The Black Horse

Wind, fragile and joyous, slices through the belfry of the school
to shift heavy snow into ripples like ridged fields behind.
Charlie’s having a cigarette. I haven’t yet found his blush to be
from cold or alcohol. He loves Philippa, the florist.
Must be Pip who puts the rose in his face. They are as kind
as they are insulting, and they’ll be married sarcastically, tenderly in May. It’s not May now;
it’s fragile December, when the heavy first snow is scattered with thin orange sunset
and Charlie is having a cigarette at the foot of the stairs of the Black Horse,
joined by a bald man, eerily drunk, and unjacketed. He speaks with authority of gibberish.
Charlie ducks in, slides off and hangs up the cold smell of smoke on a banister. The rest are warm and smiling,
asking questions, buying rounds. Haydn has easily put Pip behind the bar;
she calls me Puppet and brings me tea. She couldn’t find the sugar,
and I decide that I’ll love her forever. The hunting officer has bought a round; he is new, and he is fair.
He talks with Ben of riding, chasing, dogs, and women. They admire each other with dirty jokes
and rolling conversation. Jemma, newly married and beautiful, leans softly toward conversation.
In a stone fireplace the fake fire nearly feels warm, and atop it the fake wreath nearly smells green.
Unpopped Christmas poppers drape out window sills and there’s a chrysanthemum, unnoticed, in a corner.
Someone tall and chilled ducks in, hugs the bunch, and begins to thaw. My Americanness flows into me,
I lean over my tea.
The carols are round, gentle, and hum in harmony with the conversation beneath them.
The pink has lifted from the snow, and now sits, distant, in the sky. No one is leaving,
and thin traces of foam dry neatly on pints. Metal Reserved tents stack on a side table,
clean and unused. One table is set with wine glasses and folded napkins,
gleaming in posterity. Charlie is patient with the bald man whose emptiness chills me,
and I’ve just caught him saying it’s the loneliness. If not for the cigarettes,
his voice might have thickened through his laugh. The sunset has dozed into purple.
Wouldn’t this be love if you had to find it?
The type that buzzes at near imperception
on each wandering decibel, the type
built from many singing quietly together.
The sky has become dark, and I can hardly spot the schoolhouse bell through the window.
The pub begins to glow from the light above the bar
and I scrawl and sip the tea
that kindles in my belly and spreads. And another carol
tumbles onto the stoop of the Black Horse
where Charlie’s gone out for a cigarette.

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