I am raising a poisonhorse. I feed him enough rat poison to make him toxic, but not enough to kill him. He has diarrhea and takes long naps in the afternoon, but otherwise he is fine. He is a good horse.
I rub arsenic into my horse’s mane. I stroke his dulled coat and rub powder into it too. It mutes his color, makes him a light tan instead of deep brown. I tie a bandana around my mouth and nose so arsenic won’t blow in my face. Over my eyes, old swimming goggles. My horse is such a good horse.
My horse is a muted horse. He speaks, I know, because I see his jaw unhinge, his teeth clamp and re-clamp. The way his throat muscles strain, struggling to pull words from his gut. In his gut there is another horse, a smaller horse, a horse with speech. This smaller horse has a muted mane. Inside this smaller horse is an even smaller horse, a vibrant horse, lively and talkative and bright. This horse is relaxed. Come back later, this horse says, because right now I’m in the middle of something.
My horse and I keep cages of rats in the backyard. We’re afraid if we let them out, they will eat the poison or they will stand too close to us, breathe in the fumes and die or grow slightly sick or become unhappier than the average rat ought to be. We discuss what to do with a horde of unsatisfied rats. My horse suggests bonnets and I counter with sleighs. We cannot come to an agreement, but decide ensuring the rats’ continued satisfaction and happiness is of the utmost importance. We create costumes for the rats, dress them in puffed sleeves and capes, masks and platform
shoes, sashes and tiny suits of armor.
I make a costume for my horse so he will not feel left out of the costuming process. His costume promotes the ingestion of poisons. Funnels and tubing twists outward from his mouth and nose so that he can more easily ingest the poisons. I rig him with a series of fans that hang over his head and blow the poisons into his nostrils.
My horse and I go for long walks through the woods. I do not ride my horse. It is cruel to sit atop an animal that way, as though to enslave him. Neither of us is master or owner. We are partners, my horse and I. On walks through the woods I often find myself grasping for a hand where there is none, and I see my horse lean in to nuzzle me but I pretend not to notice, and edge away.
I fashion tiny harnesses and leashes for the rats, but when we take them for walks, the harnesses squeeze their bodies too tightly, puncturing fur and skin, digging into muscles, yielding only to bone. These rats are not the most attractive rats.
My horse and I run races, but to make things fair I tie weights to his legs and tail and neck. The weights aren’t terribly heavy though, just enough to slow him down. The swing of the weight around his neck is enough to make him uncomfortable, to distract him, but never enough to cause permanent harm. My horse appreciates a fair race.
My horse and I decide to race our rats. He selects one of the smaller ones and I select the largest of the horde. We tie weights around our rats’ stomachs, like little belts with very little aesthetic function. My rat will be slowed down and, if his rat is intelligent, it will be distracted by this impediment. And such a small rat must be intelligent in order to have survived within our rat horde. But our rats do not race. They refuse to pull their weights. I urge them, explaining the importance of self-sacrifice and maintaining a sense of unity, but they lie still, close their eyes, breathe shallow and then, not at all.
Once a week my horse and I rub arsenic on the rats. Sometimes my horse grows horrified at the rats’ sudden deaths, but I calm him. I allow him to breathe heavily and nuzzle the dead rats. They are only very still, I say. We are all still sometimes, but it does not mean we will never move again. It does not mean Ending.
My horse and I grow Horrified in the backyard. It is thick and tangled and sometimes sucks all the sun from the sky. We water it to be certain daytime can happen. Horrified requires water or sunlight, but never both. This sort of double absorption is difficult and necessitates a peaceful mind and a relaxed body. Relax, relax, I tell my horse, as I feed him the Horrified. I cover my body in the Horrified and embrace my horse. This meditation, I tell him, is empowering, but he trembles.
My horse is tired most evenings and I massage his muscles, singing him a lullaby. He closes his eyes while I am singing. When he falls asleep I whisper dreams into his ear. I whisper a dream that he is stuck at the bottom of a cistern. At first he is lonely and afraid but after time he thinks of the cistern as home. So when a woman comes to rescue him, he refuses her help. She falls into the cistern while pleading with him and, after time, he thinks of her body as part of his home. It is a natural thing.
