Steve was a fine brown horse of sturdy build with big clear shining eyes and a handsome profile. For as long as he could remember he'd been a horse in good standing at the personal stables of Mr. J. M. Swearingen, who would occasionally visit his horses and make pleasant sounds while stroking their noses. Steve had often received these tender ministrations, and could scarcely resist neighing softly and stamping his front left foot in a gentle rhythm whenever they came.
So it was with no small surprise that Steve received the news that his services would no longer be needed at the stables of Mr. J.M. Swearingen. No information was given as to why he was being dismissed, nor was he given any direction as to what he would do now, other than remove himself from the premises by one o'clock that afternoon.
Staring at the pavement just in front of and beneath him, he moved forward without looking back at the stable gates through which he'd just been led and to which he would never return. The street was quiet, and Steve moved care-free through the sparkly neighborhood he'd walked so many times. Hunger had not yet hit him and he began to enjoy the warmth of the upper-crusty suburban sun. He looked up. He suddenly realized that he had done so of his own volition. No one had pulled his head up with a leather strap attached to a metal bar in his mouth. In fact, there was no metal bar in his mouth and its absence was really kind of glorious. Steve smiled, which is hard for a horse to do.
Moving his head from left to right as he walked, Steve surveyed his surroundings and found them to be a little too clean for his taste. He had never noticed the sterility of the area before but now he found it oppressive. Besides, he wanted to run and the sidewalk was a bit too hard. He looked up at the horizon, higher than he ever had. Then he saw it. Just below the summit of a distant mountain was a patch of green brighter and smoother that any of the vegetation which surrounded it. He'd felt summoned before by various things; feedbags being filled or the stablemaster whistling for him, and now he felt something akin to those feelings swelling within his unbridled breast. As he was already pointing towards the hill with the emerald patch, he decided to make that his destination. The new sense of purpose informed his steps and quickened them. Just then a cop pulled up along side him.
Steve didn't know why the sound of the cop's radio disturbed him but it did. As a horse, he'd never had any dealings with the police before, but he just didn't feel comfortable as long as the cop was cruising next to him. He felt like breaking into a gallop now, sure that he could outrun the black and white beast with great ease, but something told him to refrain. Suddenly the cop sped away, lurching forward with a belligerent yowl.
Steve snorted and sniffed a particularly interesting flower jutting from a hedge. He stopped a long while there and it seemed as if his hooves had melted into the sidewalk. The sun on his jowl, the breeze on his knees and the smell of the flower bouncing around his delicately flared nostrils all collided in his friskily horsey brain and Steve smiled again, which was perhaps not so hard for a horse to do after all.
Suddenly Steve was hungry. His stomach was secreting the juices it had always secreted right around two in the afternoon, and as it had not been informed of Steve's current state of unemployment, it had not altered its routine to accommodate his sudden lack of food. What to do? The very question itself had never been asked and he found himself turning from side to side looking for a phantom feedbag. He walked a little faster.
As he left the suburb and entered the city he smelled smells he never had before. Garbage, spilt beer, rotting bird carcasses. These smells were not only foreign to him they were irresistible. Though vaguely aware of some kind of danger, he sashayed into an alley behind a pupuseria and nudged a dumpster open with his proud eqquiline nose. Steve smacked his big rubbery horsey lips and gorged himself on corn meal and cabbage. Had he been able to entertain any doubts as to his ability to survive, those doubts would have flown away in that moment like the flies he'd just then paroled from their blue iron prison.
Now for some water. The hydrants on the main drag smelled promising but proved unproductive. A familiar shimmering in the distance pulled at him and he made his way to a pawn shop that was having its sidewalk washed. The owner, a not so kindly old Russian woman, was loathe to provide an indigent horse with water free of charge, but Steve applied the heart-warming stare he'd perfected back at the stable and she soon found herself holding the hose for him at the optimum drinking angle while he slaked his thirst to her Cyrillian cooing.
