Jim and Judy
About fifty miles west of Gnowair lies a vast patch of tapped land, a wide pasture bordered by a rickety wooden fence all the way around. There’s a gothic red barn in the middle, not big as far as barns go but not exactly a minimalist farmer’s dream, either. The main doors are marked by big white Xs and framed around the edges by white trim, the red paint is peeling all over the place, leaving a dusting of crimson in the barn’s shadow, half of the shingles fell off the roof before Sadie was born and more tumble down into the yellowed grass every day. Her brother used to take her up to the top level of the barn to get away from her father when he had enough to drink, but the stairs have since rotted into disrepair, along with the rest of the barn. It’s just as well; Longarm Farm doesn’t house horses anymore.
Longarm used to be New York’s most popular farm back when Jim & Judy were running the place. They offered riding classes for children and adults alike, and their dozens of horses – yes, dozens of the maned runners, all draped in gorgeous piebald coats – were the best tempered in all the state. Jim was born on a horse farm and Judy was a veterinarian, they went together like butter and bread and their breadbox was never empty, they always had enough to eat. They lived in a bungalow farmhouse without so much as a cellar, and the front door opened into the kitchen, but every room was furnished. When they were past the peak of their twenties they had their first child, a boy with bright blue eyes given the name of Jackson. The doctor who helped Judy deliver the boy was a patron of the farm, and the couple gave him free riding sessions for life.
As Jackson progressed through his adolescence, the business started to decline. Jim and Judy never hired any help, as they believed family business was best kept in the family, and with Judy taking care of the baby, only Jim was left to care for the dozens of piebald horses. By the time Jackson turned five the dozens had lost its s, and when he turned ten their horse stock ran just shy of a quarter dozen. When he was halfway through his twelfth year, on the fourth day of the month of July in the calendar year of 1320, on the 86th anniversary of the founding of America, I say, Sadie was greeted by warm water in Jim & Judy’s porcelain bathtub. There was no doctor to help with the birth this time, and due to some unfortunate complications, Judy passed away in the process. Her gravestone still stands in one piece behind the dilapidated Longarm barn, which is more than could be said of Jim’s wooden marker.
Jim didn’t blame Sadie for the death of his wife, but he didn’t let her live it down, either. Not in his mind, at least. It didn’t help that Sadie was a spitting image of Judy, not at all, not in the slightest bit, and when he would have enough to drink he would occasionally relapse into his rageful youth and confuse his daughter for a young version of his wife. Perhaps this is why he never harmed her… regardless, Jim always had enough to drink; the breadbox was often empty after Judy passed away, but Jim always had enough to drink. By the sixth year of Sadie’s life she had become well acquainted with the top level of the barn, and Jackson with the back of his father’s hand. He was okay with it – better him than his little sister.
Longarm’s final patron came when Sadie was ten years old. He was a shifty character; a crooked smile of misaligned teeth, stubble which stayed the same length without needing to be cut, white hair even though he couldn’t have been more than twenty years old, jeans with holes everywhere but in the knees. His name was Clyford, and to make matters worse he was a blacksmith, a knifemaker more specifically, and he wanted to learn how to ride a horse. Jim asked for money. Clyford offered a knife. Jim outright refused, then Clyford brought out the knife. The young man wound up taking the horse home with him, and Longarm Farm was down to a single mare.
The knife was beautiful, if not a bit tacky, but Jim didn’t mind. The handle was bronze and engraved with angels on the side which presses against your palm, a geometric design on the side molded to fit your fingers. The guard was a fat sin curve and the butt end was shaped like a horse’s head, with a yellow string ending in a scarlet tassel. The sheathe was made of oak wood, stained red to compliment the bronze, and both ends of it were capped with bronze as well, with a gold chain attached to both of the metal shells. The top end, where the blade slides in like a hand into a mitten, showed a squirrel standing between two stalks of wheat balanced on a branch from which berries dangle, the branch laid across the top of a shield which bared a phoenix, and the bottom end was curved like the shoe of a jester with a little ball where the bell would be. There’s also some sort of design on there, perhaps a vine, perhaps a bramble, but Jim paid that no attention – the horse handle intrigued him, but the gold chain piqued his interest.
