The Colour of Slate

by Roderick Leyland Read author interview December 15, 2004

…Standing in a field of horses, a bottle of amontillado in one hand, Sartre’s Being and Nothingness in the other, when the first stallion—a Russian piebald—looks at me and says:

‘I’ll have a sherry, pal, but you can forget the book.’

‘Forget…?’

‘I know it backwards, mate.’

We pause while he formulates his next statement.

‘Observe us,’ he goes on. ‘Look at the way we’re standing.’

Aeons of horseplay have been to no avail, they are still no closer to reconciling life’s paradoxes. When it drizzles they stand underneath the trees and wait, suffering the soaking, allowing the rain to do what it’s done for centuries. Here is a genus ground down by an eternity of drizzle, yet time has made them as resilient as Welsh slate. The only effect that water has, now, is to wet them.

‘Was there anything else, friend?’

I consider.

‘Are you pouring that sherry, or what?’

‘A schooner…?’

‘A schooner or a thimbleful, squire, it’s all the same.’ He leaves a silence. ‘Go, on. Do your worst.’

As I pour it — a big one, which he takes in one gulp — I can’t help thinking, I hope he doesn’t get heartburn.

A small (very short-legged) Shetland pony approaches, the piebald shoos him away.

‘You’re too young for liquor. It stunts your growth.’

‘Evolution’s already taken care of that,’ says the pony. ‘No major mutation for over ten thousand years. I’m short, my mates are short, the breed’s short. In short, we’re all short.’

‘Beat it, squirt. You’re not drinking alcohol.’

Not stoically, and with good grace, the pony departs. The hierarchy here is working well. Once back with his comrades, the Shetland exchanges words with one of the group who glances our way for a few seconds — it’s verging on a dirty look, but we feel we can deal with it — before turning back and bending his neck the little distance to the ground. The piebald raises an eyebrow: See what I mean?

‘Do you think,’ I ask him, ‘that your low-slung friend would like a look at Sartre?’

‘Blind as a bat, mate: a well-known characteristic of the breed. Pearls before the proverbial.’

‘I could read to him.’

‘Are you joking? Limited intellect, these short-arses. You might as well hand him a comic or the thoughts of Chairman Mao.’ He urges me closer. ‘Nothing upstairs, compadre.’ He rests a while. ‘Just let it be, friend.’

I re-cork the sherry, clasp the book under my elbow and turn to leave.

‘See you again?’ I say.

‘Not,’ says my fellow existentialist, ‘unless we see you first.’

I start to walk away, barely covering five yards before I hear an emission: wind of low pitch and long duration. There’s no embarrassment, no attempt to conceal, control or curtail. The horse, who, like the rest of his cohort, shed his social mask long before man developed his, is in good faith.

‘Must be the sherry,’ the horse seems to be saying. Or so I think. I hoist one leg over the fence…

About the Author:

Roderick Leyland was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1949. He was trained as an actor and worked in the theatre. He has also worked in retailing and financial services. Stories and articles have appeared (or are forthcoming) in SmokeLong Quarterly, BuzzWords, Peninsular, Countryside Tales, Scribble. He lives and works in Brighton, England.

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.