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This is my story I'm goin' to tell you. It's about a boy and his pony. Or a pony and his Dick. You're laughing at my name, aren't you? You're all laughing and that's my honest-to-Gosh name, not Richard or anything else, my mother and pop named me Dick! Do you want to hear the story or not? Ye're all so goshdamn rude. No more snickering, or guffawing, or I won't say another word.
I heard that.
I'm kina upset right now. I hear children squealing. They sound like seagulls. I'm comin' over a ridge onto the dunes right beyond tennis courts they have set up in that place of sand that looks like a paving goin' in between two pointed dunes, or it looks like tennis or somethin', it has clean white nets and young women from a school are out in their short dresses playing some outdoor game. It's too goshdamn hot for that, but anyway, that's what's out there. I don't head that way; it's too hot and what would young women want with me around anyway? It's too hot to walk that far out of my way but I don't know where I'm goin'. I'm supposed to be gettin' some "exercise", that's what she called it, in the sanatorium.
All the time I was back in the sanatorium, that one ugly nurse with the sad wrinkled eyes and lumpy curly hair and a nice smile, she always said, "when you get up, you gotta be sure and get plenny of _exercise_." That's what she said, all the time. I could look up at her all the time, like looking into the bright sun, though, I had to squint, because of the bright lights stuck in the rafters.
Get some exercise. I know what exercise is, gotta go out walkin' before dinner, or after, or somesuch thing, an' see if you can't find somethin' to do with yourself all day, because you gotta rest, but you also gotta get _exercise_, and there's plenny of ways to do that, right? Like, I dunno, down the beach on horses or somethin'. I like horses. I'm kina upset right now though an' I really don't feel up to this whole exercise thing.
I'm s'posed to "take exercise". Sounds like medicine t' me.
I had a lotta medicines an' stuff in the sanatorium. Pretty much I had to lay on my back on a cot, felt like laying on a bunch of old overwashed laundry, that's what I think, 'course I never laid on old overwashed laundry but, you know how it's meant, here. The medicines weren't so bad as the 'sumption, 'cept I kept coughin' 'em up. Look, I'm sorry about the "accent", heh, but it's 'times stronger 'n others. Sorry, so anyways... Lotsa medicines... I can't remember all of 'em too well, but, some of the tastes I remember real well.
Squealing children don't scare off the seagulls; they come in lookin' for leftovers of whatever it is they've been eatin'. Crinkled wafers, or sandwiches or whatnot. The little children are squealing and running around, flapping their arms and makin' like seagulls onto an' offof dunes, an' buggin' the donkeys. None o' the donkeys don't have children on 'em somewhere. Comin' over ridges onto the dunes there's any number of little donkeys, with little peg hooves right down into the sand, with sand in their tails, and children with sand in their dresses and shirt sleeves, and sand all over wherever the patting hands get in the donkey's furs.
I guess I'm prob'ly headed over this way, down the dunes. I can see white flapping nets anymore but not the young women; only a few young women are down here on the spread out parts of the dunes before where all the swimmers call the act'al beach.
One old lady donkey looks grumpy, standing deep in sand and pointed grass, with children climbing up over 'er an' fallin' down on the other side, over and over again. She lets 'em keep doin' it, crazy children lovin' that way that roll off the other side feels, and she looks sort of mean-eyed, but doesn't move, 'cept sometimes her tail.
Some of the little donkeys carry adults. Men have to hold their legs up off the sand an' the little critters plow along, lookin' as if they like that feel of that weight on their bodies. But some little children are running alongside, touching the donkeys, 's though men need help in ridin' these little mites. Everyone's havin' a good time. The donkeys are hardly sweatin', and really, neither am I an' I ain't hardly been workin' 'cept to walk up an' down a few dunes to get here, so it seems they'd be tired, but they ain't. It's damn hot though.
