This week, I challenged femmefauxpas with the prompt, "I'm not actually married. I'm not actually anything."
I was challenged by Carrie of Views From Nature. Her prompt was:
"Alimony is like buying hay for a dead horse." -Groucho Marx.
Here's my response.
photo by nigel wedge
Petal was my mother’s horse. She had a wild blue eye and one brown, her mane flowed like corn silk. For as long as I could remember, that horse was the only thing my mother loved. Petal died over a year ago. My father doesn’t understand, or he refuses to understand that she’s gone.
The sheriff came by with divorce papers shortly after she left. My mom wasn’t like most women. She didn’t cook and her legs were too long for all of her clothing. She left town with a man from the rodeo. He had a mustache that exceeded the limits of his chin. I suppose you could have called him a cowboy, although my dad also fit that bill, he just didn’t have any pants with rhinestones embedded along the seam.
With my mother being gone, Petal refused everyone. We couldn’t get near her to brush her and feed her. I left her a pile of feed in the straw of her stall. More often than not, she didn’t even push it around with her nose. She got sick pretty quickly. A lot of horses around here did. They ran wild with fevers that burned them up from the inside out. She stood in the lightning and rain, her skin jumping and twitching and her one blue eye catching the electricity and chilling me straight through to the bone. Soon after she started foaming at the mouth, I found her twisted and crippled and still in the moonlight.
My father gives my mother half of his paycheck every month, even though she ran off on him. My mother was more beautiful than a man like my father deserved, at least that’s how I figured the spell he was under. He had a flesh and blood son living under his roof, but half of his money went to the runaway Lila Jane and the other half he drank on Saturday nights. “She needs some time away,” is all he would say of her betrayal. “I’m not going to let her starve out there.”
The week after we buried Petal, I was fishing at the stream that made up the border of our property. It was a sunny, mild day and I was all but falling asleep there on the bank, when suddenly my dad came lumbering through the brambles, swearing and spitting, asking me why I hadn’t gone into town for supplies.
“We don’t really need anything that can’t wait until the weekend, Dad,” I said.
My Pa spent his weekends drunk. He sat heavy and grey on a stool at Cain’s Bar and stared at his hands for the duration of a bottle of whiskey. It was my duty as his son to wait for him all night in the truck. As the last drunks slunk into the alley behind the bar to piss, my father’s voice sounded out of the dark, beautiful and sad. He sang his old cowboy songs the whole way home, his head hanging out of the window and his sorrow rising right up to the moon. I was planning to pick up some groceries and things on Saturday while we were already there. We were a little low on soap, maybe, but we could manage until then.
“The horse needs hay!” he shouted at me. “Get your ass into town.”
“She’s dead, Dad,” I said. “A dead horse isn’t gonna eat any hay.”
He lunged for me and took a swing at my head. I dropped my pole into the water, cursing him for making me lose it. That fishing pole was one of my few possessions in this world. He was on top of me before I could get my feet under me in the silt of the riverbank. I struggled good and hard, but he was heavier than me, and meaner. He held my arms down to my sides with his thighs and beat the shit out of me. Eventually, I wriggled a hand free and pulled my other worldly possession out of my pants and flicked it open. The ten inch blade gleamed ornery in the friendly sunlight.
“I know you’re drunk, Daddy,” I said. “So, I’m not going to kill you. I need you to get up off of me, though and maybe I won’t hurt you too bad.”
“She needs hay and feed,” he said, his eyes a faraway shade of green. “Just because she’s--” He paused. “It just isn’t right to forget all about her.”
I wasn’t quite sure what he was talking about, but I didn’t want to have bad blood between us. “What do you want me to do, Dad?” I asked, as he rolled and got off of me.
“Go into town like you always have,” he said.
And so, I did. I went out and bought a big bag of feed and a bale of hay, just like if Petal was still alive and my mom still loved us. Every week since then, I’ve rattled along the gravel road into town and returned with the horse’s things. The feed I always left in the bed of the truck and took it with us on Saturdays. While my old man put in his time at the bar, I took it over to Annie Carpenter’s house, they had a whole field of horses and very little money. I knew they could use all the help they could get. Plus, Annie Carpenter was blonde and long-legged like my mom. Twice as wild, too and someday soon I was going to lose her.
The hay, I spread some of it over the garden to keep the weeds down. I stacked some of it into a kind of retaining wall at the edge of the bed of petunias my mother planted every year. There was no use in letting something beautiful go to shit just because she left us. Mostly, I’ve started building stuff out of the bales.
I didn’t have much space in Dad’s house, so I turned the barn into a home away from home, of sorts. Using horse blankets and feed sacks, I made a set of comfortable chairs out of the bales. I made a sofa and a little day bed, where I could invite Annie without anybody interrupting us. As a matter of fact, we christened the bed just this weekend.
My dad came out to the barn, once and surveyed everything I’d done. He didn’t seem to find anything wrong with it, and besides, Petal didn’t need any hay, now. “It’s your money, boss,” I told him and the golden strands just kept piling up under my makeshift roof. I’ve been putting my feet up on the sofa and thinking about becoming a rodeo man myself, someday.