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  • Writer's picturePaul Kenneth

A Horse Named Memory Lane

henever I attempted to break her in, she would bite my pale inner thighs with her tight rusty springs. She didn’t have a name. At least not one that I remember. Her coat was a hard plastic of auburn and creme with a tangled black mane. She hovered mid gallop on a square metal frame amid four large angry springs that pulled her north, south, east, and west. We kept each other company in the chilly basement of that Minnesota lakefront house. Seldom did I gain the courage to mount her. Instead, we spent our time together gazing out the window at the geese who roamed the shore of the lake. She listened in earnest as I strummed ballads upon my plastic ukulele. When I performed incredible feats of penny swallowing she watched with bated breath. And the time I choked as one of the pennies twisted and turned in my throat, it was her eyes that comforted me. The coppery taste of Lincoln’s head lingered like blood on my tongue as the pain in my throat struck fear in my heart. If this was the moment when death would strike me down, her black-brown eyes told me that I would not die alone. As if conceding in defeat, Lincoln went tails up and heads down, slipping from my throat to my belly. Maybe it was the tears in my eyes or the lack of oxygen in my brain, but as I gulped down that first mouthful of air, I swear I saw my horse breathe a sigh of relief. As an adult I found the puddle of melted plastic that she had been rendered down to by the house fire. She must have haunted that abandoned home for years before her eventual demise. I wonder how many nights the neighbors were awoken by her squeaking rusty springs as wind blew in the broken windows over her tangled mane.

artin Bachman was a silhouette always tethered to that Stancraft wooden speedboat. His daily waterski sets were visible from our basement window that peered out on Bryant Lake. I will forever remember him as a shadow in tow. The Bachmans lived in a house three doors down from our own on Beach Road. But not Martin, he lived on the water. And that morning he would die on the water.

There was a stillness to the lake as the sun began to rise. Fog drifted and swirled in trails across the glassy surface. For waterskiers, this was the golden hour on the lake, a perfectly glazed mirror without the hint of a windswept ripple. Martin's parents had left town for the weekend and placed the babysitter in charge. She was experienced behind the wheel of a boat. So when Martin asked her to take him out that morning she thought nothing of it. Without a spotter aboard, she would never know how quickly he had fallen on that set. As the rising sun blinded her eyes the propeller cut Martin to pieces. He never made it back to shore.

The engine of the yellow floatplane wailed as the Bachmans dropped flower petals from the sky. Carnations fluttered and whirled in the breeze before settling onto the surface of the glassy still lake. I saw pieces of Martin in those pink and red petals. And as the teardrop silhouettes disappeared below the water a single finger washed ashore.

learned to poop by myself just before we sold the house on Beach Road. In preparation for the sale of our home, we had to wash and hide all traces of our family. In hindsight, this would be an unnecessary accommodation since the buyer cut the house in half and abandoned it down the street. With the help of my maternal grandfather, the sale was finalized and the last of the paperwork signed. Whether it was in an effort to celebrate or distract us from the impending move, our Grandpa Frank took me, my three older siblings, and my mother out for ice cream at McDonald's. This field trip struck us as unusual since it was already past most of our bedtimes. We got the ice cream to go and returned to say one last goodbye to our childhood home. My vanilla soft serve had a bittersweetness that night. I blame my grandfather for the events that were to unfold. He should have known better than to get a large ice cream cone for a two-year-old. When we arrived back at the house I ran to the bathroom to demonstrate my new skills. I still had my ice cream cone in tow which would be a fatal disaster. Alone in the bathroom, I attempted to balance the dripping turret shaped cone on the vanity sink next to the toilet. No matter how hard I tried, it did not want to stay erect. The alarm of my bowels compounded with the frustration from the cone's unwillingness to stand upright. In a burst of anger, I grabbed the sticky drippy cone and hurled it upwards with all of my might. My strength must have been possessed by the deep sadness of having to leave this home. For the cone launched like a rocket ship with a perfect trajectory straight to the sky. For a few moments, I had overcome gravity as the vanilla soft serve and cone clung to the ceiling. This gave me enough time to poop the way I was taught like a good boy. I exited the bathroom with pride at conquering that damned dessert. The pristine bathroom had a new coat of paint, McDonald Vanilla. My mother's face was a mixture of horror, astonishment, and tears. I can still see her holding back the laughter as Grandpa Frank gave me a spanking I will never forget. But a spanking that I proudly earned.