Thus fortified, Steve resumed his westward stabs with a feeling quite akin to glee. Having no idea, of course, how rare a thing in this world is a gleeful horse. Yet gleeful he was and the closer he got to his destination the more his happiness grew. He glided effortlessly across the many intersections in his path, either by virtue of luckily timed traffic lights or the high visibility that his great stature afforded him. Either way, cars had a most happy habit of avoiding confrontation with large weighty animals such as himself. A rumbling in his midsection gave him pause. Perhaps the fermented corn meal and brown edged cabbage leaves he'd been so happy to meet were not so happy to have met him. His stomach swelled up like an actress with a call-back and Steve pushed onward with more than a little discomfort. He'd never thrown up before, and was therefore unaware of the relief a good hurl can bring.
"There there." She was small, this girl, but she sure could throw a comforting sound. She began to rub his swollen belly with dirty little hands that Steve could only describe as magic, were he able to describe anything. Steve snorted his assent to her overtures and the girl rubbed his belly a little more emphatically.
The fact that Steve had no word for love lessened his love for her not at all. Steve loved her with a wild galloping love which tore at the pavement and bounced from the clouds. His mighty horsey heart pounded and his knobby horsey knees wobbled like weebles in the kindergarten of the gods. He kissed her grubby neck. She'd never been kissed by a horse before and as her toes curled she let out a demure but mighty squeal.
Certain less dainty sounds began to emanate from Steve. Penelope (She told him her name later. She told him everything later.) rubbed his expanding belly with renewed concern. He belched, a little abashedly at first, but when his gastric reverberations met only empathetic exclamations from Princess Penelope, he resigned himself to her compassion.
Then he pooped.
If anyone ever tells you that horses can't blush you can say with authority that they can. Steve was mortified. Penelope assessed the situation thoroughly and came up with a clear plan of action.
"We'd better go."
Which they did. No question of direction, Steve knew where he was going and Penelope was only too happy to follow. The sun rolled on before them, hiding behind billboards and peeking between buildings, gliding ever lower in the ginger pepper sky. As night fell, the emerald patch towards which they'd been proceeding was no longer visible but Steve strode on, sensing the nearness of their destination. Penelope was cold now, and once again took matters in hand.
"We'd better stop."
A covered carport had presented itself and Penelope spied a pile of neatly folded moving blankets in the corner. There may as well have been a flashing vacancy sign on the wall as far as she was concerned, and she told him as much, but Steve knew their goal was close at hoof. Penelope was adamant. Steve was too. Penelope stormed the carport and built a petulant wigwam of the furniture pads. Steve snorted and continued down the street in his best imitation of a Budweiser Clydesdale.
Those of you who've experienced the sweet discomfiture of a spat know these things can get out of hand rather quickly. Irreversible and sometimes life-threatening consequences can ensue from the simplest disagreement. Neither Penelope nor her soul mate had any experience in these matters, so the option of capitulation so favored by more experienced couples was unknown to them.
Steve walked on.
The night grew colder, the streetlights bathed the city in a sickly pink and still he walked. The transformers on the telephone poles buzzed like angry bees and still she pouted. Several times as she huddled in her quilted cocoon she thought she heard him clipping and clopping back to her. And of course he stopped many times to listen for little footsteps he was sure were closing in on him.
Alas. Sad word that, but none other will do. The aching in their hearts was one, even as their distance and their sorrow grew. Steve entered the gates of the pretty little park he'd sought and found its smooth lawn and graceful trees intangible, as if projected on a bedsheet in some back yard slide show.
He hardly felt the earth beneath him as he sped back down the hill. The buildings and the billboards, the streetlights and the telephone poles all melded into a multicolored blur as he flew to her side. As he approached the parking lot, he noticed red and blue lights flashing around it. His legs almost slid out beneath him as he turned hard into the driveway only to find two curious black and white beasts much like the one which had made him so uncomfortable earlier in his journey. Penelope was being guided into the back seat of one of them, and the air was filled with strange sounds and stranger phrases, like child services and protective custody. And suddenly they were gone.
She was gone.
Alas indeed. If anyone ever tells you that horses don't cry you can say with authority that well, you know…
The details of the ensuing weeks are unimportant. Suffice it to say that Steve learned to be discreet as he scoured the city for Penelope. And discretion is only one of many un-horse like traits he cultivated. When at last they met again-you never really doubted that they would, did you?-he'd become quite the private eye. Which was very handy when it came to sneaking up to her dorm window every night for a snack and a chat.
And every single night right before they said goodnight, she would stroke his nose and Steve would neigh softly and stamp his left front foot in a gentle rhythm.