Chapter III: Nursed Back to Sickness
Six weeks. Maybe eight. That’s how long Redheart says I will have to lie in her bed, in her tiny flat, in one of the worst neighborhoods in Manehattan. It's the kind of neighborhood where you can bleed all over the steps of an apartment complex and nopony says or does anything about it. Worst kind there is. Six to eight weeks. I'll only need four.
For the first week Redheart is a water fly. She skirts about me on spindly legs as though I were the surface of a pond, making no ripples. For the first week she can't meet my gaze, and I can't meet hers, either. We talk little. When we do talk it's only during meals. Breakfast. Dinner. No lunch. No money for lunch. Just breakfast and dinner. Eggs and hay with half a cup of orange juice for breakfast, and the same with a full cup of water for dinner. For a week I watch Redheart pick uninterestedly at her food while she watches me do the same. Eggs and hay. Few words. Little eye contact. The first week is strange. We are both still numb from having wandered so near death’s door.
During this time I am bedridden. I can hardly move. The ache in my back crawls into my limbs, while the searing burn in my gut creeps up into my chest. I spend the first few nights staring at a dark ceiling, trying to breathe the fire out of my lungs and wiggle loose the bits of broken glass poking me from underneath my skin. I don’t sleep. Then one night I catch fever and whatever strength I had managed to cling to is chased out of my body like a mouse pursued by a cat. The first week is a long one.
Every morning Redheart brings me breakfast. Eggs. Hay. Orange juice. It's all she can afford. Juice is a bit pricey but I am bedridden with fever and Redheart insists I drink it. She can be old fashioned that way. She gives me antibiotics so I don’t get any sicker, but she has no money for painkillers. It’s antibiotics or painkillers, and only one will keep me alive while the other will only make my death more bearable. I plead with Redheart to bless me with an easy death, but she is too kind and so I am still alive. Eating breakfast every morning. Breathing fire every night.
With breakfast comes the morning paper, a real shit rag called the Manehattan Post. Every morning I comb through the paper because I am bedridden and have nothing else to do, and because one of my teachers---a would-be ex-professor at Canterlot University---insisted that as part of my training I familiarize myself with worldly events. He is a middle-aged earth pony with an hourglass for a cutie mark named Doctor Whooves. I do not think Whooves is his real name, nor do I believe he was ever a professor at Canter U. I suspect from the marks on his forelegs that he is a drug addict. I am sure he is completely mad.
The Manehattan Post is the kind of paper a self respecting pony wouldn’t so much as wipe his ass with, but I read it because it is the paper that Tracy Flash takes pictures for. Tracy has real talent and it is wasted on a rag like the Manehattan Post. The Post prints the same story on the front page of every paper. They go for the jugular with their headlines.
“LAID OFF FATHER STRANGLES TWELVE YEAR OLD IN HER SLEEP.”
“POLICE RAID DRUG DEN: FIFTEEN DEAD.”
“STUDENT HANGS HERSELF IN DORM ROOM CLOSET.”
Crime, desperation, despair. Every morning in plain black and white. Every morning in all caps. The Post makes pulp literature of real suffering. The narratives are sleazy things dipped in virgin blood and hallucinating on designer drugs. Hell, it would be a good read if it wasn’t all happening a block away from your home. If it wasn’t all so real.
So for one long week I am a fire-breathing invalid. I am force fed an unrelenting diet of eggs, hay, and orange juice by a water bug who skirts about me as though I were the surface of a pond. At night I lie awake in pain and in the morning I read distressing headlines that have been written in all caps for emphasis. As if the sentence, “GANG MEMBER SLAUGHTERS FAMILY OF FIVE,” needed to be emphasized.
