My mother curls up against the body of the dead horse. I say to her, “It was always a ghost-horse, you know. Too-white and his burrs never stuck to my sneakers.” Tony scratches the back of his head, scaly and sunburnt, makes him look older. I sit on the fence and watch, kick rocks at my niece’s bare shins.
“Simmy,” mother whispers, “I didn’t know.” I want to tell her that he’s dead and can’t hear what she’s saying, that he wouldn’t even if he was alive. Tony grabs my purse and asks me if I have gum, pulls me over to the barn.
“It might be best if you leave them be for a while,” he says.
I say, “Funny words coming from a horse-killer.”
He says, “Simmy was suicidal,” and I kiss him hard on the mouth. His lack of guilt makes him more attractive.
“I’ve got an alibi,” I say, “and it’s approved by Mary.”
I spent the day by the Virgin Mary statue in our backyard. She was bolted to the dead grass, white-covered eyes on the street. I worked on making her a headdress of flowers my neighbor had grown to make her look less cold, saw my mother’s horse, Simmy, kept walking into the road.
“Stay away, funny horse,” I yelled. He did not yell back.
I told Mary not to worry, “All white horses have wings.” She did not seem as confident, kept her posture strong.
Simmy is a strange horse with a bad leg, think he might have brain damage. My mother told me he was abused, that my cousins used to beat him with large rocks. I didn’t tell her I was with them when they did it and she never asked.
The stable is only feet from our home, next to a red barn that invades our eyesight when we look out our window each morning. The nearest house isn’t for miles. The lack of traffic on this road makes the street full of strange people. The farm down the road has a woman that was arrested for chasing her husband around the backyard with a hatchet and without clothes. Hurt the man bad, painted the grass red. The way it patterned made it look like glass.
The pavement of our street was hot. I expected Simmy’s hooves to melt, his legs to sink into the road. I sat on the grass near Mary’s stone dress to keep my feet cold, watched Simmy wander. The sun made his mane look like stars. Blast off, horse, I thought. Simmy did not move. His stillness bothered me. I began calling his name. “Simmy.” He shook his head. “Come here boy!” He stomped his right foot. “Move,” I said. He neighed.
I asked Mary for help. Her statue-mouth wouldn’t open. I took the flowered headpiece I was crafting for her and said “Well, Mary. You’ve earned yourself one less tulip on this headdress,” and shoved the unused flowers in my mouth. I chewed them and felt like Simmy. Horse had bad taste.
Simmy watched. Cars began to talk at him with loud horns. The sound made him trot forward to the deer-warning sign next to my family farmhouse. I knew this meant I had to update it to include Pegagus-warnings as well.
“Simmy,” I said, “come any closer and I’ll have to tip you over.” He blew air from his nose and stood still. There was no reason for mother to be so infatuated with this particular horse. He had fishbowl eyes, large and watery, the type that the sunlight feeds on. She hadn’t mounted him in years, said his bones weren’t strong enough, that they’d shatter into marble-small pieces. The light grey of his fur was like dust, as if he was reflecting the inside of our farmhouse. Old thing filled with sawdust and powder, potentially broken down bone. Eerie house even has crosses nailed to the attic walls, no proper floor to walk on to remove them. I used to think Mary put them there, but she’s never had the legs.
Ten minutes late, the carpenter, Tony, pulled into the driveway. His blue flannel stuck to his back with sweat. “Break in the fence?” he asked, seeing Simmy. His eyes were small and focused on my mouth. “Whatcha chewing?”
“The fence,” I said. He shook his head. I grinned.
“They’re at work,” I said. “Not everyone makes their own hours.”
“No school for you today?”
“Decided not to go.”
“No. Knew you’d be here.”
“Can’t get into college if you don’t graduate high school.”
“That’s fine, though. You like your girls young.” He swallowed his breath, I watched his throat move.
“I should fix that fence,” he said, and grabbed a toolbox from his truck.
It had taken me only twelve days to map Tony’s routine. On Monday, he came by to paint before the school bus showed up at my house. Tuesday, brought a male friend to help him scrape wallpaper around lunch. The male friend was around his age, fifty or so, but looked kinder. Made him less attractive. The rest of the week alternated between him not showing up at all, or sawing wood on the front porch for an hour or two. He had a bright smile at a lady jogger that passed each day around noon.
First time I met her she asked me why we were moving into my great-grandfather’s home. “Is Marty dead?” she asked. I told her, “No, just in a home now.” She was relieved to know he was alive. I told her, “He should be dead. He’s old and sad.” She did not respond. My mother interrupted the conversation. Said the jogger was an old friend, did not introduce me as her daughter. Last time she was here I told her a new route, said the sight of her bothers the horses. She asked me if I was Bonnie’s daughter, I said yes. She said I look nothing like her. “Good thing, she has a terrible nose,” I said. She clenched her teeth, made her neck look strained.
Tony led Simmy across the street. He hammered at the break in the fence. Removed his shirt. I told Mary to stop watching. She always had a perverted way about her, often focusing her stare on the bathroom windows of our home. I wondered why my parents didn’t factor that into the renovations. They didn’t seem to mind the invasion of privacy as much as I did.
“Should be good” he said, “Strange though, the breaks in the fence seem to be burnt off. Like someone torched the wood.” Behind him I could see Simmy back in the street.
“Careful, Tony. This is a teleporting horse,” I said.
