gleam. Yeah, gleam was the word. They'd learned 'gleam' back before summer, along with 'gleaming', 'shimmer' and... another word like that.
Cheerilee always was goin' on about how words was important, and the more ya knew, the more tools ya had. That didn't make much sense, Apple Bloom thought. There was a lot of tools in the barn, and more in the shed. She couldn't see how learnin' words would make more tools appear. You needed bits to make tools appear, and that was the one thing there was never enough of. Apple Bloom would'a gladly traded some of her fancy words for some bits right now.
Sometimes it was hard, growin' up on a farm. It was mostly good. There was sis and big brother and granny, and stuff to do. There was always trees to buck and apples to pack and sometimes there was cider to make. The pigs needed carin' for, and there was always something to fix or mend.
And there were fun times, like running through the trees and chasing sis and riding around on big brother's back. And there was the pond to go swimmin' in or the clubhouse. The crusaders wouldn't have a clubhouse except for sis givin' them her old one. And there were rabbits to chase away from the apples and straw divin' and barn hidin' and playin' in the big mud pit out back, too.
But some days, growin' up on a farm wasn't so good. Especially on certain summer-type days when the sun was just so, and the air was still and it was hot and there was that feelin' to it all. Funny days. Days when nothin' was quite right, and yet not wrong exactly. Days when a pony just felt lonely and not like doin' anything, but still feelin' all restless inside, like you were gonna burst somehow, only you never did.
There was a strange kinda yearnin' that hid in summer. It prowled around the weeks somewhere in the middle, after the thrill of school bein' over done wore off but before the strange mix of sad and expectant that came from waitin' for school to start again. Somewhere in there, that was when the yearnin' lived.
And when it hit, there was nothin' any pony could do. Leastways nothin' Apple Bloom knew what to do. She'd asked her sis about it, but she didn't have an answer. "Y'all just gotta get through it, that's all. Why ah used ta get that funny old feelin' all the time, right smack in the middle ah summer. Still do, sometimes. Nothing to do but just keep busy, tha's what ah always do." Only Apple Bloom didn't want to be busy. That was the last thing she wanted to be doing was busy.
But she also didn't wanna be doin' nothing, either! It was a right quandary, no two ways about it. She didn't know what she wanted, but she knew plain as the day was long what she didn't want. She didn't want to be fixin' or mendin' or doin' any chores at all. And she didn't want to be out in the mud, nor the pond, nor even running around under the trees.
When she felt this way, sometimes the trees was scary like. The breeze goin' through all those leaves sounded lonely in a way that Apple Bloom didn't have a name for, and the quiet around the shissshing of the leaves almost seemed like it was stalking her, like it was ready to pounce somehow. And the sunlight, making little patterns on the ground, it was strange and oppressive, and the heat just made the air seem like it was tryin' to pull the wet right outta your throat.
It was a malady, was what it was. Summer malady. Doldrums. That was what granny called it. Doldrums. That old doldrums had been sniffin' and a prowlin' and a sneaking around the weeks, waiting for the right day to pounce on, and that musta been what happened. Apple Bloom looked at the side of the barn, behind the other post. Needed paintin'. Somethin' always needed fixin.
The doldrums had up and grabbed onto her, Apple Bloom reckoned. It was the worst part of summer, but it was a strange kind of bad. It wasn't fun, but she didn't want to trade it for the summer bein' over or anything. It still felt better than school, or workin' fixin' stuff. It was like a lazy sadness. It felt good, sorta, because it was all lazy-like, but it also felt sad, because it wasn't fun and it made everything not worth doin'. It was a sticky kind of sad. Summer was complicated, Apple Bloom decided, and sighed.
Doldrums was perfect for sighin'. You could sigh all day, and it would seem like the most right thing to be doin' with your time. You could start sighin' and soon as you knew, the day would be over and the sun would be goin' down. Apple Bloom gave the other post a little kick.
She could go stare at the pigs. No, that was too much work. Plus it was on the shadow side of the barn, and right now the sun was soaking into her flanks, and into her hocks an' quarters an' cannons an' it felt pretty good. That was one thing about when a doldrums caught you: the sun was extra warm and you could stand forever and it would be as good as goin' to the fair or somethin'. The doldrums had mind magic that made standin' and soakin' up the sun seem like the bestest thing ever. For a while, anyway.
Apple Bloom turned so that the sun shone down on her poll and forehead, and warmed her ears and back. She needed to let her hindquarters cool off for a bit. It'd kind of sneak up on ya, that sun. One minute you'd be baskin'n in it, and the next all filled with ouchies because your hocks were too hot.
