On the Inside of a Horse’s Skull

by Daphne Buter Read author interview October 15, 2004

No sun, no kids in the streets, no birds in the trees. Holland is empty today. Holland is much like the inside of a horse’s skull. If a horse is dead, where did its thoughts go?

This morning my oldest girl changed her clothes. She took her satin pajamas off and put her horseback riding clothes on. From one moment to the next, she looked like a young woman.

‘You look like a young woman,’ I said.

‘I’m only twelve,’ she answered.

‘That’s what I mean.’

This conversation took place at 8.30 AM.

Then my husband said: ‘She has to be there at 8.30.’

A little later he drove her to the horse farm for her first lesson.

*

Now it is 9.09 AM and if I close my eyes I can see her. The horse is a black stallion, a loudly breathing speed-machine. His legs shine like dark wood and his head has the shape of a bird-beak from the Jurassic. His eyes glisten – two lumps of mud, held together by a transparent layer. I can see his yellow teeth, his rosy tongue, the damp of his breath streaming out of his nostrils.

In a couple of years from now his head will be nothing but a skull.

When I was a child we had a skull of a horse. First my father had bought the horse head in an abattoir. My mother started to scream when he brought it home. He said he always had wanted to have a skull of a horse.

‘Why?’ my mother had asked.

‘Don’t ask me why,’ my father answered.

My father tried to cook the head to get rid of the fur, the meat, the brains, the tongue, the eyes, the ears, the oesophagus… But because the head was too big for any of our pans, my father gave up after a few attempts, and dragged the head of the horse to our garden. Only one side was somewhat cooked. One eye dangled on the cheek.

For at least one year, almost every day my father said to my mother:’ I will buy a bigger pan tomorrow.’ While swarms of insects surrounded the head in the garden. Flies left their eggs in the cracks of the rotten meat. Larvae crawled over the eyes, into the head, and in and out of the mouth.

We couldn’t sit in our garden that summer. Even the feral cats didn’t have the guts to come close to the stinking head.

When the meat had rotted off, the skull kept smelling bad for years. Nevertheless, I used to sit on it. I used to stick my fingers in the areas where the eyeballs had been. I used to look inside the skull to search for the thoughts of the horse.

One day I asked my father where the thoughts of the horse had gone, and he answered ‘the flies took them and spread them over the world.’

*

In my mind’s eye, the horse with my girl on its back, begins to run like a maniac. Look at my girl on the back of that horse. Her black cap leaves a streak of charcoal behind in the air. Her blonde hair dangles as a waft of elongated diamonds. Look at my girl, she’s growing up. Look at her rosy lips, her beautiful face, her little blooming breasts…

A little later the horse jumps over a fence and that’s the moment my girl falls off and fractures her neck on the earth. I open my eyes with a blast.

*

I’ve been gazing outside my window for some time now. I’m waiting for the phone to ring. I’m waiting for my husband to come home. He’ll tell me it was just a dream, he’ll tell me she’s safe.

I look at the sky, a décor of clouds that look like puffy horses. I’m waiting for the birds to chant. I try to imagine what the thoughts of a horse are like. A huge silence falls down on the city I live in.

At 9.22 AM my husband comes home. I wave at him through the window. He doesn’t wave back but gets out of the car and walks to our house, slowly. He looks bothered.

Before he can put the key in the lock I open the front door.

‘What happened?’ I ask, loudly breathing.

‘It’s a big horse,’ he says, ‘that’s what happened.’

‘How big?’

‘Much too big.’

*

It’s 10.50 in the morning and we sit in the garden, my husband and I. The garden chairs are a little wet but it doesn’t bother us. We are just sitting there, waiting for something to happen. The sky above us seems to be waiting for it, too.

‘It’s raining a little,’ my husband says.

‘Is it raining?’

‘Just a little.’

‘It isn’t raining.’

‘Yes it is.’

‘Our weather is odd,’ I say. ‘One moment we have rain, and the next moment it’s over.’

I lighted a cigarette.

‘You should stop smoking,’ my husband says.

‘I am,’ I say.

My husband starts to cough.

‘About that horse,’ I say with a voice filled with smoke, ‘aren’t you afraid she might fall off and break her neck?’

‘What kind of issue is that?’ he says coughing. ‘Things like that only happen in the movies.’

‘You know that guy, Superman? He never broke his neck in the movies,’ I say. ‘He could fly from one building to another without breaking anything. But he fractured his neck in the real world because he fell off a real horse…’

‘Superman probably did something wrong,’ my husband says coughing. ‘It wasn’t the horse’s fault.’

I sigh. ‘My father just shouldn’t have bought that head. You know what I mean? If he hadn’t bought it, this morning would have been different.’

We gaze at the endless grey skies. Some flies are buzzing above our heads.

About the Author:

Daphne Buter lives in the Netherlands and was born and raised in Amsterdam. Publishing house De Bezige Bij & Thomas Rap published two of her books. A novel: De Blauwe Prins. In 1990 and a collection of short stories: Alle Vogels Van de Wereld. In 2000. A translation of a Dutch short story appeared in Snow Money [print US]. A translation of Dutch short story appeared in Cadenza [print UK] in April 2004. A few months ago Daphne started writing short stories in English. Five of these short stories appeared in the Ezine FRiGG in April 2004. One short appeared in Edifice Wrecked. Forthcoming: Mindfire accepted two poems translated from Dutch. Dicey Brown (US) and the print magazine Night Train (US) have both accepted a short story for publication.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.