The second week offers some relief. On Monday morning Redheart brings me the usual: breakfast and today’s post. The front page headline reads: “GILDA ‘GRIFT’ GRIFFIN SINKS HER CLAWS INTO MANEHATTAN POLICE DEPARTMENT.” Underneath the headline there is a picture of a young earth pony stallion dressed in a police uniform, shaking hooves with a female griffin. The griffin is all done up for the occasion. Suit and tie. She looks huge standing beside the cop, her claw swallowing his hoof whole as they shake. Underneath the picture the caption reads: “Gilda Griffin congratulates graduating police academy cadets. Photo by Tracy Flash.” It's a good photo. Tracy really captures the energy of the moment. The touch of apprehension in the stallion’s face as he forces a smile for the press, his body language screaming discomfort so loudly I can almost hear it through the captured still. Gilda’s grin stinks of self-satisfaction. It's a knowing grin. The type reserved for ponies in charge, or in this case, the griffin in charge.
About three lines into the article, Redheart pushes the paper down, replacing the image of the smiling griffin with her own smiling face. I can’t help but notice how the strong the contrast is. One is full of compassion while the other is completely devoid of it.
“Hey,” she says. “I’m going be out most of the day today. You gonna be okay here by yourself? You want me to call Dee? Have her keep an eye on you.”
“No,” I say. The harshness of my tone surprises both of us. I'm still mad about Redheart involving Dee in the first place. “No, that’s alright,” I try again, adjusting my tone. Then Redheart lets out something I'm sure she’s been keeping in this whole time. Doesn’t even try to be tactful about it. Just lets it fly.
“Promise me this'll be the last time,” she says. "No more looking for trouble, Rose. I mean it." Her words give me pause. I can’t. Redheart doesn’t understand. I let them die. Hid and watched them die. I can’t stop yet. I can’t.
I hesitate to answer. She searches my face for one before I give it. The words form in my mouth, but the breath I need to push them past my lips is caught in my chest and all that comes are a few painful coughs. Then the few become many, and each cough feels like a little bomb exploding in my lungs. I roll onto my side. Curl into a ball. The bombs keep going off. Little grenades bursting in my lungs. One after the other. One after the other. Boom, boom, boom. My eyes water. Redheart cradles me in her forelegs and holds me close until the coughing fit passes. When it’s over, I'm breathing heavily. Exhausted. I’d collapse if I weren’t already on my back. Ponyfeathers. Must be the fever. It’s getting worse.
“It’s all right if you don’t want to give me an answer now,” says Redheart. She leans in close and presses her forehead against mine. It's the closest we have been in a week. “Just say you’ll at least think about it.” I don’t answer. “Come on, at least say you’ll think about it.”
“Okay. I’ll think about it. No promises, though.”
“Okay. No promises,” she agrees. Then she kisses my forehead and leaves, skirting out the door like a water fly across the surface of a pond. No ripples. Gone like she was never here to begin with.
Desperate for distraction, I return my attention to the paper. To the young stallion dressed in police blues and the griffin with the joyless grin. Gilda “Grift” Griffin. Grift. It’s the name the Post gave her. She’s a favorite subject of the Manehattan Post. I haven’t been in this city long, but not long is all the time it takes to learn the name Grift. Grift’s a real gangster. An uptown gangster. The Post has been following her criminal career for years. From what I hear, Grift likes her stories printed in the Post. She’s got the whole newspaper in her pocket. Cops too. Local politicians. Business owners. If you’re worth talking about in Manehattan, you’re on Grift’s payroll, and if you want ponies to keep talking about you, you’ll stay on that payroll.
The cops, well the good ones -- the ones who are still convinced wearing the badge means something -- those cops have tried and are still trying to pin something on Grift. Cops, attorneys, even reporters have been known to get in on it. They try pinning her with anything and everything. Murder. Drugs. Guns. Prostitution. Kidnapping. Pony trafficking. Blackmail. Tax evasion. Credit fraud. Traffic violations. Trouble is, Grift’s like one of those fancy stainless steel skillets used by chefs on those awful cooking shows. Nothing sticks to her.
I flip through the rest of the paper but it offers me little else in the way of distractions. It’ll be a while before Redheart returns. For that while I am alone with my thoughts and my pain.
It’s late when Redheart finally does get back. She stumbles in the doorway. Wobbles over to the bedside, all red-faced and smiling a big, goofy, genuine smile. She’s been out drinking. The sight of her makes me smile too. Laugh, even. Redheart after a few drinks never fails to make me smile. She is the happiest drunk I have ever known. She can’t hold her liquor worth a damn, and she wobbles and smiles like an idiot, and she is invincible to all the worries of the world. Tomorrow when she wakes up hung over, Redheart will be her usual brooding thoughtful self, but tonight she floats into her tiny apartment like it's a mansion. Tonight she laughs like the world is a magical place where ponies can overcome any hardship so long as they draw the strength needed to persevere from their close friends. Watching her almost convinces me that such a world can exist.
“I’ve got something special for you, my little rose,” she says. “But I can’t show you…’cause it’s a secret,” she says, whispering the words ‘’cause it’s a secret,’ and gesturing toward the saddlebag fastened to her haunch. “So no peeking.”
She wobbles into the kitchen and turns on the stove. I caution her about cooking while drunk, but she turns around and sticks out her tongue at me. Like I’m a little filly who just found her kneeling behind an apple cart during a game of hide-and-seek. She tells me not to peek again.
When she brings dinner I realize the meal is not the surprise Redheart was giggling over. This disappoints me. It’s the same as breakfast. Eggs, some hay and a glass of water in place of the orange juice. But sitting on the nightstand beside the water are two little pills. In the dim light of Redheart’s apartment I almost miss them. Two little pills. Painkillers. Something to snuff the fire in my chest and to stop the bolts of lightning from ripping through me whenever I move. I reach for them immediately, but Redheart swats my hoof away.
“Eat first,” she giggles. When I finish she gives me the pills. Helps me sit upright. Insists on holding my head as she slowly pours the water into my mouth, making sure I don’t choke. Then she lays me back down. The drugs are strong. I feel their effect in less than an hour. By now it’s late. Redheart gets up from her seat on the edge of the bed and turns out the light. In the darkness I can’t see her, but I feel her front hooves cup my face. She presses her forehead against mine. Kisses it. But instead of getting up and going to the couch, she lies on top of me, and her face is warm from the alcohol, and her body is heavier than I thought it would be.
“Rose,” she says. In the darkness I can’t see if she is looking down at me. “Rose, you have to promise me. Promise me you won’t go looking for trouble anymore.” I want to. I want to tell her that I’ll never leave her side again. “Promise me. You have to, Rose. My little rose. You have to promise.”
“I promise…” I lie. The words sound far away as I say them. I lie. It’s an awful thing to do. Lying to Redheart after all she’s done for me. It feels like a betrayal. But I can’t stop. I watched them die. Hid. Daisy looked me right in the eye and I did nothing. I hid, and I'm alive because of it. Redheart doesn’t understand. She doesn’t understand, and I don’t expect her to. So tonight I lie and hope that tomorrow I will feel differently. I hope that by morning my lie will become truth.
We are cheek to cheek when Redheart passes out on top of me. Thanks to the drugs I am finally able to sleep.
I sleep, and the noose slips easily around Daisy’s neck. It tightens and she dies. She is lying on the ground, and her dead eyes are boring into me. Her dead, forgiving eyes. The worst thing about her vacant gaze is that it does not accuse me of cowardice. Her final expression is one of understanding -- no -- of gratefulness. Daisy is happy that I hide while she dies. She goes to her grave knowing that if I were not hidden, I would die too, and she is grateful that I will live. How much easier it would be if those eyes accused me. Condemned me. Instead they celebrate the life I will have.
The noose tightens and Daisy dies. She is gone. A second passes. Another second. Another. The hoof on Daisy's back leaves my line of sight. Another second, this one longer than the others. Then I hear Lily scream. Then I scream. The sounds bleed into each other and all at once I am awake, sitting up on Redheart’s bed.
“Rose,” Redheart calls to me. She rushes over to my side. “Rose, are you okay?” She sits beside me at the edge of the bed and wraps a foreleg around my shoulders.
“Don’t touch me!” I snap, slapping Redheart’s hoof away. I can hardly breathe, and cold sweat is running down my face, and down my neck, and down my back, and needles are stabbing my chest and stomach, and…and…
...Catch your breath Rose, I tell myself. Slowly, I stand up. I desperately need to get out of Redheart’s bed, so I stand up and pace the room for a moment while I gather myself.
