The Mana Farms story line frequently contains mature language, topics, and situations. The characters within are fictional beings with weaknesses and faults, and I cannot promise you that you will like them for what they believe, say and do. Join the community of MANA readers! Start from the beginning. (New readers, it is strongly recommended you begin this series from the very first story...which can be found here: [link] ) Thanks!
Eddie loved the long-legged blue horse strapped to the sulky. He was fond of his coarse, curly black mane braided in places with meticulous care by the bony hands of Old Lem his groom, his number card straight as a steeple between his ears, even the grumpy pair of eyes hiding behind the cups and his long nose smelling the diesel fuel of the truck snarling at the front of the pack. Eddie had picked out this horse from auction months ago and was surprised at how readily Clive Thompson agreed on it. It should have raised Eddie’s suspicions then; before Reggie, Clive had shat on every suggestion Eddie made. That horse is too fast. That horse is too valuable. That horse is so sleek and shiny you might mistake him for chrome and try to wash your hands under his dick. But when Eddie had pointed to a picture of the blue roan standardbred and said, “I want that one, Daddy,” Clive Thompson had shrugged and said, “It’s a good start,” and then he’d said, “but don’t ever call me your daddy again.” He loved the horse. He loved the horse until he realized what Reggie was.
The truck was pulling away now. Eddie could hear the crowd, small and greedy, cheering on the horses in the mass start as the truck increased in speed and its long hydraulic arms began pulling in the gates to its sides like a great ugly swan folding its wings. Now was the time to see if the blue roan “Regret Me Not” really was a good start for a broken down kid from Hong Kong. Beneath him, the wheels were humming and buzzing like a swarm of bees in the hot august dirt. They sounded just like the line of stationary cycles in the gym where Casey Fitzpatrick had cheekily moved the rowing machine nearer to so he and Eddie could watch a dozen breasts bounce all in a row while they trained. The Fitz was pretty great about things like that. He understood Eddie in a way that would have made Clive’s buggy eyes pop out like marbles and fly under the fridge.
Now the truck was beside them zooming along on the far outside rail, staying clear of the pack as the sulkies were pulling and stretching into a long rope of horse flesh along the inside rail. And that was when Eddie Ne snapped awake. When had they started?
Was that it? A running mass start? A stampede of trotting horses? Months of training told him yes, but years of training told him no. Where was the bell? Where was the clang of metal and the crush of horse and the brush of someone’s shiny black boot against his?
The smells were the same at least. Horsehair. Horse shit. Clay baking in the sun. Eddie glanced at the rail to his left and saw it curving away from him. How was it already the first turn? Was this what it was like to be married young? To scream inside...wait wait I’m not ready all the while hungering for the honeymoon? His bowels churned in him, his chest tightened, a cold sweat broke out on his face, his hands got as slick as a horse’s neck and a bit of the line slipped through. The blue colt felt the loose line through his mouth, sensed it slapping a little at his sides and he stepped a little faster in reply. It was a cruel thing for Reggie to do and a stupid thing for Eddie to have allowed. Already all of Eddie’s muscles kicked in all the wrong memories. Phantom sensations were peppering him with every stride, every grain of dirt thrown into his face, some even rubbed him like a towel up and down his legs squeezing his thighs in ghostly sweeping motions. In front of him were the blue flanks of “Regret Me Not” rippling and rolling like swells, his tail snapping behind him like the black sails of a dread corsair. With each push, with every contact of a hoof into the dirt and clay of the track, Eddie Ne’s old muscles twitched, muscles trained to grip and squeeze and hold and push back. Did they twitch? Faster.
Had he said that outloud? He couldn’t be sure. Faster
The blue colt flicked his ears back, those large blue-grey thighs thundered like stormclouds, quick and eager to respond, pressing like a front across the desert landscape of the track.
“What are you doing?” someone said. Had he said it? Had one of the other drivers? Was that the horse?
Eddie’s vision began to blur. The track became a tunnel of colour, even sound seemed to warp and stretch to either side of him. This is the straightaway,
his brain seemed to register. Was that a pole? When was the last pole? You aren’t going nearly fast enough. You should have hit the final turn by now. “Faster, Reg! Just go!”
The colt flicked his ear back again. Go?
Eddie saw the colours. Browns. A lot of browns. Horses. They were surrounded by horses and still no pole. Poles had once assaulted him like flashes of lighting in his senses, but now they were missing, standing far away like hitchhikers far down the road with their thumbs waving him down. Why are we all still in the straightaway? We should have hit the final turn by now. We aren’t going fast enough. Not nearly fast enough. “It’s like a fucking parking lot here!” he found himself screaming, “Go, Reg! Just go! Go! Go! Go!”
Regret Me Not broke into a canter, then a dead run, and the sulky shuddered and screamed beneath Eddie. And Eddie laughed and laughed until he cried.
Clive threw a paper down onto his desk. A cheap grey pen flew across the room. “A DNF? A DNF?!” he was shouting. Those two large eyes, round and fat and white like eggs being pushed out of a black chicken’s ass, Eddie thought to himself, but black chickens don’t lay white eggs.
“What do you mean black chickens don’t lay white eggs?!” Clive Thompson boomed at him.
Had he said that outloud?
“Are you trying to be metaphorical with me you little bastard? A fucking DNF?! Is that your excuse? A black chicken doesn’t lay white eggs? Have you been wasting my time, Eddie Ne? Do you have any idea how much, how many people have invested in your recovery? You came to me. You remember that? You came to me!”
