Margot Demopoulos is currently reading A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra and Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins, and rereading Langrishe, Go Down by Aidan Higgins, The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. She finds inspiration from the work of Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Chico Hamilton, the recent album by Exegesis, The Harmony of the Anomaly (exegesisonline.com), and the SMOMID by Nick Demopoulos. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in the Sewanee Review, the Massachusetts Review, Fiction International and elsewhere. She is working on a novel.
Zena and The Flying Horse
She works the night shift boiling laundry at the Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel. It’s dawn when she clocks out. Empty beaches thick with fog and dark. A sea wind carries the coming fire of summer sun. She coughs in the mist, throat burning with disinfectant. Her back is bent by passing years. Her son is head bellhop. Her daughter is blind.
A milk bottle anchors the telegram. A cold wind slaps her face like an open hand. “June 6, 1944. Ma, don’t worry. It’s better where I am. When I’m ready I’ll call.”
She enters the heavily curtained rooms, changes into torn slippers, shuffles back to the bus, back in the dark to tell her son. He leads her to Virginia Avenue and the brightly-lit Steel Pier. A billboard for victory in Europe is bordered in blinking light bulbs. A ripped poster for the Marathon Dance Contest sails past the silent merry-go-round, into a choppy sea.
They weave through morning strollers. A midget is carrying boxing gloves. A gypsy pushes a carriage with a monkey wearing a bonnet.
Her son walks fast. She swings her arms and aims with her head to keep up. A man yells. She collides with a couple riding a rolling chair. Truck-carrying ferries bellow in the mist.
They pass coin-toss games, gypsy fortune-tellers, a waving Mr. Peanut, Fralinger’s salt water taffy, the Premature Infant Exhibit where incubated babies are a catchpenny freak show. The music on the merry-go-round starts again. Her son points upward to a glittering sign. A quarter horse stands on a platform flooded with lights. “Steel Pier Water Circus.” He takes her hand and pulls her toward the tank.
A trumpet sounds, the horse jumps, and a woman in a feathered helmet, blinding white, clings to glittery reins. Their heads rise above the surface. The woman waves. The crowd roars.
She sees the hooded eyes when the helmet comes off. Unbound hair drops to the waist. When did it grow that long? Thick muscled thighs, strong back. She’s not seen so much of her body since bathing her as a child.
“The horse knows what to do,” her son says. “He’ll take care of her. Biggest problem is getting ‘em to stay on the platform to build suspense.”
She sees her daughter climb from the tank with no cane.
Zena says, “Ma, stop crying.”
“How high?” she asks her daughter, patting her own drawn lips with a crumpled handkerchief.
“That horse just got up there and jumped,” he says to his sister.
“Forty feet, Ma. Forty feet.”
She smiles at her brother. “He’s my favorite.” She waves to the crowd. “Ma, there’s worse things than being blind.”
The wind lifts her hair like wings.