“I’m sorry, Redheart. I didn’t mean…”
“I know.” Redheart lies down on the couch. “It’s good to see you up and about. I made breakfast. It’s on the counter if you want any.” I don’t. Instead, pick up this morning’s paper up off the kitchen counter before joining Redheart on the couch. It’s even stiffer than the bed. Grift is in the paper again. This time she and the mayor are cutting a ribbon in commemoration of a new hospital opening somewhere uptown. Same suit and tie. Same self-satisfied grin. A similar caption explains the details captured in the image, and in parentheses under the image the text reads, “Photo by Tracy Flash.”
“Why do you read that trash?” says Redheart. She leans on me. Rests her head on my shoulder.
“I have a friend that works for this paper.” I point out the name “Tracy Flash” to Redheart. She feigns interest.
“She’s an okay photographer. Why does she waste her talent on a rag like the Post?” Why indeed. As I scan through the paper, Redheart slips her forelegs around my torso. Cuddles me. First she passes out on top of me, and now she is cuddling. The gesture is a loving one. Much more romantic than motherly. We stay like that all morning. Me reading the paper. Redheart cuddling.
I spend the next two weeks trying to make my lie a truth. Redheart makes it easier. Ever since she came home drunk that night she has changed. She is bubbly now. Needy. She swoons when I give her attention and pines when I don’t. We spend more and more time together. Redheart is between jobs right now so we spend entire days together. Every day spent at my side is another day regained by Redheart. She seems to age in reverse, becoming younger and younger right before my eyes. She is again the spry young filly she was in her youth. She starts wearing makeup. Her cheeks glow, and the color in her eyes pop, and when her pink mane catches the sunlight that snakes through the open blinds, it shimmers. She is beautiful. I have always thought of Redheart as attractive, despite her age, perhaps because of it; but during these two weeks I notice for the first time how beautiful she is. I used to be so relaxed around her, but now I find myself nervous in her presence. My chest tightens at the sight of her some mornings when she comes prancing out of the shower all made up. All for me.
We talk for hours. At first we keep our conversations light and impersonal. Redheart tells me about what a pain it is searching for work. She tells me about how her friend Junebug gives her discounts on medicine. She is a “life saver” by Redheart’s own testament. I tell her about any interesting stories I come across in the paper. She feigns interest.
The week ages. It grows older while Redheart grows younger. In the week’s retirement days our conversations become more intimate. Redheart tells me about her father. She tells me he was a soldier in the Royal Guard, one of the few earth ponies to ever serve at the princess's side. He was a field medic. His name was Braveheart, and he was an old stallion when Redheart’s mother gave birth to her first and only daughter. They met in Canterlot, Braveheart and his wife, and when it came time for the old stallion to retire, they moved to the city. Redheart says her mother was always a city girl at heart. A hurt look comes over her face when she mentions her mother. She beams as she remembers her father, but her face dims at the mention of her mother.
His name was Braveheart, she tells me, and the name suited him well. But in his old age, Redheart explains, her father became senile. Paranoid. She says the city made him paranoid. The city with its bright lights and violent sounds. He made Redheart learn medicine, insisting that one day it would save her life. He wouldn't let her play with the other kids, and he forbade his wife from ever leaving the house without him. His paranoia ruled him, she tells me. Eventually it got to be too much for his wife, and on a somber Wednesday afternoon Redheart came home from school and her mother just wasn’t there. His wife leaving was more than the poor old stallion’s already fragmented mind could handle. He broke. They broke. Shattered into pieces. Her father died a senile old stallion. Redheart never heard from her mother again. Before old Braveheart died, his daughter spent what was left of his life trying to pick up all those pieces and put them back together. She’s been picking them up ever since.
I tell Redheart about Daisy and Lily. It’s a story she already knows but she lets me tell it anyway.
Then we reminisce about the day we first met in a homely little diner a few blocks away from my brownstone. Two tired, lonely souls. A chance meeting. Was it love that we felt for each other then? No. No, I suppose it wasn’t. I was broken then and Redheart just needed something to fix. That was it. That's all it was.
