The Plastic Horse

My dead brother-in-law is inside our old toy rocking horse. Recently, we watched that Netflix documentary—you know, the one about dying, ghosts, reincarnation, etc. What I’m saying is that I literally believe my dead brother-in-law took residency in a discarded Fisher Price plastic horse in the backyard. It is the exact sort of thing he would do.

Three months ago, he climbed the Maroon Bells, a notoriously dangerous hike. On the trail, he met two men, who watched him die. He fell one thousand feet, shredding his boots, breaking every bone. Even his wedding ring was crushed. In life, he used to mess with us a lot—so, it doesn’t surprise me he’s in the horse.

What feels unusual is my attitude about it.

After her husband died, my sister stopped working so much and enrolled in Zoom astrology school. I have Aquarius all over my chart, which means I have an abundance of aloof, flippant energy.

Last week, on the phone, she sounded a little panicked about it. About quitting her regular life to go to astrology school. “Like, what in the actual fuck am I doing?”
“I think it’s great.” I struggle to find the tone of voice that expresses I mean it. “Jason is in the horse,” I mention. “The one the kids used to have, you know, that makes giddy-up sounds.”

“Oh, he’s here too,” she responds. “In the can-light by the sink. It flickers when I play the music he hated. I play a lot of Sheryl Crow.”

“He needs to soak up the sun.”
We laugh. But it’s out of habit.
The battery operated horse glows from plastic ripples on its mane, at least it used to, before we dumped it in the snow years before Jason died, when our kids outgrew the horse and we grew tired of it neighing.

We tried to get rid of that horse for fucking ever. We put it on the curb. After a few months, we dragged it in the alley, where people sometimes dive for discarded objects. Even for free, nobody wanted it. It couldn’t light up or squeal anymore and there was something sad about its mustard yellowness. Somehow, swamped up and muted, it returned to the deck, just outside our bedroom, where Jason now occupies it. There was another show we watched, one about the fourth dimension, in which we learned time is not linear.

First, a soft knock on the bedroom door. “Mommy. Can I come in?”

It’s one of those shitty days, dark by five, when vulnerability to grief heightens to match the abundance of darkness. Sadness senses empty vessels. It floods me, eager to drag—until I sense something else, something outside of me. The feeling of being watched.

Jason is here.

Maybe he likes to visit us like this when we’re sad and lying down, so he can watch us miss him. Maybe he wants to be forgiven for going on the hike and fucking everything up. I gaze out the window. My eyes track soft hills of snow and eventually land on the horse. A desire swells. If he’s going to be dead, he should at least do something interesting besides complain. But what?

You must be explicit with ghosts. They can’t read minds. You have to speak to them out loud. I sit up.

“Jason, if you are here,” I bellow, “light up that horse. If you think you’re hot shit, which we all know you do, light up that mother fucking horse.”

I wait. A second later, a glow, red as watered blood, casts across the snow.

I blink. I want my throat to catch my breath. I conjure tears to well. But I only nod. “Thought so,” I whisper.

“Mama. Can I come in?”

My son curls in my arms, light and warm. We watch the plastic horse light the snow, in and out, like breath.

Image: Photo by The Sun,