Gift Horse

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Gift Horse

Flash Fiction

by Chrissy Stegman

I had yet to hollow out my skepticism, which clung tenaciously like a persistent ivy of doubt. I struggled with belief. I clammed up. Like anyone hard to reach yet too soft on the inside, I was a pile of cotton balls shielded by a phalanx.

It was difficult to speak to you because you transformed into so many organisms. A small dark-haired boy hoop-rolling, a frail dark-skinned girl picking at the hem of your green flowered dress, a komodo dragon mid-dinner with a monkey in your mouth, a newborn alligator with your egg tooth still attached, then you flashed into a brown bear cub coming out of your stupor of blindness, until finally, you were up in the air as the floss of milkweed. You descended into the palm of my hand as a firefly. I stared at your green blinking body for only a moment. Never idle, you casually changed into a bumble bee as you spoke to me:

“You’re angry with me? I set the world into motion with a single breath and that’s it.” 

You paused then, as you floated adorably, the absurd weight of your fuzzy bee butt bumping above the sudden field of red tulips we were now standing in.

“I’ve remained indifferent to the human versions.”

You zigzagged back and forth when you said ‘versions,’ as if creating true air quotes.

“I never intended life to be this personal. Mayflies mating? Not personal. A drop of water, theoretically, can’t harm you, but many drops, rioting together in a tsunami, have made other decisions—yet those decisions are not personal. Humans with buckets drowning humans? That is personal, surely. But the code I made? It is doing its job. Personal is just a feeling.”

You seemed to turn your bee head though I was certain a bee had no neck as you asked: “Does my explanation help?”

I looked away. I started to feel odd, like my body had been thrust inside live circuitry, but I replied calmly, “No, not really.” 

You quickly transformed into a bluebird, as anxiety settled in my stomach.

You went fluttering about, your wings incredibly blue, impatiently blue, like an alarm sounding the color blue, and then you began hopping on the ground, emerging from the red tulip field to the patio. We were now in my backyard. I saw the white wrought iron table and on it was a tea service. I walked to the table and reached out my hand, which was obnoxious in its tremble and I picked up a cup so I could sip the black tea. 

You whistled at me then, asking if I wanted a beer instead and I tried to hide my pride. 

I smoothly replied, “No, I quit drinking.”

You switched your form again. No longer a bluebird you were now shifting into a larger mass until I saw your head nod into the muzzle of a mottled white Shetland pony. 

You whinnied, “I knew that but I forgot because the world fills my head so fast all the time with everything from the important to the mundane.” You began trotting in merry circles, almost prancing with delight.

I lowered my head and looked inside the empty tea cup, for a moment I wondered if you might manifest there as well. I noticed the cup was plain, white ceramic, like something from IKEA. Then, overcome with curiosity, I asked you my burning question:

“What did you think of Waiting for Godot?

You chuckled for a moment, but the chuckle sounded garbled and frightening because I had never heard a horse giggle before. The hairs on my arms raised in their confusion of false fear. You leaned your plucky horse face too close to my nose and I could see you had carrot pieces in your teeth.

You exaggerated your mouth wide in a horse yawn and said, “I’ll let you know.” 

Your mane caught the last pennies of daylight, turning the white follicles into Gaussian blurs of prismatic rainbows.

I felt myself crying. I didn’t understand why until I realized you had shifted into my dead Grandfather and you were holding his car keys in your hand. I watched as you walked away from me, toward his 1990 Buick station wagon that sat at the edge of the tulip field. You walked just like him. I swear I almost believed. 

You spoke to me with tenderness as you removed his large K-Mart sunglasses, only to reveal another pair of sunglasses beneath those as you whispered, “I know what makes you feel.”

I watched as you opened the driver’s side door, your movements stiff as you slid into the seat behind the wheel. You closed the door, started the engine, and drove into the sunset which you clearly owned. Just before you were blotted out by the light, you rolled down the car window and stuck out your arm to wave my grandfather’s Orioles cap in the air, like a black and orange flag of surrender.

About the Author

Chrissy Stegman is a poet/writer from Baltimore, Maryland. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Rejection Letters, Gone Lawn, Gargoyle Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic, Poverty House, Stone Circle Review, Fictive Dream, The Voidspace, 5 Minutes, and BULL. She is a 2023 BOTN nominee.