Finally I get down in the beach an' a breeze cools off the waist-high air comin' in lower than the ridges of grass, an' some donkeys an' children are runnin' in the lower dark wet sand, leavin' footprints an' lookin' behind to see where they put 'em, and how they look when a little ocean comes over 'em, even though it's not much; makes their footprints disappear really slow, an' they chuckle, an' point. Donkeys come back around to see where they lost their children at, an' look at the ground, and blow on the sea with their little lips an' noses.
It looks darker down here, so much sun is off to the dunes, goin' down sideways it seems like, even though West is really off back the way I walked here, the sanatorium stands in the west, it's an old ugly hotel, standing up back where I can't see it.
Where they had sandy an' grey colored hairs back up on the beach, an' children had light brown an' pink clothin', bein' looked at over the long plate-shaped sea them little donkeys look blue, and slate-grey. An' all the children seem t' be dressed in buttercup, an' orange. But it's all the same colors. Looks like darker donkeys, because of the ocean, an' its bein' foamy an' black, with yellow an' blue an' green.
Now I see a tar-black two-wheeled little cart, and harnessed to it is the only pony on the beach as far as I c'n see. The pony is in blinkers, standing with his feet slipping about in the sand, and chewing on the bits in his mouth with his lips just hardly moving. His cart is empty.
I make a beeline for that one little pony, thinkin' now I might have someone worth my "exercising" with. On the side of the pitch black pony cart nearest the ocean is an old pony-owning man. I s'pose he may own the donkeys. I stride right on up an' I begin coughin' a little, I s'pose, 'cause of my 'sumptive lung. I come up close where the ocean noises go on right down around my shoes, hissin' around, and look at the old man, an' he has rough stubble that looks 'xactly like ocean wave edges when they roll in towards shore.
I c'n smell now whatever he used to waterproof the pony-cart, and I'm smilin' a little to myself 'cause I see one pony ear turned sideways towards me, an' I can't see the pony's eyes but I know that he's listening. The old man has hollow cheeks, smells like smoke, an' rotten seaweed, an' looks like he's stepped out o' that ocean alla'sudden.
He's all raspy, an' I grin wider, when he says, "Quarter", and holds out 'is hand. I reach in my pockets, but I ain't got nothin', so I lean down to a little girl going running past in the ocean ripple.
"Psst, little girl! We can both ride in the cart if you've got a quarter." I grin. I don't like my grin anymore, not since the 'sumption. 'S all stained.
She laughs, and reaches out to me, and it's a _new_ quarter she puts in my hand, an' I close around it. I look surprised, an' she says, "Of course I've a quarter!" and laughs at me again. We both go up to the pony cart and get in, an' the old man takes my quarter.
Th' old man hands me thin black lines, and I feel that mouthing the pony was doing, coming up through 'em. I want to whisper somethin' to him, but that little girl is sittin' right there. I like horses. Act'lly, I really like horses. 'M not sure how all those children would feel about knowin' anythin' about how I feel about ponies. Or horses.
I click to the pony, and his neck and head jerk back, his feet do a couple soft-shoe steps and then he's all set. He goes off pretty good in all that sand, where it's flat along the wet water's edge. The girl sits and swings her legs, an' I warn her she might get her skirts caught, but she don't seem to mind. She looks up at me and says, once we're down the beach aways, "That's that old man Greyflank."
"Whatis? Oh that man." I jerk my head back over my shoulder. "Yeah?"
"Be careful of him," she says, like there's somethin' real funny, only children would think was funny or something. She nods all her roller-curls up an' down. I'm s'posed t' say somethin' here.
"Oh?" I get a bitter taste in my mouth and hack at it a little, an' the pony listens backwards but keeps on with a long walkin' stride.
Nods an' curls again, straightening her sandied dress. "Greyflank can tell you things."
She nods, "That's so." Then she just kina hops off the pony cart, without even worryin' about the wheels, and tears out over the beach, between some dry dunes.
"Well pony," I say to th' pony. I decide to pretend 'e's my pony.