I smile at the thought. I can’t help it. I smile at how broken we still are.
This is how we spend the last two weeks of my recovery. Talking and falling in love. I start to think my lie has become truth. I let myself believe that I can forget about what happened. That Redheart and I can start over. Fall in love and start over and get it right this time. I still have nightmares. Every night. I still wake up screaming and sweating, but I tell myself we can get through it. We can find work. Save up so that I can see a therapist. We can beat it. We can beat it, I tell myself. So long as we have each other we'll be all right.
On the last night of the fourth week of my recovery, Redheart suggests we go to that little diner for old time sake. It is a cool, crisp Saturday night. A night for living. For living and loving and wishing and stealing kisses beneath park trees painted pale blue by moonlight.
“We shouldn’t,” I say, my face buried in the Post. Lately I’ve been reading the rag from front to back, fascinated with this city. Its crime and sleaze and despair. I say we shouldn’t but Redheart insists. She tells me she has some money saved up, and it is a homely little diner, and it won’t be too expensive. She says we should celebrate my full recovery. Four weeks, just like I told her.
“Just you and me and couple slices of pie,” she insists, batting her eyelashes and smiling with a face so perfect I melt. It’s getting impossible to say no that face these days.
We call a cab. Stand on the curb and wait. I’m feeling much better now that I’m outside of Redheart’s tiny apartment. I’m getting stronger ever day. I’m as fit as I have been in weeks, but I almost have a heart attack that puts me right back in bed when I see Yoosee Dee pulling up to meet us. A spring in her step and a glint in her electric blue eyes.
“Oh my Celestia! Dee, is that you?” exclaims Redheart, throwing her forelegs around her friend's neck.
“But your job? Your carriage? Your boss? What happened?” I stammer excitedly.
“I told the dumb son-of-a-mule I was rushing some pony who got himself mugged to the hospital,” she laughed. “Told him the mug got himself stabbed and I was saving a life.”
“And he bought that?” Redheart asks.
“Bought it? The idiot practically hung a medal around my neck. Said I was an upstanding citizen. Said this city needs more ponies like me.” Her boss is right. She may have a golden bit sign for a cutie mark but if this city was full of Yoosee Dees it would be paradise compared to what it is now.
“More ponies like me, he said. Can you believe that? He didn’t call the cops or anything. We burned the carriage and that was that. More ponies like me, he said. I can’t believe it.” I can. “Get in you two and let’s go. Wherever you want. On me.” I nearly had a heart attack earlier and now I’m about to go into shock. Yoosee Dee, the filly with golden bit sign cutie mark. Yoosee Dee, the cabbie who insists on pulling a carriage by herself so she doesn’t have to split her tips -- that very same Yoosee Dee is offering us a free ride? I don’t believe it.
Maybe we can start over. Maybe we can make it. The three of us. Rose, Redheart, and Yoosee Dee. Us against the world. I let myself believe it. I let my lie twist itself into the truth. I’m so excited to live my new life; I spring up on my hind legs and scoop up Redheart in my forelegs, lifting her easily. She squeals like a blushing bride, impressed by my strength. I’ve been on my back for a month, and my injuries haven’t healed completely yet, but I’m still strong. Old Storm Chaser trained this body of mine well, I think. No. Stop that. I can’t think about him now. Not about old Storm Chaser, or Doctor Hooves, or any of my teachers. Forget your training. That life is over. I hoist Redheart up into the carriage. She blushes. Dee laughs out loud, and I laugh right along with her as the words forget your training run laps around the inside of my skull. I repeat the words over and over but the voice in my head doesn’t sound convincing. I can tell her heart isn’t in it.
Redheart tells Dee to take us to that little diner a few blocks from where I live. Her instructions are vague. It dawns on both of us that we don't even know the name of the place, but Dee is a Manehattan cabbie and it is her job know the city better than she knows herself. She gets us there in no time. Redheart reaches into a purse slung around her shoulder and pulls out a few bits. Offers a modest tip but Dee refuses it.
