Tom's Secret Life as a Horse

Jay Merill

Tom is a City worker who has this other persona as a horse. He doesn’t know how it happened but the horse just kind of appeared one day when he was sitting at his desk in the office on Threadneedle Street. Now it’s here to stay. You could say the horse is his other half, his secret friend. Since taking up with the horse things have been quite different in his life. He used to be serious, he used to be a workaholic, at weekends a stay-at-home, now that’s all changed. And the horse is unpredictable. This is frightening but fun.

Friday’s E for escape, for ecstatic release. Everybody in a routine has to have a way of getting out of it, from time to time. Getting out of time. On Friday nights he’s free of everything. But the horse in him gets a funny feeling, what you might call a nasty feeling. Friday is the night you’re allowed to be free. Every Friday. Every Friday? Hell, he doesn’t like that, it’s the opposite of what he’s looking for. The horse in him believes in free choice. He’s a bit of a rebel, a questioning animal. But wait, Tom says. Wait a minute, can’t you, damn it, arguing with himself as usual. It’s you that got me into this Friday-night-is-freedom mentality in the first place. I never used to look at things in that way. The trouble with the horse is that it’s always in two minds about everything and is changeable with a Capital C. Tom never knows where he is. Right now, the horse has totally switched off and just can’t hear him. The horse isn’t a good listener, it must be said. Tom shouts out loud to get his point across. I love Fridays and it’s your fault!

Friday night is clubbing night. Friday night is ecstasy night. Clip-clop. Clip-clop! The horse takes his medicine, feels like dancing. Tom feels like dancing. A harmony of purpose for once. A Friday night to die for. Life is really happening for them. They’ve arrived at the Weekend. It’s the weekend which makes the everyday worthwhile, makes it bearable. Tom gets stuck into the dance. His head is racing, his head is a burnished bright thing, strangely alien. He sees it glowing like a fireball through the feet of the crowd as they dance, through the feet as they dance. Should be on his shoulders, firmly fixed there, but it seems to have fallen somewhere along the way, it seems to be somewhere else. His head is furry with two pointed ears, a white blaze down the nose. It’s a lantern, it’s a thousand flecks of light. It’s gone altogether. Come back!

Tom sees the meaning of E. It goes: Eeeeeeeeeeeee. Inside his brain it goes, Eeeeeeeeeee. He squeals with the voice of the horse. A quaver in the middle somewhere, a wiggly line with dimension. A high pitched whinny. A horse of course, what else could he be? The horse is him, he is the horse. He’s in love with himself now, he’s a gorgeous palomino – consider that slinky silver tail. Dancing on the floor, his feet clamouring for more than he can take. C is for Clubbing. More than anything he can take. E for E. E, more E. Give me water, the horse calls out. It’s a night of early hours.

Monday lunchtime, going down the tapas bar. Tom and a few pals from the office. They sit on stool-like seats round a fish-shaped table. Little dishes are spread along the scaly top with bits of this and that. Tom is sticking to aubergine and spicy potato but the whiff of cooked meat gets into his nostrils, makes him gag. His mouth makes a puckered throwing up movement, but he controls himself; they’re talking about the weather. His subject.
Rainfall, he says, Relief or orographic?
Raises a laugh. He seems to have made a coded sexual allusion, and he tries to laugh too, experimenting with being popular.

There’s a gravyish smell in the air he’s trying to unthink, it’s unsettling his secret friend the horse.
The horse says, Get me out of here.
Tom ignores this inner demand, tries staring at the wall to keep himself steady. Because he can feel his feet moving. His feet are kind of tumbling forward; right there under the table, they’re making little running motions. He tries to stop them, tries keeping his eyes fixed on the wall, starts telling a joke he didn’t know he knew. Everybody laughs, he’d no idea how easy it is to be funny. Part of him’s enjoying himself, the other part is desperate to run away. Somebody’s offering him a dish of meat.
Oh no, get it away from me, he’s saying inside, or the horse is. Sometimes Tom hardly knows if it’s himself or the horse that’s doing the talking.

The wall he’s fixed his eyes on is starting to rock a bit, strange thing. As if it’s going to fall forward right on top of him, and going to crush him. Help! It’s started to shimmer as if he’s seeing it through a film of water vapour. Clouds are forming in front of his eyes. The clouds are about to burst, there’s going to be a storm. He jumps up suddenly from the table and one or two of the little dishes tip over the side, go crack onto the tiled floor, ooze juices. Distantly, through the low lying cloud formation he hears screams, shouts, the click of feet running across the tiles. But he’s up and away, the wall’s not going to hold him in, rain or no rain. Tom darts up the steps to the street and then bolts down Fish Street Hill in the direction of the Monument, takes a sharp left down Lower Thames Street, going as if the devil is at his heels. Devil! Tom doesn’t believe in any devil. But the horse does. Bumps into a wall, falls, cracks his head on the floor – there’s blood. The horse smells the blood, drives him wild. Wild! They go careering into traffic.

Tom’s wondering what he’s going to say when he gets back to the office. Tell them he was having a fit? Tell them it was the food? Tell them he saw something terrible? Tell them it was the horse not him?
No, not that, they’d think he was a loony. Doesn’t want to give them the wrong idea, does he. He gets back to the building, cleans his face a bit. Looks in the mirror, could be worse. Still doesn’t know what he’s going to tell them though. He walks through the general office to his loose-box. What he wouldn’t give now for a nice bit of straw to crash on. But he warns himself he’d better drop that train of thought right away. Couple of the lunch crowd look in on him, seems they think he was on something. He gets a few winks here and there, doesn’t have to say a thing. Increases his rising popularity if anything. Man of mystery.
The horse gets Tom into situations but luck is riding on his side.

Jay Merill is a writer based in London UK. She is the winner of the Salt Short Story Prize with her story “As Birds Fly" which is now included in the Salt Anthology of New Writing 2013. Her two recent short story collections God of the Pigeons and Astral Bodies (both Salt), were nominated for the Frank O’Connor Award and Edge Hill Prize. She is currently working on a collection of flash fiction stories about homeless characters, the first four of which were published as a mini-series in The Big Issue. The latest, “Ikechi,” is Story of the Week in SmokeLong Quarterly (April 28-May 5 2014). Stories are forthcoming or are in current issues of Spork, Citron Review, Blue Lake Review, Eunoia Review and The Legendary. Jay is just completing a novel assisted by an Award from Arts Council England. Since 2011 she has been Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing.