My grandma was fun for someone who rarely left her chair. The most active she got was hauling herself, and me, to bingo on Friday nights. We also made frequent trips to Kmart where she would always give me a quarter for the three horse merry-go-round out front. I loved that thing and would even fantasize about riding it, but, because I had the little green man in my head, I could never enjoy a sweet ending daydream. He lived in my brain for the sole purpose of destroying happy thoughts. So when I would escape into a coin operated carousel reverie, the little green man would let me enjoy a few revolutions, then buck me off my horse and bust my skull on the ground where the blood and brains would spill out.
Despite the little green man’s agenda, I often mused about having an actual horse in my suburban backyard, so I flipped out when Grandma told me that a local TV station was giving away a quarter horse in a contest. She said all we had to do was send in a postcard with my name on it. They would put it in a barrel and draw a winner. We were all set to go when she realized the deadline for entries was that very day. She said she would send it in anyway. Oh, well.
The school year ended and I went about my summer routine of killing time alone and with the other neighborhood kids. Three of the houses near mine were high turnover rentals, usually for Army families. I had been making (and tasting) mud pies (gritty) with the kids in the rental across the street when we decided to go in and watch television. I was the oldest so I figured out which button was “on”, pulled it and from the tiny speaker, I heard a man’s voice say my name, “Barbi Beckett.”
I whipped my head around to the girl kid.
“Is that you?” she asked.
And then, “Barbi Beckett has just won her very own quarter horse!” The man was standing next to one of those clear barrels with a handle on the end for rotating it and he was holding my postcard. Apparently, we hadn’t missed the deadline and he must not have stirred very well because mine would have been right on top.
I ran across the street and busted through my front door squawking to my dad that I’d won a quarter horse. He slowed me down and backed me up. I told him about the man saying my name when I turned on the TV and about the postcard and Grandma. I watched as he reached next to his Lazy Boy for the phone to call her, then directory assistance, then the television station. In the meantime, I built cities of castles in the air about this salvation from my current life. Having a horse was going to put me in a new world, with a best friend, someone to take care of, someone who needed me and would give me greater perspective from five feet higher. Not to mention I was going to automatically be liked by everyone from now on.
Once my dad reached someone at the TV station, I could tell by his end of the conversation that it was true. I had won a horse.
He hung up the phone and sat quietly in his chair. He finally said, “You know we can’t keep it?”
I did not know that. That was not what I knew.
He went on to tell me that horses need a stall and a lot of special care. He probably sensed that I was trying to figure out where we could put a stall in the backyard when he said, “They’re not allowed in the city limits”.
When he went to work on Monday he talked to a friend who was interested in buying the horse for his daughter. Pop came home that day to share the good news that some other little girl was going to get my horse but the money would go into my savings account.
BUT, when he came home from work on Tuesday, he told me that he’d spoken to another co-worker who told him about a place in Chaparral, New Mexico, not far from our house, where we could pay to keep the horse and have it looked after. He didn’t know any of the details yet but he would consider this possibility. I couldn’t believe the dream still had a pulse, even if it wasn’t thriving.
I could be patient about the working out of details. The horse was still in Lubbock and wouldn’t be trailered to El Paso for another month. Still, I had to start thinking about names and figure out who I could get to take me to see him. I knew no one would want to go as often as I would so I’d have to rotate the people I knew with cars in shifts. Those people would be my dad and my grandma.
The weeks passed and I finally learned that my horse was on the road. In a matter of days I would meet him and learn his name. (I’d realized he probably already had one and we would just have to stick with what ever that was). He could’ve been called Toe Jam. I didn’t care.
Then, it started to feel like it was taking an awful long time to come from Lubbock. When “just a few more days” stopped cutting the muster, Pop finally had to break the news; The trailer had tipped and the horse’s leg was broken.
I got… worried.
See, no one likes to be the messenger in these situations. But, throughout my life, my dad was especially bad at it.The dog was put to sleep, the cat was hit by a car, the brother over-dosed. These deliveries left me feeling hopeful and wondering, What’s so bad about napping at the vet? Is he hurt? What hospital is he in?
Again, in this case, what was so obvious to my father, took some time to be translated to me. A horse with a broken leg gets shot. My horse was dead. He was coming to me from Lubbock, his trailer tipped over, his leg got broken and someone killed him with a gun.
He is not coming. He is shot and dead.
The castle cities crumbled. Everything would stay the same, except for this new sensation I had of being a cigarette butt with it’s fire twisted out into the sidewalk.
The way it ends is they provide a busted up old replacement horse that my dad does not want the responsibility of. He sells it to the co-worker who buys it for his daughter. I go with my dad to the stables where the horse is, to see him just once. When we walk up to the paddock we see a horse, a trainer, my dad’s co-worker and his daughter standing around the horse, petting him. I can’t even look. I go back and wait in the car while my dad goes to talk to his friend.
After a while they both come to the car. The man leans on my window to thank me and tell me I should come ride Lola some time.
It was safe to say the dream was dead. And the little green man was no longer satisfied with sabotaging the twenty five cent rides of my imagination. He had a hand in shaping my reality as well. That could explain a lot.