“Thank you, Dee,” says Redheart. She and Yoosee Dee have been friends for a long time. She trusts her completely and now I fully understand why. “Thank you for everything.” But Dee doesn’t say anything in return. She winks one of her intense electric blue eyes and then she is gone. Trotting off to offer some other Manehattan citizen the promise of a safe journey.
Redheart and I sit at the counter and order one slice of pie between the two of us. The waiter eyes us carefully as we take our order, and there is music in his step as he leaves. A ballad. A love song. He brings out an extra big slice and two cups of coffee. The coffee is on the house.
“Something special for the happy couple,” he says. Happy couple, says. It must be all over our faces. Happy couple. We must be glowing.
We eat our pie quickly while it's still hot, then drink our coffee slow. We talk. We talk about Dee’s good luck. About the spring in her step. The glint in her eye. I tell Redheart I think it’s weird that Dee and Tracy both wear the same kind of hat. Same color. Same pattern.
“Must be a photographer thing,” she says, leaving it at that. That hat. That hat. The one that saved my life. The thought sneaks into my head. Careful and silent like a stalking predator. I push it out. Push it out and focus on Redheart. I think about how beautiful she is. And then I tell her.
“You are beautiful,” I say. She blushes. Cherry red blush against a flawless white coat. I never noticed before but Redheart is beautiful. Cherry red against white. Like the faceless smile. I scream inside my head for the voice to shut up and push the thought out. My heart beats a little quicker. Must be the caffeine mixing with all the meds I’m on. Redheart must notice I’m a bit rattled because she gives me a concerned look and asks if I’m okay.
“Yeah, just a little excited is all. Guess I’m not one hundred percent yet.” This is all Redheart needs to hear. She pays the bill. Leaves a modest tip. Then we’re on the street, walking back to my brownstone. It’s late but my place is close and Redheart insists. I agree. If anything happens on the way there I’m confident I can protect her. I've been training for months. I’m young and strong, and no Manehattan lowlife mugger is going to stand between me and my new life. We walk close. Leaning on one another.
On our way to my apartment the sky splits in two. The pegasus ponies working in the weather factory that floats above the upper east side must be behind schedule on their monthly rain quota, because it starts coming down on me and Redheart like it won’t ever stop. Each drop is an ice-cold needle on my back. The pegasi kick thunder out of the clouds. I know that sound well. Those are the seasonal workers. The swing shift. Tracy’s shift. Bunch of twenty-somethings, some of them having a go at their very first thunderheads. Bunch of young colts and fillies. Frustrated by rents they can’t pay and pissed off at ponies who won’t sleep with them. They vent on the clouds. They bang those thunderheads like war drums, and their song is passionate – jazzed up on sex, drugs, angst, and raw youth. Loud and off key.
Redheart squeals as the pegasi kick thunder out of the clouds. She grabs hold of me. Her body is warm. The rain stings, and her body is warm, and the pegasi kick thunder out of the clouds, and they hurl down bolts of lightning, making a show of it. For the first time since I leapt off the roof of my brownstone I feel alive. I take Redheart by the hoof, giggling like a love-struck teenager. We duck under the doorway of a quaint little bookstore. It’s only a few blocks from where I live but I didn’t even know it was here. I’d go inside except it’s late and the place is closed by now. So Redheart and I just stay under the doorway. Shivering. Giggling. We’re a couple of kids in love. Redheart looks half her age now. Raindrops have smeared her makeup. She looks like some brat out on prom night. Like some young club-hopping runaway with fifty bits to her name and a fake ID. I love it. I love her. I love her like misery loves company.
“I love you,” I say plainly. Before she can say “I love you too,” I take her in my forelegs, all dripping wet and shivering, and I kiss her. Her mouth is warm. Lips soft. Tongue wet and inviting.
I’m alive! Celestia damn it, I’m alive!
