I haven't written one of these in a while, but this morning, I was inspired to get back to pen another hyper-short story in my Seven Five Nothing vein.
This is it.
The Wild Horse and the Willow Tree.
The man sat at the bar drinking whisky alone. He felt like every cool cliche character he could think of, and it was half the reason he had been drawn to it. But still, the other half was because sometimes you just have to know what it feels like to be drunk.
The ice had almost melted, just a crescent moon left in the glass, which swilled around as he shook it gently. He focused on the ice a moment and got lost in his mind, that sense of self-pity rising up in his chest. The old bar soak, he thought, what more of a wonderful character for him to play. If he had a hat, it would be rested on the bar beside him, and maybe there would be a piano man in the corner. Sadly though, his romantic ideas were never going to be matched by his reality.
She came through the door and stood with her palms pressed up against the bar. It was a slow look as he turned to her, starting with the fingers, then drawing up those milky white arms. By the time his glazed eyes met hers, she'd already figured out he was drunk.
She turned back to the bar, ordered a drink. Red wine.
He didn't know how to talk to this pretty blonde, not at first at least. She sipped her wine, head straight forward, as if to deliberately not risk knowing this man.
He took a slow sip and swallowed the last of the ice. It slid over his gums and down his throat. Then he asked her a question. 'Did I ever tell you the story about the wild horse and the willow tree?'
'I'm sorry?' the woman asked.
'The wild horse and the willow tree,' he repeated. Their eyes were matched again.
'No,' she simply replied.
The man gave a small laugh, barely even a sound. 'The wild horse,' he began, 'was a wanderer. Liked to roam as far and as wide as he could, straying further and further away from its pack.'
'Its pack?' the woman pulled the word out like it was a dropped stitch. 'Don't you mean a herd?'
He looked at her a moment and thought about it. 'Further and further from his herd,' the man continued. 'All the other horses, they used to say to him, "Don't go too far. We don't want to lose you." But he never listened to them.'
She sipped her wine.
'Anyway. So one day, the horse is in the hills, looking out as far as he can see. Behind him, all the other horses, close together, grazing on the lush green grass. But this horse, he's not just wild in that he is free, he is wild in his belly, you know?' The man's clenched fist thumped into his stomach. 'You know what that's like, right?'
'Sometimes,' she said.
'Well when you're as wild as this horse, it's hard to not run down the hillside, in search of the little things you see on the horizon. So out there, where the land goes flat, and the sky rests on top of it, he sees this one lonely figure, hanging over on itself. And it's intriguing to him. So he can't help but break into a canter, and soon a gallop, as he's running to find out just what this thing is.'
The woman shifted around a little, an elbow on the bar and her head rested on the palm of her hand.
'He runs,' the man continued, 'with the wind in his mane and the ground flowing under his hoofs. He runs to the edge where the land and sky meet, toward the lonely figure. Fast, fast, fast. But when he gets there, he is almost unable to comprehend what he sees; the most beautiful weeping willow tree. Its long bowing branches scooped down, and its trunk rising up. It was like a fountain frozen in time. Now the wild horse, he trots around it, amazed by its grace and its form. As he wanders around the trunk, he sees a small pond just around the other side, with it's slender branches all the way down, just breaking the surface of the water. The wild horse feels something special inside of himself as he drinks from the pond that the willow tree has blessed. Then, tired from running, he lays down underneath its umbrella canopy, his eyes heavy and his heart softened. And as he feels at peace under the willow tree, he is soon fast, fast asleep.' The man's gaze was fixed to hers.
'Then what?' the woman asked.
'Then,' the man continued, 'eventually, he woke up. But he realised that the willow tree wasn't going to leave with him, that it was exactly where it needed to be. He knew he had to leave it and go back to the other horses, to go back to roam wild and free. And as he turned to the willow tree, he felt sadness inside, knowing that for a moment, they shared the same space in peace. He walked slowly back to where he had left the herd, but they were nowhere to be found. They had moved on, just like they always told him; don't roam to far, we don't want to lose you. And so the wild horse was lonely now, and he had no-one around him to keep him safe.'
'Then what happened?' the woman asked.
'What do you mean?'
'Well, did he find the other horses?'
The man shook the last of the whisky. 'No,' he said as he knocked it back.
'Then why tell the story?' the woman pushed. 'Why have it at all if there is no happy ending for the horse?'
'There is a happy ending,' the man replied. 'He'd found the willow tree. It was what he had wanted.'
'But he lost his friends, his family.'
'I know,' the man replied sagely. 'And that's just the way it is. You don't get to have it all.'
'And you're telling me this why?'
'Because I want to come home, Anne. I'm ready now,' the man said. 'And I'm sorry.'
'That's all it takes John? A story?'
'No. But it's a start. Can we start over?'