issue twelve

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(1340 words)
J.A. Tyler
Horse
[Updated monthly on the full moon]
 
       The three of them, boy girl girl, lined the ridge of a gray and unmoving mountain. There. The boy holding the reins and a girl holding his waist and a girl holding her waist. All three with legs spilling over the sides of the horse. His spots of silvering dull in the sunlight. His head bowed like in fatigue or defeat. Sleeping upright and standing. The boy could snap and snap and snap the ribbons against his high front shoulders and the horse would not move. Did nothing.

It took their grandfather, the grandfather as he was before he was grandpa daft, it took that grandfather leading the gray mane to circles in the fields. And the horse loped in the sun. Took time penning shoe prints in the small mud of the dirty wash water. Dragging his hooves through the otherwise dry riverbeds. Streaming boy girl girl up the crackling draw. Their grandfather walking with a pick of grass in his cornered mouth. Skimming the shell with his teeth, letting the seeds ride his tongue like a wave. Their grandfather, before he lost his mind, leading a horse with them, boy girl girl, tickling its back and their gentle thighs.

The older girl called the horse penny. The younger called the horse belly. The boy called the horse sleeper. They called to it penny belly sleeper. The flare of its nostrils a sign that it hadn't heard a single wanting voice. But their grandfather called the horse with whistles and sounds like caw and hep and whup. They assumed him nameless even though sometimes the grandfather leaned in close to its flagging ears and spoke things that no one could hear. Like shy talking or waves.

Boy girl girl called penny belly sleeper and the horse, like a gray and dying mountain, did nothing until their grandfather held it forward. And them, the boy girl girl, they imagined that this grandfather, their grandfather, was leading the moon in the rain. Not a horse in the reins but the silver ball moon in shifts of rain. Water dripping thickly down their boy girl girl noses and his crescent grandfather forehead. As if he could harness the moon for them, ride its silvery spoon into their beds at night, sing them to sleep with the stars and the black of the sky.

Before this grandfather, the grandfather who would become grandpa daft, the grandpa daft who would be swallowed in violent chunks, this grandfather, before all that, was their ideal, like rain. This grandfather to them, to the boy girl girl, this grandfather was the kind of man that they could understand. He had a snicker and smile. A tremble about his lips that was like leaves blowing. There was comfort in his legs, rocking as they did on the porch. His arms winding their clocks, boy girl girl gears, helping them to ride the horse with no name.

In town, their grandfather, this grandfather, the one leading a gray horse around weed beds like sun, was the man whose wife ran off into the ocean. She was the woman who was supposed to be their grandmother but who no one called grandmother. No one called her grandmother but instead whispered around her, skirting the body of her. She was a ghost to them, a headless screaming in the skin thin shadows of days. They saw her by the well or in the grasses, staggering between the cattle in mist or fog. A segment or portion of what was. A floating carriage without end.

Sticks in sand drew spun sketches. Told stories that ran to legends, tackling their grandfather and her ghost, their ghost. These men and women, people like that, pretending to follow her as a fly on the shoulder. As if in all seeing. Told of her tracking around mountains and through canyons, beyond the great beyonds. Searching out waves that called to her: becky becky becky. Because they all, these men and women, these people pretending to skirt her trails, they all surely heard her screaming at the bank, at the shore, at the ends of the earth. Screaming in righteous anger.

Because back when things were older their grandfather, this grandfather, leading boy girl girl atop a mountain, this grandfather and a woman that no one called grandmother came to rest against a shift of baking dirt. Dirt mostly like sand. And they, like men and women all of a time other than this, of a time back when it was when, unloaded a cart and started planting children in rows. Grew a home of sod and a plot of land marked by unburied rocks at its corner. Watching skies pass in seasons, weeds grow and churn and stoop in cycles.

And the children rose like wheat, a son and a daughter, shifting and sunned, bending in a wind that never stopped. And she, this wife, this grandmother that no one calls grandmother, this woman who floated away on the ocean, she couldn't stop hearing the wind. It was the wind that did it. It was the wind that caught her. It was the wind that drained her. It whistled in crests over her ears, the ribs of her cartilage, the lakes of her head. It rattled the world like tails of snakes, moved dirt from stems and stalks to holes and dry washes. Pierced her head and sang lullabies to her that sounded too much like dying. Too much like the songs of dead mouths. The lungs of ghosts.

In the last days, the days before she began her great walk, the moving of her feet that would resound in splashes of ocean, in those days, before that, she stuffed her ears with dirt and water until mud covered her head. Until she wore the brown like a bandage. Like a set of stirrups for a tiny rider on her scalp. A strain of brown dirtied mud drying quickly in her ears and caking and falling out in smothering chunks. And as it dried and leapt she watered and stuffed again again again. Until the mud and dirt and water was so far down in the recesses of her that she was herself an ocean and a canyon and a draw and a wash. Until she herself could only hear the pulsing of her own heart as it beat against the earth in her ears. 

Until beneath the mud and the pulse was the wind. For days she thought it gone, conquered or tacked tight like to the barn wall, but it wept in her head again when she lay down to sleep. Singing like the unmated high piercing songs of stars. Emitting and shrill. Tangling in her brain, making her eyes useless and vacant, stringing her tongue out from her, like wind itself, a tumble of nonsense. Until she was humming groans and moans and weeping of language, waiting for the sun and the moon to lead the way, to light a path to the waves and the ocean. Until she stumbled across the land between there and the water, and watched her footprints giggle away in the sand, and walked out to cover her ears and finally rid herself of the wind.

Riding boy girl girl the mountain of a horse felt its mane toss in the wind. Unfurl like the sail of a boat. And the grandfather, this grandfather without a wife, without a woman, leading the gray nameless horse by calls of caw and hep and whup, watched the invisible air tussle the hair on the heads of his grand boy girl girl. Those unwinded pins of blood. Looking in their eyes somewhat like a woman that they never would call grandmother. Riding the wind in a dream of life and dirt like sand and the whims of an unseen ocean, stretching out its palms to him, begging him away in tiny fragments. Him on his nameless horse. This man they called grandfather, before he went away inside himself, like to his own earless drowning.




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This work is copyrighted by the author, J.A. Tyler. All rights reserved.