On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl Read Online (FREE)
Read On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl full novel online for free here.
At the Heyday Lounge the horsemen think they are the only gamblers. They file in each morning, their shoes dusty and their pockets jangling with coins, like parishioners. They sit in a dark corner under a single blade fan, a plantation relic hauled from the lounge owner’s Southern home to this coastal city thirty miles from Mexico. Above them the fan has the look of salvage but it makes no sound, and though it keeps the flies from their faces and necks and midmorning cocktails they do not notice it.
Every weekday the men come. They speak openly because they believe the lounge owner to be simple—which is true—and Muriel, their waitress these long mornings, to be a woman and therefore incapable of both memory and complex reasoning. It does not help that she is young, that she looks like the empty plains she comes from, flat and open and sad. She and Lee, newly married, have been in San Diego only a few months and are learning slowly how to be modern, and though she has always worked it is fair that the horsemen take her for a housewife forced into labor by circumstance. They could not know from her wide shoulders and square waist and rural modesty that she had taken the bus from Kansas on her own, that she could play cards and drive a car, or that she’d left behind a house she owned outright, to come here.
So they wave their hands at her and call her sweetheart from across the room and order their drinks with pointed enunciation as if she were hard of hearing. Though she remembers not only their drinks but the clip of their mustaches, the red-rimmed dimness of their eyes, she writes the orders down on a notepad and hands the paper to the bartender. The horsemen are retired trainers from the furlongs at Del Mar or bookmakers for rich men in the coastal hills. A few are ex-jockeys, burned out and overweight, unsure what else life might have to offer them. They talk as men do, confident and gently adversarial, about the coming race day, the horses off their feed, the jockeys with tapeworm, the cup and feel of the track. They set long odds and argue over them.
For a few months Muriel listens. She writes down their private speculations and begins to join their language to its objects. When her shift ends at two she walks toward the sea and takes a late lunch at a restaurant where she works a second job on the dinner shift. She sits in a booth in the corner and studies her notes and the previous day’s racing form. She might rise and walk then, along the rolling line of surf. She thinks of horses, and her mother, and the day she was married. As she walks she collects shells and beach glass and slips them in the pocket of her sweater. Before she returns to work she unfolds the pocket and dumps these same items back onto the beach, so all that’s left is a rim of sand in the pocket hem. At ten Lee walks to the restaurant from the factory a few blocks away and they go home together, arms linked like young lovers and not like married people, because they do not know each other very well.