By Meagan Cass
The girl gets me as a birthday present from the aunt she never sees, the aunt who lives upstate, sings Bonnie Raitt off key while she does the dishes, smokes Camel Blues and drinks Wild Turkey on her back porch Saturday nights, who wears both wedding rings to remind herself, “Fuck that shit, never again,” who I might have fallen in love with a little, that week between the toy store and the suburbs.
This isn’t the worst place, though. The girl keeps me on her white oak bookcase, which matches her bed frame and desk. On her walls there are faded posters of horses: Black Beauty galloping a green field, a unicorn in a glen. In the curio cabinet, white porcelain horses are frozen mid-stride, their ghost faces straining. On the dresser three My Little Ponies stare with that cocktease expression they have, showing their rainbowed asses. You can guess why the aunt, distracted, hung over, thought I’d make a good gift. And had the girl been five or six, she might have used my comb to brush my synthetic mane.
The girl is older, though, too old for this horse stuff, in my opinion. Weekday nights she does her Advanced Placement homework at her desk, picks up her pink telephone, does impressions of her parents, how they’re like You’re not smoking that Mara-joo-anna, are you? or they’re like Turn down that Ner-van-ah. Friday nights she’s hooved in heeled boots and her laugh is almost a neigh, jangly and full of heat. There’s a dull boy she has sex with once a week. Before they start, he puts his boxer shorts over my eyes, saying, Dude, that’s creepy. During, she screams like she’s faking or in pain. After, when he’s gone, she sits on her bed, braids and unbraids her hair. I watch her hands shake.
Those nights, part of me wishes I could take her on a quick ride somewhere, to the diner for cheese fries or something, or at least say It’s going to be okay, you’ll meet someone better. I’m no model of Greek Statuary, though, no noble stallion from Elgin. And I do not envy Black Beauty his muscled body, his posed wildness. I don’t want to help anyone forget her own weakness or escape a wicked queen. What I want is to hear some music. Bonnie Raitt. What I want is to be a regular taxidermied head. Put me in an upstate dive bar with a good juke. Stick me on the wood-paneled wall, between the boar head and the moose head. Affix a cigarette between my lips. Tell me the story of how you were broken. Tell me the moment when your mind went blank and your body seemed to belong to someone else, the moment when you stopped believing you could be saved, or that you could ever save anyone else. Tell me, then run your fingers through this fake, windless mane.
Meagan Cass’ fiction has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, PANK, and Puerto del Sol, among others. She is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Illinois Springfield and an assistant editor for Sundress Publications.