was only a one year old when my father told my mother he was in love with another woman. She was standing at the kitchen sink washing the dinner plates when he approached from behind and uttered those unforgivable words. A doctor cheating on his wife with his nurse. Such a fucking cliche. The house was beige back then with shit-brown trim. All that is left today is the two-car garage. It sits on an empty lot a block away from the original address. The beige was painted over in a sickly green that hovers between seafoam and pickle juice. Fittingly the shit-brown trim remains. I was two when the divorce was finalized on my mother's birthday of all days. Without my father's income, there was no way for my mother to afford the lakefront house on top of raising four children. The house was sold to a wealthy CEO of a local hearing aid company. A fact that fell on my father’s one deaf ear. No joke, he is deaf in his right ear. My mother held me in her arms as we watched the house get sawed in half. A domestic magic trick had gone awry. The contractors severed the house at its waist. The first and second-floor stories were separated from the basement and hauled with the two-car garage down the block where they were placed on an empty lot. An abandoned eyesore hidden from the neighbors by a thicket of trees. Visible only from the eastbound lanes of Highway 62 which was situated on the hill to its rear. The basement wound was soon covered by a mansion like some obscene scab. For years we looked down from the highway upon that corpse of a home which, in spite of its color, refused to decay. An insurance scheme was suspected when the corpse-home was burned to the ground in an act of arson. Why couldn't they burn down that fucking two-car garage too?

he hull of the canoe cradled my little body as I gazed upward. The rock face jutted out over the lake like a looming giant. It was a speckled grey granite with splotches of pink-rose towards the water's edge. The surface had been worn smooth by glaciers during the last ice age a little over 10,000 years ago. The air was crisp with the scent of pine which wafted down from the treeline that sat atop the cliff. The water was clear enough to see the boulders on the lakebed twenty feet below. As if by magic, the canoe floated above and below rock. Halfway up the granite face, a prehistoric painting depicted a stampede of hoofed beasts. Swaths of iron oxide red torsos bled into the manganese dioxide black haunches. White accents from chalk or guano spotted every third beast. Their manes swirled and teeth gnashed as they ran from an unseen threat. The sheer size and primal energy of this ancient mural were unlike anything I had ever seen before. These odd-toed ungulates resembled horses with their large barrel, prominent neck, and signature muzzle. “They should not be here.” my mother whispered over my shoulder. My grandmother confirmed this fact from the front of the canoe with a single nod. Her gaze drifted over my head to meet my mother’s. The kindness left her face and her eyes became stern. With a finger pressed to her lips, she commanded silence. My mother should not have uttered those words. But it was too late. Caught on a breeze, her words had made their way up the granite wall within earshot of the painted horses. The creatures peered down at me with a newly realized terror in their eyes. In an effort to free them from this rock shaped prison I plunged headfirst into the water. This would be the first time Grandma Iris saved me from drowning.

e were not rich like the neighbors with their speedboats and waterskis. Our wealth was a masquerade of sorts. For a boat, my father had settled on an old used pontoon that was carpeted in a Marina-Blue #2 astroturf. Lake recreation consisted of a frayed yellow nylon rope tied to an inflatable pool tube in the shape of a horse. This device was then drug at a top speed of 10 miles per hour behind Old Blue. For safety, we donned the orange emergency life preservers that were often reserved as a last resort on a sinking ship. They were not designed with style or comfort in mind. The vests were composed of three rectangular styrofoam blocks wrapped in vinyl to create a horseshoe shape. Wearing one of these floatation devices was torture. The neckpiece dug into the base of the skull while the parallel chest blocks enacted slow strangulation on the throat. We caged these angry orange garments along with a menagerie of inflatable animals in a screen porch enclosure that abutted our basement. A grassy hill led down from this screen house to the dock. I was alone in the basement when the windstorm stuck. By the power of nature, the inflatable animals began to rustle and float within their cage. In an act of emancipation, the screen door was thrust open. I watched from the basement window as our animals sought freedom in the wild. A horse reared up and leaped into the sky, a snake slithered across the grass, and a monkey somersaulted down the hill. Each animal had its own dance choreographed by the wind. But they all shared the same destination, the lake. Having witnessed this wild release from an upstairs window, my mother rushed downstairs, scooped me up under one arm, and bolted out the basement into the back yard. By this time the parade of animals had reached the shore of the lake. Knowing we would have to set sail to rescue the herd, my mother rung a horseshoe vest under her other arm and armed herself with a fishing net. We pushed off Old Blue on a snail-paced quest as the wind bit our faces and the storm clouds rolled in.

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