I stop at a long dune with a nice edge to it an' look out, sittin' at the top. I tightened once at the lines an' the pony stopped right then an' looked out too, an' he's standin', so I just kina drop the lines, and get out carefully as I can, an' he turns his head, but stands still, so I'm figurin' he'll stand for awhile, an' he seems like a good pony. I come 'round an' stand at the pony's head, an' take his bridle an' look 'im over.
Th' mane on this pony 's smoothed off to his neck, an' it's black, an' so's his tail, an' his hooves are even painted so they look more black, black and oily lookin' like the cart he's pullin'. I don' see any other part of him that isn't grey, even wool felt grey, an' I touch 'im an' he's smooth, all close down to his skins and muscles, nothin' shaggy, and trimmed right down 'round his whiskers like 'e's dressed up or somethin', an' even the blinkers an' all the black straps make 'im look dressed up like in a top hat, and collar. But down the front middle of his head, from the short triangle that's still black an' would've been long mane, runs this white stripe, whiter'n cleaner'n anythin' white in that old sanatorium. I c'n see his eyes lookin' at me between the blinkers an' his cheeks, an' I feel kina nervous alone with 'im like this, an' I want to touch 'im more.
I don't know when that "Greyflank" 'x'pect's 'im back, but the little girl paid her quarter so he can always come lookin' for us if 'e's upset. The sea air comin' in makes me cough, an' my pony kina coughs too, 's if t' be polite, an' I feel safe touchin' 'is forehead, an' lookin' at his mouth, an' nose holes. I see a little bitty fleck of either some snot or some ocean spray, right inside the rounded edge of one nose-hole, an' I hold onto his bridle with one cigarette-holding hand, an' lightly touch at 'im with my other, while sayin' gently, "hey little pony, you got a little bit a' nose snot there-- lemme just..." The pony lets me put my thumb up inside of his black-grey nose-hole with the little pink center lining, and wipe a drip from it for him; after, he snorts and raises his head as if 'e's thanking me. I oughta thank _him_. Then he looks me over carefully, an' I feel a little naked, or somethin', bein' stared over like this.
"Oh," says the baby-eyed pony to me, clear as daylight with his look. "You smoke." He bats his eyes.
"No," I tell him. 'E's got very large brown eyes, an' 'e's unfair, cuter'n a puppy, mostly, I think, but I haven't, you know, seen many pups... "This isn't lit, I never can light 'em. I only have one lung. The other one's 'sumptive."
"You're just going to carry it around like that?"
"Yew have a problem with that?" I'm sure I don't look all that dang'rous, but there yew go. Just narrowin' my eyes at 'im an' all, an' I'm kina hot after touchin' 'is nose, so, well, "Your owner smokes! I smelt it on 'im."
The pony just looks away so he can see out over the ocean with his blinkers on, an' flips his neck like 'e's flippin' 'is mane a little, but it's short, an' just makes ripples down his neck, where his skins move.
"We better get back," he says all soft an' smooth like some kind a' lady or somethin', an' then 'e's done talkin', seems, for this night. I drive him back, listenin' t'the ocean on th'one side a' us. Along th' way I'm tryin' t' pretend 'e's talkin' t' me again, but 'e never does, or my pretendin' don't work, an' walkin' straight on like 'e did before, an' I'd enjoy myself more if I'd a' forgotten all about talkin' an' just felt 'is mouth, watched 'is hindlegs movin', watched 'is furs.
"He's all business," I tell 'is owner old Greyflank when 'e pulls th' cart back into place by th'old man. Greyflank nods 'n wheezes. 'Least I'm not th'only one with a bad lung, or two, or wheezing, 's what I think, an' I tell old Greyflank, chuckling as I slap that pony on th' hindhalf where 'e's all smooth and grey, with nothin' from the harness attached 'til ye see back to the tail where there's a strap 'round underneath it, "I hear you c'n tell me things, 'round on the beach," an' I grin even though I hate my stained grin, anymore, an' he says, hacking much more'n I do: "There's a thing or two I could tell you about Bill, here," and slaps the pony on the shoulder, on th'other side from where I'm standin'. Then he laughs, like it's some big joke, an' I tell the pony I'm comin' back th' next day.