He wrinkled his forehead and scrunched his nose. Made him look younger. He led Simmy across the street again, worked on another break in the fence. The sound of his hammer nailing the wood was rhythmic, lulling. I lay on the grass and started playing with the waistband of my skirt. Same result. Tony asked my permission to enter the barn and took rope, said he’d tie Simmy in place.
I knew the only place to tie Simmy was around the throat or the stomach, directed Tony to the smallest rope. He tried to fit it around Simmy’s body but gave up, made a noose-like loop and kept Simmy in place.
I laughed at the sight of him. The rope was tied tightly around his throat. “To the gallows!” I yelled. Tony shook his head.
“Funny thing,” he said, “isn’t much work left for me to do in the house. Just gotta paint a few rooms. Each time I come here, though, I never get to it. Seems like something else goes wrong.”
“Funny thing,” I said.
“Mind closing up the barn for me? I want to make sure the rope is safe.”
“Too many spiders in there, you’ll have to come with.” I told him. He listened, followed at my heels. I could hear his fingernails breaking in his teeth. “Gross habit,” I said, “chew gum instead.” I walked to the back of the barn. Tony stood at the door. I sat on the hay. He stood at the door.
“You don’t seem too scared to be in here,” he said and turned back towards the house.
“Good idea, Tony. The sex will be better if Mary watches.” He did not disagree. Simmy’s compulsion to walk in the road caused him to strangle himself with the rope in the meantime.
Tony isn’t as thrilled about the alibi as I am. “Your parents won’t be too pleased to hear their carpenter fucked their daughter.”
“It’s either that or you strangled a horse,” I say.
My niece enters the barn, crying. Her face looks like it’s melting. I ask her why she’s sad, tell her she didn’t even know the horse. She turns around and wraps herself around my father’s leg. The female jogger comes to see all of the commotion. She weeps at the sight of the horse. I tell her, “Horse needed to die, was brain damaged and had a bad leg. If it was up to me, know what I would have done?” I point at her with my index finger, thumb raised, and mouth “bang.”
Tony approaches the jogger, consoles her. Weak girl, I think. When Tony and I found the body there was no such reaction.
“Silly thing,” I said to it, and kicked Simmy’s side. Tony knelt down, grabbed the rope. “Well, that was one hell of a knot I made,” he said and admired his work. We laughed. “Simmy was a dumb horse.”
Tony runs his fingers along the hair of the jogger, who says she used to ride Simmy with my mother. He leads her to the barn, they sit down. She puts her head on his shoulder. He kisses her forehead, whispers something. I sit with Mary, pet her head. Tell her we won’t lose him.
Each day after Simmy’s death is routine. Tony comes by to paint, fixes a few things here and there. The jogger, knowing Simmy is dead, feels comfortable on this route again. She stops to chat. Tony offers her a glass of water. Mary and I watch. They kiss sometimes, sneak off to the barn. I watch. The sight of me makes them speed their steps. I’m aware of Tony’s mortality when I see him with her. She leaves to finish her route. Tony walks over to the backyard. He doesn’t sit, instead towers above Mary and me. I look at him, block the sun from my eyes.
“Looks like things here are done,” Tony says, “just have to gather my stuff and I’ll be out of your way.”
“What if things keep breaking?” I ask.
“Hire someone to fix them.”
Tony enters the barn. Without thinking, I follow, close the door behind him, lock it. Tony laughs in reaction to the sound. “We had a good run,” he says, “now open that up, start attending school again.”
“Can’t,” I say, “was expelled.”
“Started a fire in a trashcan.”
I stand by the door for a few minutes. Tony grows impatient. I can hear his feet dragging on the barn floor, pacing. He tries to pry open the door with his tools. The wood of the door begins to snap, sounds weak. Need a new barn.
“How does she taste, Tony?” I ask. He pauses.
“Like someone my age,” he says.
“So she’s stale, filthy.”
“We don’t need to discuss this right now.” The wood continues to splinter.
“She’s sweaty and wrinkled, fake blonde hair.”
“Just open the barn.”
“And crying over the horse. How can you even sleep with someone when you’ve seen them cry? I’d just be thinking of that the whole time.”
Tony pauses. “I only think of death when I sleep with you.”
“Good,” I say.
“Your parents will be home soon,” he says, “can’t keep me in here forever.” I want to tell him that mother’s mind will be on gin and arguments with father over what songs to play on the jukebox at Herbie’s, one town over. That she won’t even look at the barn. I look at Mary and nod, walk back into the house.
Mother comes home with hiccups and her red-eyed husband. I sit in the far corner of our living room, in view of the front door, and keep only the outside light on. The light hits Mary and makes her glow.
“Those people have no business singing karaoke. They don’t know the first THING about singing,” mother says.
“We should do a song together, Bon,” her husband says.
“No, your voice is too low, you can’t sing anything.” Mother laughs. He joins. I join to let them know that I’m here.
“That’s funny guys, I say, “but not as funny as the man I locked in the barn today.”
Mother stares at me and I rock back and forth to throw off her focus. Her body smells like remnants of the perfume she applied hours ago and chardonnay. “You what?” she asks.
“I caught a man that was fondling Simmy’s corpse and I locked him in the barn.”
“Inappropriately, I think.” I wink at my mother and she sends her husband to check the barn. I go to my room and stare at the fresh paint on my walls. I can see the wallpaper pattern beneath it. Looks like pig skin, I think. I look down at my feet and there are three paint drops on the hardwood. Know they’ll need to be covered in carpet. I hear Tony’s truck leave the driveway and he honks loudly. I check to make sure he didn’t wake Mary.