ANIMAL PLAY /// 1
A PLAY FOR A HORSE
Lights up on a Horse. A stallion. His eyes sad with horse-sadness, glistening with the same elemental terror you would have seen in his father’s eyes, or his father’s father’s, if you’d known him: a muscular fear, only ever a breath or hoofbeat away from charging over a precipice or into a hissing wildfire. But something like the spirit of Buster Keaton, too.
Flashes of past triumphs: fording a river, galloping in a great pack across the open plain, romance under an orange half-moon.
Then: a body in the desert, twisted carrion, ribcage open to vultures and the sun.
Blackout. But still the whites of the Horse’s eyes, glowing. The jangling of spurs and riding tackle. And now through a kind of fog we can also, almost, make out the figure of a man as he crosses behind the animal, strokes its mane, climbs on to its back. We hear the man whisper something in the Horse’s ear, unintelligible but insistent. The Horse whinnies. Then silence.
Followed by sunrise. The man has disappeared, and now the Horse looks out at us for a time, feeling the warm light of day on his face.
He ambles about the stage.
What has life come to? the Horse wonders aloud. What has life come to? Why is there no grass to be had here, and no feed, no fillies, no apples, no salt?
And for you? He seems to be speaking to the audience. What is there, here, for you? He taps a few times on the wooden floor. Three. Plus five equals. He taps again. Eight. The old counting trick, do you know it? But the truth is I’m dumb as an ox. The sound of rain outside, somewhere, pummeling the parched earth—but here bright sunshine.
Look out, he says, rain dance. And he does a little two-step, mugs for the crowd. Silence. So he does it again, this time receiving some scattered, reluctant applause. Thank you, thank you.
Now he clears his throat—Ahem!—kneels on his forelegs and waits. Tap tap tap. A few people start to clap but—a gunshot rings out and the Horse jolts forward a foot or two, slumps into a prone position, rolls on to his side and falls still. He rests that way for several long seconds then lifts his head to show he’s okay. I’m all right, folks. Just another stunt I had to learn for the movies. A bit of laughter and more clapping. Thank you, thank you. He lies down again, rolls onto his back and holds his legs in the air, bicycles his limbs, then comes back to a resting position on his side. More laughter. He picks his head up once or twice, to keep the gag going, “dies” again, finally props himself up and surveys the crowd.
You know, I have very little control over my life. It’s something I think about. The Master who rides and keeps me is solely and entirely responsible for my every trot and canter, and when eventually I die—of, say, tuberculosis or old age—it will be the Master who sees to my burial, or the decay of my corpse, or the incineration of my body into ashes, or the feeding of my flesh and bones to the vultures or the manufacturing industries, or to the flies and the children of the flies, or to the wind, or to the cannibal horses—for they, too, will come in time… Boo.
The Horse chuckles a bit to himself.
You wouldn’t know it from moments like this, but the Master really is responsible for me, in most ways, for my hooves and for the nails in my hooves, for my overall health and disposition, for my fine coat. And when the time comes he will be responsible for the reading and execution of my last will and testament, which I’ve already drawn up and marked, in triplicate, with my hieroglyphic print—
He demonstrates, tap tap.
Even so, the Horse says, looking out over the footlights toward the back of the theater at the glowing red EXIT sign. He can almost make out the features of certain faces in the crowd. Even so.
Gently he lays his head back down. On a pillow of golden straw. He does look peaceful.
But even as the Master is, in his way, responsible for me, still others and even I myself have been responsible for him, for his meals and recreation, for his small victories in this world, for his own sad journey from infancy to adulthood and finally soon enough to dust. And so even though I have been by certain measures a slave, I would say it is not so much the Master but this very form of existence that binds me—to him, yes, but also to myself, my Horse self, from which for the time being there is no escape. But—I ask myself—have I ever truly wanted to escape? Where will I escape to and for what purpose? Is there a world beyond this world, for Horses? Who, I wonder, sets his hand upon this world and turns it? Is it only the Master’s hand that I object to, slapping my flanks and tugging my mane? The true shock of this world would be if it were other than it is. The true shock would be if it were not a fate-shaped void, floating in a fate-shaped stream.
He lifts his head one more time. Water now spreads, flowing down from the painted river on the backdrop that hangs up center, rushing across the stage and into the vomitoria. The lights above re-focus, and the Horse bellows unintelligibly, snorts and whinnies, takes a deep sighing breath.
What he means to say is that it is true, by moments, that one creature is responsible for another, but that it is still more generally true that all are responsible for all, and thus that even a horse such as he—lost from his home in the country, lost from the freedom of open pasture and from the companionship of his own kind—yes even just such a melancholy Horse, led blinking and stumbling to perform its gesticulations and horse-speak before an audience of strangers (now lifting their feet, now standing on their seats in an effort to remain dry, the water rising still)—even he is forced to admit that every life, and not only this one, is yoked from all sides, and above and below, yes, to every other.
The Horse “dies.” Or dies.