"Ugly nurse said I gotta take some 'exercise'," I tell old Greyflank, an' he just takes a long rattlin' breath off a smoke a' some kind, an' doesn't say or look like he's goin' to say much else, an' I'm makin' my way back up t' the dunes, an' over 'em to a kitchen, an' a night place in th' healthy sea air t' sleep in. I have so odd a dream, I don't know any way what to make out of it.
I'm sleepin' on a bench, an' soft sea air an' a lotta salt an' some sounds of seagulls putting their webs in their beaks and rustlin' around all come inta my senses as ta where I'm at, even all night when I'm sleepin', but then everythin' changes, an' the cold air, dry air, an' lots a' brown an' dark green leaves an' grasses an' trees and dirt clumps are up all around us-- there's two a' us.
I'm from three places, see, 's why ah talk all over'n people looked at me funny, in th' sanatorium, an' wondered where 'm I from, an' I shrugged at 'em, how'm I s'posed t'know? Where I was born, that's one thing, an' where I am, that's another, an' inbetween, 's 'nother place t' be from, an' I got my ways of speakin' from who I hang 'bout with, 's what everybody said, 'm very impressionable, y'see. So's you gotta ask where th'_other_ people come from, an' my parents, they're not from O-h-io, an' my friends, they're not from Joisey, 'n I don't know where my ways 're s'posed t'be from, 'cept I'm a troublemaker, that much 'm pretty set to, an' in this me, this one in all these leaves, an' crunching little sticks under my boots-- an' I never had winter heavy boots, 'r anything like these-- I sit up on the bench an' remember everythin', an' feel odd, an' chilled, an' medicine fuzzy, an' bloody in th' mouth even though 'm all cured. I walked outta that big old sanatorium, an' never smoked, but I still got my cold cigarette in my hand, an' my head feels all turned 'round'bout.
It was me, no-one else, standin' on the edge of some kina pit, some kina sunken hole, an' rememberin' everythin' but the smells. It's cold, cold hard somethin' in my hand, must be rifle or pistol, an' it's _touchin'_, touching right up against 'im, right up a man's neck hairs, right over his skin. An' the man's hands're behind 'is back, 'n I c'n see 'em, an' they look cold an' white, an' there's no sheets but it seems like a sanatorium, with a death, an' it isn't, it's outdoors, but nowhere I've ever seen before. Never seen anything like this before. Never 'membered my dreams, an' it seems so real, but it can't be. Never been anywhere like that an' never heard any names like "Kieffer", an' that's the man on the ground, on his knees, lookin' down, with dark hair, an' I'm the one with th'gun.
"It was a green uniform you were wearing?" Bill my pony asks me the next day, when I go back and rent him out again. I nod, an' feel a little odd. 'E's talkin' t' me again, an' 'e seems so smart, an' thinkin' it all over. But then Bill says, "Sorry. Doesn't mean anything to me," an' shakes 'is small grey head, an' 'e's right at my level, if yew all know what I mean, right at his little pony height comes to that fork in my trousers, th' little devil.
"I'm gettin' a whole slew of quarters for helpin' out at Aunt Ruby Carol's over on th' ac't'al pavings, over th' plankin'," I tell the pony, showin' 'im what I've got in my non-smokin' hand, an' he looks an' snorts, all impressed. "I hafta stay in back a'course 'cause a' my lung, but I got a handkerchief so I look like a real dishwasher an' they let me eat leftovers on th' back steps, an' just runnin' down th' hotels, for a bit, good for 'exercise', 'cause I gotta work up the health in my body, after the 'sumption, an' I get quarters in this way."