What sold Jim on the knife was the blade, however, and Clyford knew it would. Holding the dagger in your left hand, the blade seems ordinary, steel which doesn’t quite meet the requirement to be called stainless; the reverse side tells a different story. Painted in black ink on the base, on that little unsharpened part of the blade just above the hilt, are two characters which Clyford referred to as Oriental. He claimed they translated to sacred dog, the term America’s native population bestowed to the maned runners, but that was just the butter – the bread was the four horses in mid-gallop painted on the length of the blade. The black ink was dark as the night sky, the lines curved and imperfect, hand-done in other words, and Jim’s boozy drool dripped like raindrops when he first laid eyes on it.
Clyford went home with a horse that day, and Jim, with his pretty new knife, all seven and a half inches of it from the tip of the blade to the ears of the horse’s head on the handle, had something to rant about until his children vanished into the barn. Or until the blackout took him, whichever came first.
One night Jim got especially violent, as he forgot to feed his last horse and it refused to let him ride it. He stormed into the kitchen, where Jackson was scrubbing the floor, and brandished his knife, Jim’s pretty knife, with the horses on the blade, the horses he started to lose as soon as that ungrateful snot was brought into this world. Jackson saw what was coming fast enough to survive the encounter, but not fast enough to dodge the swipe. With blood dripping from his right arm, he clocked his father with the bucket of soapy water and ran to fetch Sadie. By the time Jim woke up they were both safely in the barn. They could hear him screaming even though they closed all the doors behind them.
“He always has enough to fucking drink.”
“Jack, please hold still, I need to stop the bleeding.”
Jackson held still, but his mind was spinning like a twister. “We don’t have enough to eat, we can’t afford to feed the horses, buh-”
“Horse,” Sadie said as she wrapped the cut in gauze. All things considered it could have been worse, their father got him good but it wasn’t a gusher, not like the time Sadie stepped on the remains of a broken bottle of whiskey when she was eleven. “We only have one horse left, Jack.”
For both their sakes, Jackson ignored that. “He always has enough to drink, but we don’t have enough to eat. We’re going to lose the farm if he keeps this shit up, the bankers are going to-”
He stopped talking when he felt Sadie’s touch leave his arm. She had started to cry.
“Happiness is a choice, Jack. It’s not perfect here but we can’t be angry, we can’t be miserable. We can’t be like him.”
He knew she was right, but he still made her promise. If the old man ever lost it and did something awful, if he ever went through with what he tried to do that day, she would run away. She would make it right and leave him to wallow in his own misery, leave Yog to work in His mysterious ways. And she did promise him, and in the end, Sadie wound up keeping her promise, in one way or another.
The Area Rug
It was a warm, rainy day on the fourth of Graneuary, two months before Sadie’s sixteenth birthday. She was out in the barn, brushing the mane of Longarm Farm’s last horse. They never named the horses; Judy believed the carrying of a name was what made humanity wicked, and she refused to allow her precious animals to fall into that trap. She grew up in an orphanage in Mortar City, and not one of the good ones, and she wasn’t named until she turned five; the named children always got first pickin’s at supper, and they were never taught to share. Jim didn’t have the best home life growing up either, but somehow, Sadie felt less pity for the old man. Especially when he had enough to drink.
The rain was falling just hard enough to sing a song of pitter-patter on the high roof of the barn, but it was by no means a storm. No bolts of lightning split any trees down their middles, no thunder clapped in applause, it was just a light pouring. Had it been storming that day, Sadie never would have heard the yelling, nor the scream which followed, but it wasn’t storming. And she did hear it. And the horse did too, and so he forgave her for dropping the brush. He watched her sprint out into the rain with sad, tired eyes, not knowing if she would come back.
