Blackie on Franklin Street
Back when there were no stop signs, back when the streets were not yet paved, there was a horse on Franklin Street. Her name was Blackie, and to all us children she was the most beautiful creature in the universe, more dreamed about, more lustrous than any of the things adults were always talking about, like diamonds, or coffee, or thick, manageable hair. She was real, but unreal; massive in height and stature; graceful, yet ferocious to the touch. Her coat shone in the hot Kansas sun with blue streaks, spattered unpleasantly with horseflies and dirt specks; tail swishing to and fro in musical pattern.
Blackie was kept inside a wire-fenced back yard by the Duttons, an overweight family of four who had already lured my mother into their lair with a cookie-eating diet. She'd written them off as fools, but had been lured back again with their youngest daughter's girl scout cookie campaign. My mother was an easy target back then, as we all were with that horse who kept a permanent stance with head over the fence, just waiting to be pet and fed. A child only has a few wishes in life: to have lots of toys and candy, to not get whipped by their father, and to own a horse.
Once in a while Mr Dutton would lead Blackie out of the back yard and into the street, parade her past all our front living room windows, and then stop. One. Two. Three. We were all out in the street, hair tousled and syrup on our faces from a half-eaten breakfast.
"Step up, whoever's gonna ride her first."
All the boys shot forward at once, and the girls, who wanted to ride her more but were too scared to move, stayed in place, and it wasn't until a few rides had been taken that any of us females finally stepped up to get a chance at the fun.
I just remember the heat of the day, and the dust rising up past her flanks, and there I was being lifted by Mr Dutton, and all the children were down below watching me. Me. They were watching me, and my legs were molding to that horses great black frame, and my little fingers knew somehow to dig and clutch into her thick, coarse hair. Then she'd start to move and past wide, staring eyes, past houses, past street corners and ditches cracked from the July drought, past the beady-eyed grasshoppers sitting on tree stumps, and past the rusted-out Pontiacs that slumped dead in gravel driveways, we traveled. The whole world swayed and dipped, and I was as scared as any person on this earth could be, but I was happy.
My tour around the block had ended and it was time to get off. Mr. Dutton swung me down to the ground and I stumbled back, instantly jealous of the next kid who got to have a turn. When the hour was up we all protested for more, more, please Mr. Dutton! But he just chewed on a piece of grass and shook his head. No more rides on Blackie that day, or perhaps ever, depending on the day, because zoning laws eventually ruined our fun and Blackie would be taken to live somewhere else.
But for a child, there's always the memory of what was and what could be, despite the actual physical end. So for that, I'm still up there riding on Blackie, and it's still nineteen-seventy something; the sun is shining, and I'm happy.