Hot hocks. Hocks hot. Hot hot hocks. Hock hock. Words was weird, when you was caught by a doldrums.
There was only one surefire cure for a doldrums, one thing that'd scare that old summer beastie plum away. But the cure cost money. Money Apple Bloom didn't have. All she needed was a single bit. Just one! One bit wasn't much!
But sis said that they needed to save all the bits. The barn needed fixin' and they was still savin' up for granny's hip, and they needed somethin' for the kitchen. There was a whole list of things. Apple Bloom wished she could put one more thing on that list of stuff that needed bits for fixin'. Apple Bloom. She needed fixin'.
She heard a clanging sound. Looking down, she found it was her hoof kicking the horseshoe post again. She hadn't remembered decidin' to do that. Doldrums was funny like that. You could be standing there, minding your own business, soaking up the sun, and find you done started doing something for some reason, only you didn't know why.
Well, it felt good, somehow, to be kickin' the post. So what they hay. Apple Bloom decided to focus on the task, clearly it needed doin'.
"Heya there, little sis. whatcha doin?"
Apple Bloom didn't know how long she'd been standing there. "Hi, sis. Just kickin' the post, I guess."
Applejack watched her sister slowly, repetitively kicking the horseshoe post. Clang. Clang. Clang.
"Hang on there, a moment, Apple Bloom. Don't you go runnin' off, y'hear?"
"Sure." It wasn't like there was any other place better to be. Apple bloom looked up. She saw the tail of her sister going 'round the barn, back toward the house. The light was funny. It wasn't as warm now. Oh. Somehow it was late afternoon. How'd that happen? It was noon just a moment ago. Somehow summer got time all messed up. It must be one of the mysteries of the world. Funny old time.
Sis was back. She had something in her teeth. It sparkled all yellow-like. She spat whatever it was onto an upturned hoof.
"Ah reckon you have a bad case of the doldrums, sis. An' only one cure for that, 'cordin to granny, and ah ain't about to argue with granny. So hold yur hoof out, sugarcube."
"OK." Tink, tink, tink. It was three golden bits, right there in Apple Bloom's hoof, restin' up against the inside of her hoof wall, and balanced on the ridge of her frog. "What's this fer? Ya need me ta go ta town and get somethin' fer tha farm?"
"Yes. I need ya to fix somethin' that needs fixin' real bad. Don't let me down, sis. It's real important." Applejack looked very serious. It must be something important.
"OK, whatcha need me ta git?" Apple Bloom sighed. She couldn't help it, it just had ta come out.
"Ah need ya to march yourself down to Sugarcube corner and git yourself a big 'ol ice cream cone. An' git one for yer friends too, if ya kin find 'em. Th' cure work's better with friends. Think ya can handle it?" Big sis was smiling, all wise and smart and self-proud too.
"THANK YOU SIS!" Apple Bloom didn't mean to cry, she was a big pony now, so it must'a been the doldrums again, makin' her cry. Darn doldrums.
She almost dropped the precious coins hugging her sister real tight. "Ya take care now, not ta lose them bits, alright?"
"I'll be real careful!" Apple Bloom took the bits in her teeth and held them nice and firm. "Ank Ooh!"
"Yur welcome, Apple Bloom. Now GIT! Granny says you gotta get that ice cream into ya before the sun sets or the cure won't work. So git'a goin' sis."
"Ohay!" And with that, Apple Bloom was galloping off, past the barn, past the house where granny waved as she ran past, and on down the road that led into town.
As Apple Bloom galloped faster and faster she could feel the old doldrum being left behind in her dust. She could almost sense the ancient monster of summer falling further and further behind. Ahead she could see the tall tower of the city hall, the sun sinking lower in the sky, nearly touching the treetops behind Ponyville.
She quickly raced over the bridge and dashed across the wide greensward that was the shortest path directly to Sugarcube Corner. The words of both her sis and granny were in her mind "The cure won't work, less'n ya take it before the sun sets!" She hoped that Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo would be there, she didn't have time to go looking for them.
It was supposed to be a special day, but Sweetie Belle had to help her sister, and she herself had been needed on the farm, only she hadn't been a lick of help all day. She just couldn't do anything with that old doldrum on her like that. But Applejack had seen to her. Sis always saw to her.
Only Scootaloo had been free. Scootaloo was always free. But that was because she didn't have any family makin' demands on her. Sometimes Apple Bloom envied her that. Then she remembered how much she loved her sis and big brother and granny and then she felt mad at herself for even thinking that way. Besides, she knew Scootaloo envied her. She'd told her so, once.
