I pull the peach off the pit and lick the summer juice from my hands. The salt and sweet is a dessert. Some shirtless boys chase a horse down the street. I finish my beer and take my shirt off and join them. The horse is in our neighborhood like a new boy and now we have to show it who we are. The old boys.
A few of us run up beside the horse and hit its stomach with sticks. The horse runs faster. I reach for the horse’s tail because I heard if you pull a horse’s tail, the horse has to stop running and let you ride. Then we’re not just boys; we’re boys catching horses.
We’re close to Allen’s house. Allen jumps off his porch with a broom and tries to trip the horse, but the horse goes over Allen’s head. We all stop running and grab our knees. I call up the peach and beer I had for lunch. There’s foam on my chin like I took a bite of the ocean. Someone says the horse bit me and I might have to get shots. Someone else says that’s just for dogs. The horse is already two blocks gone. We wait for someone to shoot, but there’s no shot, just an echo into the country.
There’s another sound, too. A dumb sound. I look back and it’s Allen. The horse went through his face and now he’s a pizza if a pizza had teeth instead of cheese. The other boys cover their chests because their nipples stood at the sight of blood.
My mother pulls up on her bike. Her hands are albino with flour. She slaps me because of the beer breath. The flour jumps from my mother’s hands and makes a magic cloud. My mother sees Allen through the cloud. She’s in the desert again and Allen is my drunk father collapsed from a snake bite.
I wave the cloud and the other boys are by the bushes. They know Allen is mine because Allen is the little spoon when we share a sleeping bag. My mother knows Allen is mine, too. She stood outside the tent with a flashlight while our shadows poked holes in the yard.
I hold Allen’s hand and try to find his eyes so I can look into them while he dies. My mother calls for an ambulance and looks at me like this will all take a while to forget. I look at Allen like I’ll never forget. I can’t find his eyes, so I look into the hole where his nose was and whisper into his sinuses, “I’m going to catch that horse and kill it.”
Allen is dead.
I look up and every house has its lights on. Mothers lean out windows with their breasts wet and aching in their hands. Our teacher once said humans were animals. She got in trouble for saying it. My mother starts howling and I swear our teacher was punished for being right.
When we get home, my mother goes to the kitchen and rolls out pie dough and says, “That could have been you with your teeth coming out your forehead.”
My mother tells me how she was driving neck and neck in the mountains once with a big truck when the truck hit a deer. A bunch of the deer’s inner stuff sprayed on my mother’s windshield. My mother says it was like someone having a baby all over her car. I tell my mother Allen is Allen and a deer is a deer, and it’s not the same thing.
My mother says, “We all have it bad is what I’m saying.”
She folds the pie dough in half and carries it to a pie plate and unfolds it into a perfect sunken moon. She crimps the edges with her fingers. The dough is even as a crown. When I was younger, this is how my mother told me a baby was made. I spent a lot of time worrying about my filling. I used to put my finger in my butt to feel the pink and make sure I was still hot.
My mother pulls a pot off the stove and pours something red and chunky into the pie crust. I smell cherries. I look at the pie and all I see is the collapsed bowl of Allen’s head.
My mother looks at me and says, “I know this is hardest for you because you and Allen had an arrangement.”
If I were a girl, my mother wouldn’t call it that. It would be love any other way.
I weave slats of dough on top of the cherries like I’m laying flowers.
My mother says, “You shouldn’t be so good with your hands all of a sudden.”
When I go hunting for the horse, I pass Allen’s house. There are cars parked in the front yard. They have FOR SALE signs in the windows. I call the number on the signs and say how sorry I am. It’s a machine, so I don’t say it’s me. I just say I’m going to catch that horse and kill it. When I hang up, someone is laughing in a window behind some curtains. I throw a rock at the laughter. There’s a thud and then more laughing. It’s the kind of laugh wild animals make at night in Africa.
A woman across the street stalks to her car in the highest heels I’ve ever seen. I hear the horse in her walk, so I beg her to tell me what she knows. I ask her if a horse can feel sorry for anything. The woman looks at me like I’m not speaking her language.
Next day, on the bus home from school, I look out the window at the black fences. In horse country, you have black fences. There are so many horses in horse country, but none of the horses I see is the horse that stepped through Allen’s face. All these horses are contained.
Allen used to sit by me on the bus. Now this other boy does. I try to think about this other boy later in the shower, but I can’t remember what he looks like.
My mother knocks on the bathroom door and says, “I know what you’re doing in there.”
I say, “Then don’t interrupt me.”
I wash my penis until the soap burns me red as a newborn mouse.
Our house is small. We have crickets in the crawlspace. Sometimes, the crickets come up through the floor. I can hear their hard bellies flick the wood after they jump. My mother wears shoes in bed because she says the crickets bite her toes at night. When I think about the crickets, my hair feels like it’s moving. I touch my hair and it’s hard because I didn’t get all the shampoo out.
My mother is smoking in her bed. I can smell it through the walls. I was staying all night at Allen’s once and we could see into my mother’s bedroom from Allen’s back porch. My mother was drinking beer. Allen called my mother a drunk. I wrestled Allen until I was on top. I tried to kiss him, but he pushed my face away. He said kissing was gay.
I said, “Duh.”
After that, Allen chewed on my lips like a kiss had to be justified with teeth. There was manhood in everything Allen did. He even died like a man would die a hundred years ago.
I put my nose to the wall and breathe in the smoke coming from my mother’s room. The floor is popping with crickets now. I fall asleep with all the ways I could kill them.
I wake up to the sound of something big falling in the yard. I look out the window and it’s the horse. A white bubble of bones is breaking out from under the horse’s tail. There’s a smaller horse in the bubble, but it’s still bigger than I am.
The bigger horse lies there and kicks her legs every few seconds. The smaller horse is blue as stuck blood. The bigger horse turns around and licks the smaller horse until the smaller horse is brown instead of blue.
I take off my shirt and go out on the porch and watch the smaller horse learn to stand.
My mother lifts her window and smokes another cigarette. The crickets in her room saw away. The street is asleep but for us. All the animals are in their beds. I put some sticks in the grass and pretend you can catch a horse before a horse catches you.
Casey Hannan is a Kentucky boy without an accent. His middle fingers curve toward his ring fingers, but his hands don’t hurt. He accounts for his time at www.casey-hannan.com.