Tears streamed down Sadie’s cheeks before she even got to the front door. She told herself it was just the rain, that she wasn’t crying, that she had no reason to cry, but Sadie was a smart girl. Smarter than Jackson, much smarter than her father. She knew what was waiting for her behind the closed door, that old splintery door with the squeaky hinges and the knob which drooped to the ground, she knew what had happened. Even the horse knew, she thought, but still she denied it. She denied it right up until the point she swung the door open and dripped rainwater on the kitchen’s tile floor. Jackson had been cleaning the floor, but he didn’t get to finish the job. Her father made sure of that.
They were both laying there, on the area rug in the middle of the kitchen. But that’s not an area rug, is it Sadie? It’s spreading, and area rugs don’t spread, and area rugs don’t reek of spilled copper, and area rugs don’t make Sadie queasy. Area rugs are a sign of a happy family, of a warm, cozy house with a fireplace in the living room and a nice wooden mantle that isn’t lined with half-drank bottles, a house with a kitchen where there’s always enough to eat. But there’s not enough to eat in this house, there hasn’t been for years, and for the first time, Sadie’s father didn’t have enough to drink.
He had too much.
Shards of broken brown glass littered the floor, islands of rot floating in a dark carmine sea. Jackson’s face – and it must be Jackson, no other twentysomethings lived here – was an unrecognizable mess of bruises and lacerations. His clothing was soaked, absolutely saturated with liquor and blood, and the sponge in his hand looked more like a brick. The bucket was full of white, soapy water…
“He didn’t get a chance to pick it up and swing it.”
He probably didn’t get a chance to take a last breath, either. He took a breath which happened to be his last, and it ended with a scream before the bottle came down. He didn’t scream when the second bottle came down, though. Or the third. He didn’t feel it when the knife stuck into the back of his neck either, or at least Sadie hoped he didn’t. She hoped and prayed he was gone by then, but she didn’t know. She couldn’t know.
What she did know, however, was that her father didn’t feel a thing. He was gone, his body numbed by the hard liquor, his mind a cloud of sickness and his spirit, well… that had left this house a long time ago. That was buried back behind the barn with his wife.
He was still breathing though. He landed on his back after he delivered Jackson to the pearly gates, but he was still breathing his slow, labored breath. He took Jackson’s last breath but he still breathed, and that wasn’t right… but Sadie could make it right. She had to, she made her brother a promise, and so she pulled the pretty knife from Jackson’s neck like a knight pulling a sword from a stone, and she made it right. She slayed the terrible dragon and made everything right.
The rain sang its sad song long into the dark night.
The Last Horse of Longarm Farm
The ground was nice and soft from the rain, so Sadie had no trouble digging the graves. She buried Jackson next to their mother. She didn’t have any money and had no skill in the art of carving words into stone, nor did she have much time, so she ripped a solid board from the rotting barn and and carved her brother’s name into it with her father’s pretty knife. When the hole was filled she said a prayer, thanking Yog above that her brother may finally rest, then walked ten paces west, and that was where she buried her father. Away from the family. She made a wooden marker for him too, but the board she used had fallen off the barn a long time ago and was rotted halfway to dirt. She didn’t carve his name into it. She kicked it, she punched it, she screamed at it as the rain fell harder, and she hit it with a hatchet a few times too, just for good measure. But she didn’t carve his name into it.
Sadie, with her father’s knife swinging from her belt by the golden chain, took the last horse of Longarm Farm from the barn that night and rode him until he could ride no more. He didn’t die, of course, not until he was very old; Sadie didn’t push the mare past his limits. She made sure he had food to eat and water to drink. She made sure her horse always had enough to eat, the he always had enough to drink. She took care of the nameless horse, like her brother had done for her, and she chose to be happy with what she had.
On the day her horse died, Sadie decided to follow its path. They were in a clearing in the middle of a forest, and Sadie buried the horse behind the little lean-to she had built for herself. She didn’t want to live with other humans; she grew up in isolation on an old horse farm fifty miles west of civilization, she wouldn’t know how to live with the others, and so, with a smile on her face, she went in the same fashion as her brother: by the blade of Jim’s pretty knife.
Be well Commons~