The tiny horses were a birthday present from my ex, code name Jericho, who is an undercover agent with the Animal Liberation Front. He found them in a research facility in Wyoming, spray-painted the video cameras and hacked the security system. No one saw him, allegedly. He’d put them in a giant dog crate filled with hay, replenished at a variety of random farms along the way. The drive back to Maine, in the back of an old red-orange Chevy pickup, took just under two days, with Jericho following the speed limit all the way.
Jericho had Googled them back in North Platte, Nebraska, and learned that they ate leaves. He tried different kinds and found that in general they seemed to like quaking aspen the most, so he picked a couple of bucketfuls, but the horses still looked a little wizened by the time they got to Portland.
I wanted to kill him when he brought me these strange animals. A hell of a birthday present. Hi honey, here are some exotic prehistoric horses. They aren’t worth thousands or millions or billions. No, they are priceless as love.
He’d done this kind of thing before. Friends throughout the country had been gifted with rabbits, monkeys, dogs, cats and rats. It was just because he couldn’t take them all, you see. He already had his own sideshow going, which included a blind dog named Banjo with a plate in its head, an irascible monkey, and an assortment of traumatized cats and rabbits. But there were always more animals, which he twisted into birthday presents, an evil in its own way, but not nearly as terrible as the researchers who’d been poking around in prehistoric DNA and had come up with this. He was hard to refuse.
After a few days the god-awful bleating subsided and they calmed down. They were adorable little monsters, each weighing less than my cat Barney, who absolutely terrified them for the first week. Bleating cuddly shitting little things, covered in soft mottled fur, with thick necks and ancient shiny eyes that gradually took on an affectionate luster. But it took time.
It was summer, thank god, and I would go out at dusk and work around the edges of houses, gathering the different kinds of leaves I had checked were not poisonous to animals, as if I were gardening, except they were not my houses and not my gardens. I was stared at plenty, with my black trash bag full of branches (which the little horses liked to gnaw), stalks and leaves, and I was approached a few times with some hostility, but since there were no roses, no flowers, no vegetables in my bags – only leaves and branches – what could anyone say? I’d just been giving them some free pruning, no harm at all.
My big fantasy was to move to the country where Willie and Mona could romp around behind a big fence, no neighbors for miles, but there were many obstacles between me and that plan. Still, I told it to them over and over as we lay on the bed with the cat they had grown used to and accepted, the sultry breezes swelling the curtains, the sounds of the city drifting through our minds. I’d have Willie on one side, Mona on the other, both cuddled up to me as I stroked their silken coats and toyed with their rough stubby manes, and watched their shiny trusting eyes grow sleepy. We’d all drift off, the cat wedged amongst us somehow, sweet horsey breath and soft quivering muzzles prickled with tiny whiskers, little legs and hoof-shaped paws with their four toes folded up under them like portable chairs.
It would have been nice to trick them out with little red harnesses and teeny bells and walk them around the block past the cozy German restaurant, the daycare and the Living Church Center, or take them to frolic in Deering Oaks, but that would have led straight to CNN, ABC and possibly prison.
These miraculous creatures weighed ten pounds apiece and followed me around whinnying and whickering, sporting, licking, playfully baring their tiny teeth, though they never nipped me or Barney – only each other. Their tiny feet made a light clatter, so I got some thick pile rug remnants that I nailed to the floor, which was definitely against the lease but not nearly as against the lease as owning two tiny prehistoric horses.
Their little coats grew shaggier in September. I stocked up on leaves, storing huge bags in the basement with white labels marked DO NOT THROW AWAY – APT 9. And they had learned to like other greens – spinach and kale especially. They were very smart. So smart, in fact, that I taught them to play chess, first with me and then with each other. They moved the pieces with their teeth, using great delicacy. It helped them pass the time when I was at work. They might have learned to read as well. I read to them every night, and on occasion found books in odd places.
Obviously guests were out of the question. I kept to myself even more than before. No way would I ever breathe a word about this to anyone. Who could I trust? Jericho had disappeared, probably on an ambitious new crusade. As for the theft itself, there was never a whisper on the news. They weren’t supposed to be doing that stuff in the first place. They were originally the size of dogs, you know. They grew smaller because of climate change. And eventually they became extinct. Human babies have been getting bigger, I’ve heard. But it’s just a matter of time for us as well. I worry about them a lot, what will happen. Especially once Mona has the babies I suspect she’s carrying. Because then I will be solely responsible for the fate of three or four Sifrhippus sandrae , the only ones in all the big wide world.
Story and artwork copywright 2012 by Annie Seikonia
Published in Issue #9 of Structo , a British literary magazine.