Amsterdam-based writer Susan Carey’s preposterous and somewhat bawdy yarn concerns a woman, a man and a talking horse. Will the marriage survive?
“You need to work on your Double Buffalo,” Colombia said to the skewbald horse who was packing up his hat full of tips after a day of busking on 22nd Street.
“Between you and me,” Colombia tapped his nose and looked up and down the street to check no one was looking, “I think you’d be better off in the rodeo — it’s a bit more, you know, what people expect.”
“That’s what people expect of a horse with a rider — I’m in charge of my own fate.” He then performed a move which involved a hop, a leap, a pirouette on his hind legs before landing with his right foreleg crossed over his left. He flicked his head, tossed his long forelock over his right eye in the manner of a sexy film star and then just to cherry the cake, he winked.
Colombia tossed several coins into his hat and imagined what Esmé would say when he got home and told her about the tap-dancing horse.
Esmé was asleep on the sofa and the TV was on mute.
In the kitchen Colombia poured two cups of coffee, and placed them on a lacquered tray. He carried the steaming drinks into the living room.
Esmé awoke and stretched her arms languorously. “How was your day, hon?”
“Fine. And you’ll never guess what I saw on my way home.”
“A tap-dancing horse.”
“How did you know?”
“I saw him too, and I have invited him to dine this evening.”
“What do horses eat?”
“Oats, barley, crudités and deviled eggs, I believe.”
“You seem very knowledgeable on equine matters.”
“Uncle Red had a ranch in Wyoming. I spent my summers there when I was knee-high.”
Colombia planted a kiss on her forehead. She put her soft, milky-white arms around him.
“You are a woman of so many talents and surprises. And what time is Mr. Whateverhisnameis coming? And how will he get up the stairs?”
“I don’t think a tap-dancing horse will be put off by a few flights of stairs in an apartment building.”
Just then Colombia heard the electronic suck and exhalation of the lift doors opening and closing. The clip clop of hooves followed by what he imagined to be an impatient hoof against the wooden door.
Esmé quickly put on her teal slippers, smoothed back her hair and opened the door.
“Ah, Mr., Mr. — we have been expecting you. Welcome to our home.”
The horse snorted a welcome and Colombia wiped away a spray of mucus from his forehead.
“My name is Darcy,” the horse said out of the side of his mouth, in a manner not unlike that of the famous Mr. Ed.
“Can I get you something Mr. Darcy?” Colombia offered.
“Would you have any cider? I am partial to sparkling drinks of any kind. My veterinarian strongly disapproves — colic dangers — but till now, bite on wood, I’ve had no problems.”
Esmé and Colombia exchanged worried glances.
At that moment Mr. Darcy let out a rip-roaring fart and the air in the apartment turned fetid. “Do excuse my manners. It is a while since I have dined amongst friends.”
“I wonder that he has any, if this is how he behaves,” Colombia whispered to Esmé as they retreated to the kitchen.
“Do we have any cider?” Colombia opened a few cupboard doors.
Esmé was on all fours looking in the cupboard under the worktop where they kept unwanted beverages.
“Ah, here we are, Babycham. Surely Mr. Darcy will like that.” Esmé poured the bubbly drink into a champagne flute.
“He can’t drink out of that! He’s a horse for goodness sake. Put it in a saucer so he can lap it up.”
“Horses don’t lap.”
“Well, suck then.”
Esmé took a china saucer from the tea set that was a wedding gift from her mother-in-law and poured the Babycham into that.
“Mmmmm. Quite delicious,” Mr. Darcy said as he licked his lips after sucking up the Babycham in one gulp.
Esmé and Colombia laid the oblong table. The horse stood at the long side and after drinking several saucers of Babycham, appeared to doze off.
In the kitchen, Esmé arranged deviled eggs on an oval platter.
“My dear, next time you have the urge to invite a street performer to our home, could you possibly suppress it.”
“Why?” Esmé picked up the oval platter. “He has almost been the perfect gentleman until now.”
Colombia watched his wife put the dish on the table. Then she stroked Mr. Darcy’s neck and laid her cheek against his soft coat. “Oh, I do love the smell of horses. It takes me right back to Uncle Red’s ranch.”
The horse opened his eyes briefly.
Colombia and Esmé sat opposite each other at the short ends of the oblong table.
“Where did you learn to tap-dance?” Colombia asked.
“Oh, a companion from my carriage-horse days taught me. She had worked in a circus. We were let loose on the East Side when our owner couldn’t afford to feed us any more. Then we had to fend for ourselves. There was an unfortunate incident with a trap-door and I lost little Nimblelegs.” Mr Darcy looked wistfully out the window.
“And you make a good living from tap-dancing?” Colombia hoped to lighten the mood.
“The public are very generous. Today I received a $100 bill in my hat!”
Colombia thought of his meagre earnings as a bank clerk. Perhaps he should pick up tap-dancing again. He’d had some lessons as a child.
“Have you thought of going on the television?” Esmé offered the horse some crudités.
“Like that vulgar chap, the talking horse?”
“Yes, him. It’s all trickery you know. The horse is as dull as ditch water. He hasn’t the slightest grasp of grammar and syntax. A mere charlatan. Whereas I am the real deal.” He sipped another saucer of Babycham.
Colombia worried that a tipsy horse might be hard to get rid of. He didn’t want him crashing on their apartment floor. Like an angel coming to his rescue, the wall clock chimed ten times.
“Look at the time,” Mr. Darcy said. “I have to secure my place under the bridge by 10:30 at the latest.”
“You make all this money and you live under a bridge?” Esmé bit into a carrot.
“I’m ashamed to say I have debts. I am slowly buying back my lost wealth from the pawn shop. When I was a racehorse I earned big bucks but then, like so many, I was drawn to gambling and lost the lot. And I have always had, ahem, an eye for a well-turned fetlock.”
Colombia wondered what Mr. Darcy’s right eye was doing to make Esmé blush like that. At the table he could only see the horse’s left eye. Damned inconsiderate to have an eye either side of his head and not both at the front like most people.
Colombia stood up and stacked the plates. He took them to the kitchen and washed them up, hoping that Mr. Darcy would be saying his goodbyes soon.
A warm fragrant breath in Colombia’s neck aroused him somewhat. He turned round quickly and there stood Esmé. She had packed her crocodile suitcase.
“I am going away for a few days. Mr. Darcy has promised to show me his old racetrack out west and I thought a few days sightseeing would be fun. The circus is heading that way tomorrow and Mr Darcy says I can tag along.”
“You’re going to sleep under a bridge and then join the circus. Have you quite lost your mind?”
Colombia dropped a saucer which smashed into little pieces on the floor.
“Now look what you made me do. Mother’s fine crockery in shards.”
“I really don’t care about all those bourgeois things anymore.” Esmé said as she pulled on the ocelot coat which had cost Colombia several wage packages to buy last Christmas.
Mr. Darcy was waiting in the dining room, his one hind leg in a resting position. Esmé took a dining chair and used it as a mounting block to get on Mr Darcy’s back. He must have dozed off again because he started forward a little as his back accepted her sylphlike form.
“Open the door for us, would you?” Esmé ordered Colombia, as if he were a servant.
Eyes saucering in the manner of someone having an unexpected rectal examination, Colombia opened the door and watched the love of his life leave him. “I’ll think twice about putting money into a hat the next time I see a performing horse on 22nd Street!” Colombia shook his head as he walked to the kitchen.
Gold-digger and feckless floozy all rolled into one; Mother’s I-told-you-so words looped in Colombia’s head.
He stood at the window until horse and rider disappeared into a side street. Esmé didn’t even turn to wave.