It’s morning when the storm lets up. Celestia’s just started dragging the sun up past the horizon. Redheart and I have spent the entire night in the doorway of a bookstore. Kissing. Practically making love. We’ve been up all night but I’m not tired. When we get to the steps of my brownstone I feel like I’m on fire. I want to throw Redheart on my stiff mattress and take her every way you can take a mare. I’m so excited I don’t even realize my keys aren’t on me. They were in my boots along with the cell phone that broke. Luckily Redheart thought to bring them. She pulls them out of her purse. I take them from her, and I kiss her, and I turn the lock, and…and what’s this, I think to myself as I pick up this morning’s issue of the Manehattan Post from off my doorstep. Some paper colt is making his rounds early this morning.
I just keep on winning. A perfect night with Redheart and now I start off the first morning of the rest of my life with an issue of the Post. Absent mindedly, I eye the bundle of paper as I let Redheart and myself inside. I tell her to have a seat anywhere she likes and help herself to something to drink, though there’s likely nothing in the fridge. I’m only planning to glance at the Post. I used to think it was such a rag but these past few weeks I’ve picked up a habit for it. I can’t help it. The vulgarity spelled out in black and white, the headlines written in all caps to accent things that don’t need accenting. I can’t help it. I only plan to glance at it. I’ll just glance at it, then I’ll take Redheart on my stiff mattress.
I tear away the plastic covering meant to protect it from the rain. Pull off the rubber band that binds it. I’m eager to unfold it. This surprises me. Perhaps I have become too attached to the Manehattan Post. And wasn’t I only reading it at the order of my old teacher? The crazy stallion with the syringe marks in his forelegs and the hourglass on his flank. Solemnly, I decide this will be my last glance at the Post. It is a remnant of my old life and if I’m to move on, I will have to let go of it as well. But it is the last remnant of that life. I take my time saying goodbye.
I glance down at the front page. I glance down at the front page, and my jaw makes a dull thud as it hits the ground, and the city starts laughing at me.
The front page headline reads, “MOB DOCTOR SUSPECTED OF PATCHING PSYCHOPATH.”
The picture below is of two adult stallions walking side by side. One of the stallions has his foreleg around the other’s shoulders, while the other is waving, apparently at the camera. They both smile big as they walk down what looks like the steps of a courthouse toward a clamoring crowd of ponies holding mikes and tape recorders. They smile big for the press. The caption beneath the picture reads, “Controversial doctor Stephen Scope seen celebrating with his lawyer after having all charges of his alleged involvement with Manehattan’s organized crime syndicates dropped. Photo by Tracy Flash”
Tracy Flash, you bastard. You’ve outdone yourself with this one.
The photograph is a side shot. Once again Tracy captures the atmosphere flawlessly. But more important, because the shot is taken from the side I get a full view of the stallion in the foreground. The doctor called Stephen Scope. In the photograph he is wearing a suit jacket, collar and tie, but nothing to cover his lower body. His cutie mark is a scalpel. His coat is a sharp blue, almost cobalt, and his mane is grey.
My eyes drink in his image. Stephen Scope. His name is Stephen Scope and he has a feminine frame. His haunches and hindquarters curve delicately like a mare’s.
The city is laughing at me and I let her. She throws her head back. Clutches her stomach. Her eyes tear up, she’s laughing so hard. So hard she can barely breathe. I let her enjoy her laugh. She’s earned it. Letting me think this whole time that things could be different. Luring me in. Making me soft. Allowing me a taste of love. A glimpse at the prospect of a better life. Gave me firm ground to stand on, only to later pull it out from underneath me and to watch me fall. I am the final twelve pins of the last frame and Manehattan is bowling a perfect three hundred. She sets me up. Knocks me down.
“Rose?” Redheart calls out to me. She’s right behind me but her voice sounds miles away. I should put the Post down. Shouldn’t have looked at in the first place.
"Rose? You okay, Rose?” I should put the post down and throw Redheart on my stiff mattress. I should take her. She’s mine now and I should take her. I should,but something inside of me says differently. Something I’ve been trying to suppress. A voice I can’t silence. The Chase. That must be it.
I look back down at the image of the doctor smiling with his lawyer and reread the words, “Photo by Tracy Flash.”
The chase. I’d nearly forgotten. Someday I’ll have to thank Tracy for reminding me of the chase.