I was tasting my teeth at the big wooden table near the upstairs window on Orr Court, about to draw a horse, which was why I had the brown crayon in my hand; a nice fat, brown horse because it was Saturday, and there weren’t any horses for miles and miles, and Saturdays could always use a horse; tasting my teeth with my tongue, counting sort of, maybe measuring my teeth with the tip of my tongue, feeling the backs of my teeth like I was blind and feeling my way out of a cave. I was eight then. A big, fat, brown horse. Looking around the room, though, everything seemed like the opposite of a horse: the wood, the walls, the windows, my bed.
My bed had four legs, but I could tell from across the room it didn’t ever want to be a horse.
Maybe I wouldn’t draw a horse after all. I’d play a trick on the paper, which was all waiting for a horse to happen on it. Instead, I could draw a wolf or a battleship. Wondering what to draw and how easy it was to change my mind made my mind feel like a living thing that could leap and jump and stop and stare. My mind was like a rabbit, minus the rabbit. Staring at the blank white paper, I could feel the air around my ears, like I was moving through space. I could see the insides of the refrigerator downstairs. I could read the blue label on the mayonnaise jar. I could read my dad’s mind. Not really, but I felt like I could, like I knew things I didn’t know, like I could speak Martian and was about to give a big, long speech in Martian and didn’t know what to say exactly but knew all the words.
I figured if I gave myself a different name, I could draw a better horse. “Texas Jack.” That was a perfect name for drawing a horse, a “lovely” name, my mother might say, if she was angry and making fun of someone. She’d say, “That is a lovely idea,” meaning it was a stinky idea. But Texas Jack, he would never say that. He would only say what he meant. And he would be wearing a cowboy hat and drawing his horse in the dirt with a stick, with his mouth in a thin line. And that’s what I knew and wanted to know—what Jack’s mouth knew when it got long and thin. That’s what I wanted to be when I grew up—what Jack’s mouth knew when it went all level and straight in a line.
I remembered petting the horse at the horse ranch that time, touching the soft, rubbery nose of this one horse and sticking my finger little by little up its wet, warm nostril, and how a horse was all muscley and combed and horsey and had fetlocks. That’s what the man said, “fetlocks,” and it made me feel grown-up just having that word in my head. The fetlock was the furry, feathery, whiskery part down where the horse’s leg turned into an ankle with a little elbow or funny bone sticking out just before it turned into that big bell-shaped hoof, or hooves. Sort of a sad word, “hooves.” It reminded me of my father coughing and spitting in the sink, which was sad and funny and horrible all at the same time, like a horse’s hooves, which weren’t feet at all but bell-shaped things that couldn’t open a door or tie a knot, hard and big and dumb as they were.
It felt good wanting to draw a horse, though, maybe even be a horse. I’d be a big, black, long-bellied horse with wings, so at night I could klumber across a roof and sail into the sky.
Maybe visit dead people and, in the morning, at breakfast, twisting my spoon straight up and down in my cereal, know things that no one would ever, ever ask me. I would sit quiet as a horse, then, shoulderless, letting my face go longer and longer with a white patch down the middle and my teeth go all horse-toothed in my mouth and my eyes grow big and round and blackish-brown, the eyes behind my eyes that is. My crayon began to wonder, though, if I was ever going to draw a horse at all or if I had lost my nerve, because a horse was a very hard thing to draw. And I said, “No. No,” because I was a cowboy, and a cowboy was not afraid. And you could kill a cowboy and bury him in the ground and he would still go on being not afraid. And you didn’t tell a cowboy what to do or when or how—not now, not ever. And I knew. Sure as teeth. Because my teeth, they tasted like cowboy teeth.