Eddie Ne scratched at his nose and shrugged. Maybe he had meant it. Maybe he was being metaphorical. “I’m a jockey, Clive. I’m a jockey.”
“Oh I don’t have the time for this. You were
a jockey,” Clive snapped. He rolled up the newspaper into his hands again and slapped it at the edge of his desk. Clive always had to hit something, Eddie realized, hit and throw and shout. “You think you’re the first former fucked up jockey to take up the lines of a standardbred trotter and find himself letting the horse go?”
Eddie Ne looked up at him.
Clive was wiping the sweat from his face. He slapped the desk again. “Goddammit, Eddie. A DNF.”
“You said I’m not the first. Shouldn’t you be like...more forgiving or something?”
“I expected you to at least finish the goddamn race.”
“He’s fucking training wheels, Clive. You think I don’t know?! I realized it in that race. Regret Me Not is training wheels. He’s not a serious horse. I don’t have a prayer of winning. Not that race. Not any race with that horse. And you let me buy him. I spent money on him! Money I don’t really have!”
Clive wheeled on him. “And I spent money and time on you, you selfish little shit. You needed training wheels, Eddie. You needed to relearn everything. Need. NEED to relearn everything. A DNF. Now that. Now that that just proves my point.”
“If you’d given me a better horse, Clive, like Kissme or Sherwood, I would have finished the thing. Hell, I might have won it. But you let me buy a pair of training wheels and then you act surprised when I say ‘fuck it’ in the middle of the straightaway. If I don’t have a prayer of winning, I at least want to have some fun.”
Clive Thompson’s eyes bugged out and Eddie Ne’s face grew red. “Clive, I’m not a standardbred driver. Or I can’t be. I can’t be overnight. You shouldn’t have put me in the race.”
“You asked to be put in the race!”
“Not on that horse.”
“Don’t you blame Reggie for this. Or me.”
“He’s fucking training wheels, Clive! I won the fucking Kentucky Derby.”
“And you’re an invalid, Eddie,” Clive shouted back, “without me, you go nowhere!” He made to smack Eddie, but he must have thought better of it and he hit the side of the desk again instead. His shoulders curled downward. Took a deep breath. “You won’t ever win the Derby again, Eddie. Now you came to me. You came to me and insulted my weight and fondled my daughter’s photograph, and I didn’t throw you out of my office then because you wanted the Hambletonian and you made me and everyone in my barn believe I could teach you how to do it. Now you say we don’t go fast enough for you. You come into my office, you turn my life upside down and now you tell me it’s not fast enough for you but you listen to me, you bastard, we’re the best goddamned horseflesh a legless wonder like you can hope for now.”
Eddie Ne sucked in his breath and the two wild-eyed men stared at each other. Minutes went by. Hot and humid and suffocating minutes. A fly buzzed in a corner of the window. Sweat dribbled down their foreheads. Eddie listened to the squeak of the ceiling fan above them. The office felt very small, smelled leathery, like an old man cooking in the sun. Suddenly, Eddie felt shrunken and shriveled like his legs were now. He caught Clive staring at them too.
“Do you still want the Hambletonian?” he said at last.
Eddie dropped his head into his hands and Clive tossed the rolled up newspaper to his desk. The old black trainer started to drum his fat fingers along the cheap wood. “Eddie?”
Eddie breathed in and out, slowly, the way his mother had taught him once when she found him crying in a closet.
“Ed, you aren’t the first. You aren’t the first to let them go in a race. It happens all the time.” Clive looked at Eddie, but Eddie wasn’t returning his gaze. All he could stare at were his own two legs. “We’ll have to work harder,” Clive began again, “Get your mind into trotting. It was wrong to let you race so soon. I’m sorry, Eds. I really am. You have a way of making men believe in crazy things. It’s a fucking curse of yours. We’ll work on your mind and eventually your body’ll catch up. Fitz can work on reprogramming your muscle memory. Let’s up your workload with him and I’ll see about adding more morning trots. We’ll trot you until you trot yourself. And Fitz can...”
“Sell Regret Me Not.” Eddie finally said. A pause hung in the air again. The fly at the window zipped up into the air and flew out the open door at last.
“I’ll sign the papers. Just get him out of the barn.”
“Eddie,” Clive began, “You let the horse go.”
“Yeah? So what? I let the horse go in the race. And I’m letting him go now. He’s not a good fit for me, Clive. He never was. I shouldn’t have listened to you. I’m the boss. And I gotta learn to be that as much as I gotta learn to drive.”
Clive fell back into his chair with a loud thump. Eddie met his eyes. “You let me buy a horse who can never win. How am I supposed to have hope if I know there isn’t any? That I can’t ever win?”
“Eddie, there’s a lot to be learned from a horse who won’t ever win.”
“Don’t you think I’ve already learned enough from them?” Eddie snapped back, his hands spread out over his atrophied legs, thin as straw.
Clive looked him in the eye. “Reggie isn’t Yakety Sax, Eddie. Stop looking for ghosts. And stop making ghosts into excuses.”
Eddie flinched. Then he sucked in his breath again, steeled himself, looked Clive in the eye. I’m the boss now,
he reminded himself while looking up into the fat black man’s face. “You’re right. But so am I. Don’t give me hopeless horses, Clive. Don’t give me hopeless horses that believe in me. I won’t buy any more Regret Me Nots.”
“You’re going to break Old Lem’s heart,” Clive reminded him.
“Better his than mine,” Eddie replied and he turned his wheelchair to the door.