a story excerpt from Issue 35.1


Two on a Horse


by J. Bowers



The black horse on the inside rail is the fastest. The beach urchins know these quick physics, wrestle each other through the turnstiles to claim him, calling dibs. For luck, they rub the bald spot where his paint’s worn thin, then dare each other to pat his neck, jerking burnt fingers away from the sun-hot metal. He takes many names—Thunder, Buddy, Man O’ War—but “Number One” is what the carnies shout when he wins, as they pluck ratty stuffed ponies and doll-babies from pegboards, pressing them into sticky ice cream hands.

To break the dark horse’s centrifugal spell, you must first bribe fat Hetty O’Brien with promises of Red Hots and half-used ride tickets, dredged out of trashcans where stinging yellowjackets swarm for soda. All the ride operators use the same kind of puncher, so as long as there are less than twenty-five holes pockmarking your ticket’s cartoon face, you can wipe off the mustard and ride anything, free of charge.

Fat Hetty hates the Steeplechase, but she loves the Trip to the Moon. When she’s not holding court under the boardwalk, you will find her in that dim cyclorama, gazing starry-eyed at the pictures that fly past as the room spins on steel rollers. The running joke is that she craves the midshow snack of moldy cheese, scraped from the lunar surface by costumed Selenites. She dreams of someday joining their glimmering ranks, taking her rightful place among the lucky few who leap out in sea-green silk and sequins, jingling sleigh bells in delighted faces, the first girl on the moon.

Hetty O’Brien smells of cigarettes and boiled cabbage, but you pinch your nose and endure, because her weight will send any horse plunging into first place as soon as the bugle sounds—wheels giddily whizzing down the metal rails, wind stinging teeth, near wild heaven. The signs say, Hold Fast, but that won’t stop you from waving at the landlubbers below. They say, Don’t Look Down, but that’s just a double dare.

And for a holy moment you are soaring, the ocean a distant gray whale.

…and you can find the full story in Issue 35.1.


2 Responses to J. Bowers

  1. [...] first section of “Two On A Horse” is online at the Indiana Review, with the rest of it out in their next print issue, hitting the mail on [...]

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