Home > Funerals for Horses(10)

Funerals for Horses(10)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

I camp the night within the rectangle of stakes and ask my dreams to point me.

I have no dreams.

I clutch the sleeping bag around my neck in the night, awakened from time to time by a sharp, chill wind across my cheek. The ground pinches my hip and I toss around.

In the morning I am hungry and thirsty, and I have no plans for these needs. In fact, I have no plans.

I lie still as long as I can, and I notice a brown rabbit watching me from under a bush. The same rabbit, or another one, I don’t know. This land must contain a million rabbit lookalikes.

When the hawk screams I sit up.

I watch him perch in the tree above me and crook his neck to stare, watch his round black eye contain me doubtfully. Still, I think he doubts me less than I doubt myself.

He glides away on a cushion of air, and I stand and take a few steps after him, and as I do, I am surer than ever that my brother Simon continued from this place.

My challenge is to continue in the same direction.

The hawk lights in a tree and waits while I pack my only remaining physical symptoms of life.

THEN:

One advantage to living with our father was a freedom to stay home from school unnoticed. We’d trudge out of the house at the regular hour and head anywhere else. He’d set off for work a minute later, leaving us free to come home, usually to take the sleep we missed at night. Simon forged beautiful notes.

On Jewish holidays we simply slept in.

“Why aren’t you in school?” he’d say when we came down to breakfast.

“It’s Yom Kippur.”

“You don’t go to temple, you should go to school.”

Here, oddly, I played spokesperson.

“Wouldn’t make a difference. They mark us absent all the same.”

“Why would they do that?”

“They just go down the list and mark us all off. Feinberg, Greenberg, Goldman, Ginsberg. You have to jump around like crazy to make them see you’re there.”

Unfortunately, I was not making this up.

“Well, think reverent thoughts,” he would say, seeming not to notice that we stuffed ourselves with pancakes on the holy fast day of the Jewish religion.

If the days were good, the nights brought the bill.

I tried to avoid liquids after six, I tried to cross my legs and will it away, but the only solution was to cut me loose to sprint to the bathroom one floor down.

Simon found the answer to this most immediately distressing problem, and it came in the form of a well-devised rope ladder hooked to two heavy eye bolts in the floor of our attic bedroom, under the window.

If we remembered to unlock the window underneath us before bed, the ladder released me off the side of the roof into the dangerous second-floor night.

I had to remember not to flush.

The first few times Simon came along as a sort of bodyguard, assuming the jungle of the hall would be thick with danger, but it invariably proved empty. The sounds came from the living room. The activity, so real beneath us, had actually been two floors down all the time, disguising its voice to imitate a dark creature breathing a heartbeat away.

In time I was allowed to go alone, and I must say I felt nothing shameful at first in the fact that I was drawn to look. The second-floor landing loomed and invited. It served as a duck blind, its thick, close-set railing posts obscuring my presence, its darkness a contrast to the harsh lights on the downstairs stage.

The first time, I stared so long that Simon launched a search party. He found me crouched, remorseless, full of words and questions, but afraid to break the sheltering silence.

Then Simon had to stare awhile, too.

My father sat sprawled on the couch, naked, a huge, unfathomable appendage leaning tautly against his belly.

This is not to say that I had no understanding of the concept of a penis, but this one surely pushed the concept to remarkable dimensions.

Two other strange naked figures knelt on the floor beneath him, faced away from us, their mouths wetly attached to separate portions of this gigantic member. When tired of marveling at the amazing thing itself, I watched my father’s eyes, rolled back in his head, showing the whites of surrender, and listened to the unearthly rumble of his wordless commentary.

I drew from him the sense of a power he held at no other time, a mastery of moments that would cause grown people to follow him home, this stranger, this normally bland and ineffectual everyman.

Simon took a proprietary hold on my arm and ushered me up the side of the house for the night.

He couldn’t usher away my questions.

“Have you ever seen one that big, Simon? I mean, is that normal?”

Simon offered no opinions, careful to stress no real basis for comparison, other than himself, or other boys his age he might be forced to shower beside.

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