The lady in the cistern has begun to raise rats. She calls the rats all the same name, a name we cannot understand because it is not a word or an emotion but a color we have never seen and so cannot describe. The rats float above her with parachutes made of this indescribable color. Paws grip the sides of parachutes as they drift down and down and down.
I allow my horse to sleep indoors. He isn’t sure he’s really allowed inside, so I pull him up the stairs and into the living room. I show him the proper way to use the commode, though he cannot grasp the concept of washing himself afterward, so I show him again and again. Hooves in water. Soap, soap, soap and rinse. Hot water. Rinse.
Once, out of necessity, I grew myself a horse. And that horse created varied versions of himself that I kept in cages with glass fronts through which I could view the horses and they could view me, like a television show that watched me while I watched it, each of us poised over the remote control, prepared to make a necessary change. Tense. Ready. Something beyond willing that embarrasses willing.
Willing grows into a small child, nervous and covering its eyes whenever someone looks at it. Every day I try to teach Willing to behave like an ordinary child. I show it how to hold its arms, how to breathe in and out, how to listen and taste and reach things that are far away. I hold Willing and say, forget you weren’t born an ordinary child. I cover its eyes and press its spindly body against mine. And when Willing becomes ordinary, so ordinary that it cannot be distinguished from any one of a dozen children I have met, I forget about it completely.
The dozen children I have met each have arms and legs and walk upright as I imagine all children do, but they sometimes mimic my poisonhorse, running, galloping with palms flat to ground. I worry poisonhorse will see them and this will be a sort of education, a learning. He will see their bodies upright and gain a new understanding. This is why I do not allow children to be and have killed each of the dozen children I have met.
In my horse’s dreams the lady in the cistern is sometimes part of the wall. Curved and dripping and covered with moss and mold and insects. The crawling sort. The biting sort. The sort not to be recognized under a microscope. It is impossible to tell whether the lady crawled down into the cistern or was thrown. Or perhaps she fell. Regardless, no animal, particle, or plant has adapted to a habitat as she, so quickly a part of everything around her. She hollows herself out so that poisonhorse can crawl through. It’s a game they play. The lady and poisonhorse take turns crawling through the tunnels inside her. Sometimes poisonhorse follows her, and sometimes the lady follows poisonhorse. A game of chase. A game of hide and seek. They nibble at the lady’s insides. They leave behind sweaters and half-eaten sandwiches.
If my poisonhorse is a child, we are all children. If we are all children, we are horses. If we are truly horses, we must be made of poison. If our insides are acidic, rotting lumps pressed together and expanding, then we will never have the capacity to love. We are created without the necessary hollows inside and if there are accidentally hollows in us, we fill them with other things before love can take root, swell, inflate, inhabit, control. Because we are aware that love must be crushed. Eradicated.
Poisonhorse sets a series of rat traps and leaves them around our house’s perimeter. I remove the bait and place lavish food beside the traps but never in them. I hope the rats will dine on tiny crème brulee and spinach soufflé while viewing the traps. It will be dinner theater, macabre and menacing, but never truly dangerous.
I have had lovers before, all too flimsy and disposable. I have folded them into a variety of shapes but none of these shapes were pleasing to me. None of the shapes made my lovers more durable. I have owned plastic containers that were more successful. Tiny wooden statues have lasted longer. Pieces of foil and yarn and lengths of fabric. I cannot see worth in keeping a lover when it’s certain to spoil, to disintegrate, to become vapor that floats away, forever intangible.
For the rats, I leave very small doses of poison. It is my desire to create rats that function as small horses. Poisonhorse will never notice such an amount of poison has gone missing. And to keep these tiny poisonous horses inside of a glass display case would be a tremendous thing.
Brandi Wells' poisonhorse will be the next Nephew from Mud Luscious Press.