Monday, May 26, 2008

He Loved Horses

This is something I wrote for Paxamericana earlier. It seems appropriate for Memorial Day.

He loved horses. When the enemy approached and the village had to be evacuated it made sense that he would go with the horses. Someone had to, and most of the adult men were already fighting the war. He was fifteen, old enough to go alone. And the horses needed someone with them in the train carriages, someone they knew, someone they trusted, someone who could stroke them gently when the bombs went off, someone who could stop them from shivering. Later that time meant for him the frightened eyes of the young colt, the foam around its mouth, the long dark carriage without food for animals or for people. The sound of the engine and the song of the weapons.

He loved horses. The following year he was old enough to go to war, a man now, all of sixteen. He was good with horses, so they made him a messenger boy between the artillery units. He would ride the horses with another boy, someone he made friends with. It was almost a summer camp for them, a lark. They were heroes! They were men now! Until the day when a hand grenade exploded under what only a moment earlier had been his friend on a horse. Red. So much redness. More redness in the world than he could imagine.

After that day he grew used to the redness and the war. He did what he was told to do and he survived the war. Peace broke out, and his life was suddenly there, all open, for him to step into. Life. Light and silence or only ordinary noises. He could learn to like it. The war was over. He got a job, a wife, children. The war was over.

Then came the nightmares. They would gallop across his sleeping mind, hooves red with blood, gallop and gallop in a war that never ended. Sometimes he would drink until the galloping stopped. Sometimes he would look into the mirror and see a young man, intact, and then he would think the nightmares were just dreams. Sometimes he would look into the mirror and see himself filled with blood, all blood, ready to explode.

Nightmares cannot be stroked, cannot be made to stop shivering. But he grew used to them. He learned how to live around them, how to forget the war when he was awake. How to be on guard. He never knew what might explode, who might turn into an enemy. He had to be on guard, had to have rage, had to ride it like a horse, towards some invisible goal of safety. Had to ride roughshod sometimes, over people, not around them. Had to. Had to teach the children so that they wouldn't be shocked by the redness or the blood or the trains coming and going. Better they know when they are little. That way nothing can hurt them later, nothing. And had to teach them not to care about the horses or other living things. Too much blood. Too much to care about, too much to leave behind.

He used to love horses.