Horse’s Dad, Uhm
We talked along on backs, told stories on people we’d known who’d hurt theirs. In the telling of our back stories, we drank Lowenbrau in bottles. In no time at all we were drunk. Horse went in about his dad, who’d been in “Nam.” Horse narrated the jungle skirmish during which his dad “stepped on a landmine.” He said, “He was blown in two.”
I laughed. Oh Jesus, his dad getting all blown in two and all. My eyes roved around the room, searched out something to help me stop laughing, to pass my laughter off on. The horses, Jesus. Horse had all these like cheap ceramic horse statue things you see people selling roadside. He’d decorated his apartment with them, had a horse lampshade, posters of horses on the walls, on his coffee table a dead horse ashtray. You rested your cigarette between two ribs.
I pointed to a glittery rearing horse, pretending like my laughter was over it, adding insult to injury, judging by the look of deepening horror on Horse’s face, his face that is kind of like a horse’s face. It’s kind of long like a horse’s face, see? Horse’s face, though, has nothing to do with why Horse is called Horse.
Horse is called Horse over the what he pulls out when challenged. I know. Once, not long after Mary and I moved in, Horse drove me in his El Camino to a bar in a sleazy part of Saint Pete. While there, the subject of his name came up. Horse stuck his boot on a barstool rung, raised up and whipped it out. It plopped onto the bar and writhed like a serpent or snake, whatever’s the difference. He dumped beer on it and the thing splashed around, growing, straightening out in the puddle of beer. “Put that thang away!” the female bartender screamed, and Horse honored the request.
I was laughing. The two halves of Horse’s dad, right? The upper half that included his back and belly and head and arms I saw over in one part of the jungle, and the lower half that would have been his legs and butt and member in another. Each time I tried to stop laughing, Jesus, it just looked like I was trying to hide my merriment over what had happened to Horse’s dad. When I looked at Horse and saw his stricken face, the words that came to me were, “Is he still alive?”
“Man,” Horse said, “he was blown in two, I told you that!”
“Yeah,” I said, “but I was thinking they might have saved the good half.”
“He’s dead! My own father!”
“I’m sorry,” I said, sniggering and snickering, trying to hold it in, but guffawing, Jesus. “I can’t help this!” I yelled, snot coming out of my nose and all. “I don’t know why I’m laughing!” I cried, and pictured it more and laughed more and told myself there was nothing funny about any of this, goddamnit, but I kept on laughing, everybody else in the room quiet but for me, looking at me sadly, disgustedly, this was going too far, and Steve from Hawaii—pronounced with a V, Havaii, in case you didn’t know—up and left us, as did Nicole who swears to God she is pregnant with the mayor’s baby. They left me to make a fool and a jerk of myself in front of Horse and Mary Wheeler, my sweetie. They made no effort to save me from humiliation, from disgrace.
I could not, I tell you, stop laughing, even when Horse began to shake, his body jerking as he thought of his poor dad’s two halves thrown separate ways across the jungle floor. As I laughed on, Horse began to weep. The jerking of Horse’s body aggravated his back pain. He reached around, grimacing. Poor Horse had hurt his back when he fell through the ice-cream factory floor in Clearwater—he’d been toting a hundred pound bag of sugar at the time. Since then we on the upper floor—Steve and Nicole and Mary Wheeler and I—had not been receiving our free weekly packages of Klondike Bars.
“I’m sorry this happened,” Mary said, and pulled me out of Horse’s place back onto the balcony of the Spanish Villa, pulled me back to ours where my laughter disappeared like a bubble you see floating through the sunshine in a park. Now you see it, now you don’t. “What the hell was that about?” my Mary wanted to know, and I saw Horse’s dad blown in two in my mind again. It wasn’t funny, but I had just finished reading, again, of the adventures of David in the Book of Samuel, where in exchange for the king’s daughter David kills two hundred dudes and cuts off their foreskins. Am I trying to pass my laughter off on the king’s daughter, the story where David dumps out his bag of foreskins onto a table so that they can be counted? Probably, but who’s to say for sure? Not everything in the world makes sense, does it?
Take me. All day every day I’m like on the balcony reading the bible in shorts, shirtless with my bare feet on the rail. I am living off my insurance settlement. All I did was break my jaw in the crash, and dislocate my foot, nothing big. Didn’t hurt my back. I just sit here day after day reading the King James Version, watching the palm tree fruit change color. I watch the fruit turn from green to yellow to orange, then fall to the ground where it begins to rot.
John Oliver Hodges has authored three books of fiction, including a collection titled The Love Box, and Quizzleboon, a novel. His flash fictions have appeared in Molotov Cocktail, Crag, Monkeybicycle, Tampa Review and elsewhere. He lives in New Jersey..