by Brendan Gillen

On a winding back road, you spot a trio of mares—auburn and majestic—craning their heads over a wooden fence. Your friend is driving, a tradition on idle Saturdays.

“Hold up,” you say.

Your friend understands implicitly and guides her hatchback to the gravel edge.

You step out and the creatures snuff and bob their heads as though in affirmation.

The middle one. Just look at it! The mane, it appears, has obscured one eye in the goth tradition. The horse is emo. Diva-like. And you believe quite firmly, or at least as firmly as the 4G signal allows, that it is a sure bet. You can taste the cascade. Originality drips from your fingertips.

You lick your lips. Like your third coffee of the day, it is a compulsion you cannot entirely articulate.

You pick your filter—saturated and sweet—and recall a time of quiet. Untethered and unyoked. The cut grass. The swing set. An afternoon long ago, long before the knot in your stomach grew into a hole.

You turn to see your friend behind the wheel, oblivious, pecking at her phone. The two of you have matching tattoos and yet she does not know the plunging depths of your self-doubt. You cannot let her know. You cannot let her know because she envies you—your witty captions, your nonchalance. You cannot let her know that last night you hardly slept. That you hate-scrolled through the manicured bloat of a mutual friend—her tanned feet on a Croatian beach, the glittering rock on her slim finger—and felt so small you wanted to die.

Why are you doing this? Standing in the jigsaw shade of an oak, waiting for an image to load.

Two of the horses have sauntered off to find shade, to nibble at the rye grass. The middle one remains, the unshrouded eye unblinking. Calm. Endless and opaque. You stare, as though that eye might yield an answer. But there is no answer. There is only the swish of the horse’s tail, the caterwaul of cicadas.

But then, at last, a buzz—then another, and another—spells relief and reminds you what it is to be, not loved exactly, but just for a moment, considered. There.

Yes. You are there, on a country road, spring leaves gossamer and new, and your friend honks the horn, impatient, urging you to get back in the car.

“Too funny,” she says shaking her head, lowering the brake. She has already double-tapped. “Now I need to find something.”

It is the best comment you could have hoped for.

“Can’t force it,” you shrug, and as you watch the horse’s lone, oblong shape recede in the sideview, you are adrift in a brittle fog, wishing that it was true.

Image: @tomertu /