Bill blinks his big brown eyes at me, an' I get all shivery. The pony moves his grey-black lips around awhile, an' then we step down towards the water, and 'e lips at it while I'm lookin' at it and lookin' at it reach my shoes an' thinkin' about boots. I haven't been back to see my parents since this whole thing got done, since my body stopped with th' coughin' an' whatnot an' I got outta that sanatorium place, free to go. "I ought think about that," I tell Bill, but he doesn't ask what I mean, instead, looks up at me, an' looks all pouty and serious, with his pony lip sticking out, an' 'is eyes thinking.
"Automobiles," he says, carefully.
"So what?" I ask, pretendin' like I'm shakin' out ashes on my same old cold cigarette, an' thinkin' it can't be that good fer me t'have stopped smokin' now, now that I've lost a lung, but I guess who'd know but doctors? An' I pat an' lean on that pony, leanin' back against 'im just like a bar, but a warm an' movin' bar, an' out by ocean, an' dead horseshoe crabs an' stuff, an' I never want to go indoors again, if I c'n help it.
"Do yew think I'm really talkin' tew ya?" He asks, with more a' my accent than I've mostly ever got.
"Naw." I shake my head an' look around at 'is head from where I'm standin' shoulders to shoulders with 'im. "Pff. Naw, 'course, not just, really talkin', like. Just I can understand you plain as day, somethin' like."
Then he shivers out, kina pleasant-feeling, 'e's happy about what I said, an' leans down t' scratch 'is front leg with 'is mouth, an' bites at my pants leg too, while he's down there, from th' side, an' I feel the pants leg move an' tickle my skin, an' I smile, without meanin' ta smile, 'cause of the ticklin'.
Bill seems more easy then, an' tells me, "I keep havin' dreams. Did you ever ride in an automobile?"
"Sure, oh, yeah, sure, lotsa times," I wave my hands around, an' 'e watches my hands movin'. I sniff right back at 'is nose when it comes up 'round near by my own face.
His head tilts 'round an' 'e looks an' says, "You're lying."
"Huh!" I scoff, "I don' know what ye're gettin' at, hoss."
"You are. You've never been, even in a car once, have ya?" The pony's breath is warm on a whole side a' my face.
I'd like ta take a long, smart drag on my cigarette right now, but since it ain't lit, I scoff harder, an' that makes me cough, which embarrasses me in front of th' pony. Bill stands there and crosses his front hoofs together in the sand for a second, an' I feel beat, an' suddenly I'm sad.
I try talkin' rather'n crying. "I want to drive in a car."
"Me too. I'd love to." Bill sounds like he's takin' me into a confidence, an' I feel better.
"I'm sorry, I'm so upset, I don' know why," I say to the pony, an' put my arm across 'is neck, an' my face into the ridge below 'is closely cut mane, an' e' relaxes 'is back feet and balances on th' slope we're sittin' on.
'E doesn't say anythin' else 'bout the cars but tells me, "It's the dream. It does that to me, too, but sometimes I see inside the pit, so it can't be the same dream."
"I don' know what ye're talkin' about," I tell 'im. It's gettin' windy an' dark an' old Greyflank will 'spect the rental pony an' 'is cart back, but I want 'im for mine, to be my pony, an' I'm gettin' mad about it, instead a' feelin' stupid, an' givin' up th' idea. "Ye're the only person I like since this whole stupid sanatorium thing."
"You changed the subject?"
I did... "'Cause you don't 'splain what ye're talkin' about."
"Well, I don't know if I like you as much as you like me, but, I could get to like you, if you keep renting me out, like you've been doing." The pony shifts his feet about an' I feel 'im movin' when I lean against 'im, an' I put a hand on 'is front leg ta feel it move, an' it's thin, an' I c'n feel bone, not like 'is back an' sides at all.
"I'm talking about dreams," grey pony keeps talking, an' turnin' 'is ears towards down where old Greyflank may be. "I'm remembering them, these past years, an' I don't know where it came from, since I've been brought to th' beach."