Apple Bloom nudged open the door to Sugarcube Corner, and pushed her way inside, the coins still gripped tightly in her teeth. If only Scoot and Sweetie could get here, they could all have ice cream together, and the doldrums would be scared away so far he might never come back! Apple Bloom searched the sweetshop for any sign of her friends.
"APPLE BLOOM! OVER HERE!" It was Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle too, at the table in the corner, over by the jars of hard candies. They already had ice cream. They were havin' ice cream without her! Apple Bloom's heart sank as she clomped over to them. She could feel the doldrum creeping up again.
"What's the matter, Apple Bloom?" Sweetie Belle was licking her cone, filled with lemon ice cream with little candy sprinkles on it. "take a bit and go get an ice cream!"
"Or take TWO! You can have a double double super scoop! We've got a fortune! Look!" Scootaloo grinned broadly over her huge cone of ice cream as Apple Bloom looked up at the table top. There were three bits on the table. "We already spent three, we had six a moment ago!"
Tink Tink Tonk. "Now there's six again! Mah sis gave me some bits ta share!" Apple Bloom was smiling now, and the doldrum was running for the Everfree as fast as it could go.
"We're super rich!" Scootaloo was practically bouncing, fortunately she quieted down before her ice cream landed on the floor.
"WE'RE CUTIE MARK EARLY RETIREMENT INVESTMENT BANKER SUPER RICH CRUSADERS!!!" they all shouted in unison.
"How'do we do that, anyway?" Apple Bloom wondered out loud.
"Don't know. Guess we're just good at crusading." Scootaloo took a big bite of ice cream and instantly regretted it, her eyes crossed from the exquisite agony of brain freeze.
"Go get some ice cream, Apple Bloom! It's almost sundown!" Sweetie Belle nodded at the window, where the sky had become a soft pink.
Apple Bloom took a bit from the table and went to the counter. "I need ah ice cream that'll beat the doldrum once'n fer all!" She tossed the coin down.
"Wooo! I know just what you mean! I had a doldrum chasing me once, and I had to run all over the place, but it was right behind me and then it was in front of me - wait, that was because I was being tricky and stopped and let it run past me - but then it came back and so I climbed a tree, only who knew that doldrums could climb? I sure didn't! Let me tell you those doldrums can climb really good so then I had to..."
"PINKIE! Ahm sorry ta interrupt, but the sun is setting an' ah need my ICE CREAM NOOOWWW!"
"Here ya go." It was a double scoop triple fudge with little candy stars and a smile face drawn in bright pink frosting with a cherry on top that also had a little smile face painted on it in chocolate.
"How.... wha..." There was no explaining it. Apple Bloom hadn't seen Pinkie make the cone, but she must have. "T-Thank you.... thank you for the ice cream!"
"Remember to smile while you eat it! Doldrums can't stand a smiling ice-cream eater, it's their most un-favoritest thing EVER!" The pink pony grinned and blinked at Apple Bloom.
Apple Bloom carefully carried her cone back to the table where her friends sat. With some effort she managed to get seated, and got the cone safely held between her fetlocks where she could relax and enjoy it. She took a tentative lick.
Rich chocolate filled her mouth, sweet yet with that little bitter edge that nips at the tongue like a playful puppy. Somber tones, like chocolate trumpets sounded in her mouth when she pressed her tongue against her palate, squeezing the flavor deep into it.
"Remember to smile!" Pinky winked at her and trotted back into the kitchen. Oh yeah, remembered Apple Bloom. Doldrums can't stand a smiling ice cream eater.
More licks turned into nibbles as double scoop triple fudge worked its powerful summertime magic. For once the crusaders had nothing to say, their mouths filled with the treasure of a perfect moment, their smiles wide, their eyes half closed from the sweet joy that seemed to fill the world.
This was summer. Finally, this was summer in all its glory, all the beauty of life on their tongues, cold wonder sliding down their throats, the red sunset charming the world in a secret blush of innocent love. This was what they had needed, this was the perfect end to a magic day.
However short, or lonely, or busy or empty the day, all of summer could be rescued with this simple magic. They had made it, before sundown, and they had managed to do it together, the ritual of summer. The great rite of childhood, that was open to anypony however old they might be. The binding magic that cleansed the world of doldrums, evaporated sadness, shone light into the dark corner of loneliness.
All it took to do the greatest summer magic was a friend, a moment, and of course the special and wondrous sacrament.
The simple, pure miracle that was ice cream at the end of a hot summer day.