"The sea air!" I got the answer. "It makes sense, now, see. I'm rememberin' dreams an' you're rememberin' dreams. I'll bet it's the sea air."
I sneak into a movie after goin' back t' Greyflank with little Bill. This way I don' have ta spend any quarters. I feel so good about having them, running 'em through my fingers while I'm watchin' the movie, which has no horses in it, an' only one pretty man, an' one pretty woman, an' the rest are all high-an'-mighty types. I like Dick Powell. I'll have a sneak inta one of his movies, again, like old times, 'fore gettin' sick, an' staring at ceiling brights all the time, an' my breaths hurting so badly, an' nurses touchin' the clothes around me an' my skins feelin' like rotten cardboard on th' pavings. Dick Powell's better'n any of these fellows, 'cept that one pretty man.
I have a really odd dream tonight, but this time I'm pretty fairly sure I'm clear on where it comes from, not like guns an' all that odd nonsense.
I'm in a movie, an' I'm a pretty lady, but the beach is the same as it is durin' the day when I'm awake. Greyflank is nowhere, an' no children or donkeys, an' Bill's not there, or his cart, an' it's bright out, an' the ocean looks blue, not different kinds of colors, but it's still the same beach, an' I'm standin' in a dress, or skirt, an' my hair is blowing around my shoulders. It's thin, long lady's hair, not tied up or anything, but that only seems odd once I'm waked up, not to me in my dream, I just keep pushing it back. And there's Dick Powell! Speak of, or think about, the devil, it'd seem, that's why I think I know where this one's from, and he's talkin' to me.
My name is Dick, too, but I don't get to tell him that because in the dream my name is Margaret. But I'm so excited, meeting him, an' I noticed he's all done up for a movie, so it must be a movie, an' I play the pretty lady. He's holdin' a pipe, and wearing white covers on his shoes, an' the sand barely touches them, but he's really there in the dream, standing on the sand. I say, "Oh, Mr. Powell, I'm so excited to meet you! What are you doin' at the seashore? Here about the donkey rides?" Look, 'e's a movie star an' I'm a little fuzzy in th' mind, an' it comes ta mind, alright? Donkeys all over the place, usually.
Mr. Powell makes a funny sort of frown, like in his movies, an' tells me, politely, "No. Not that I don't harbor a certain fondness for donkeys."
I don't know how to say anything t' that so I try to show how well I like his acting, smilin' an' feeling all shivery that he's actually there. "I've seen all your movies."
Mr. Powell sort of looks at me, and puts his pipe to his mouth, but doesn't smoke it. "Well," he says, and sounds 'xactly like in a movie! But I've never heard any of this stuff in a movie 'fore. He smiles, sort of, an' looks like there's somethin' I don't know, an' sort of shakes his head, an' looks at the beach, at his shoes. Then he makes a scuff in th' sand with his toe of his shoe. "I doubt that." It's just like something from a movie. But maybe that's 'cause Dick Powell is in it.
"I'll come back for you, Margaret," he says, and starts to walk away, an' I'm tryin' to figure out what movies of Dick Powell's I haven't seen, an' tryin' not ta be rude in askin', an' then I wave my little hand with the painted powdered nails an' skin an' call, "Wait, wait, Mr. Powell! Would you... sign your name to something for me, please, Mr. Powell? Could you, would you do that for me?"
"Why certainly," the movie actor says, kina grandly, an' he spins aroun' an' grabs a pad of paper, but I can't tell from where-- it's a dream-- he grabs a regular thick white pad o' paper, an' writes on top of it, an' hands it to me. An' I smile, a clean, white feeling smile.
The day is sort of white an' cold, when I get up from this, an' thinkin' it over I c'n see I'm not all well yet, I've got a bit t'go, th' way my dreams are makin' things feel dif'rent when I'm wakin' up.