by Jennifer A. Howard September 15, 2006
We first went after the neighbor’s unicorn a week before my wedding. My husband and I were drinking beer on our front porch, we were talking about vows. We agreed that promising to love each other until death do us part was morbid so we thought of better endings. Until there was a cure for the common cold. Until the icecaps melt. Until our kids could do long division. That last one was mine, and he looked at me. Calculus, I said then.
It was late and dark and it wasn’t until a car drove by that we saw the unicorn in its headlights. She was the size of a real-live pony, her metal body tarnished green and standing next to an empty trellis across the street in our neighbor’s yard. It was my husband who went over and stole the horn, which pulled out of the unicorn’s head easily, a separate piece, and he brought it back like he had just bought a half-gallon of milk and took it inside to the kitchen. I stayed on the porch until he brought out more beer, and we were there, sometimes talking, sometimes quiet, until the sun came up over us and over the unicorn, which was by then just a tiny horse with a hole in her forehead.
My husband propped the horn up on his dresser, next to a bowl that he emptied his pocket money into every evening. I wanted to take the horn back to the neighbor, to apologize for him. But the woman was so old. She was little and lived there all alone, and when she worked in her yard I thought I could smell White Shoulders like my grandma even from across the street. I couldn’t make myself go over. In only a few days, the wedding would happen and I would be married and driving a Jeep and I didn’t have a job. The invitations had been sent out and people were already on their way into town.
Instead, I threw the horn away when my husband wasn’t looking.
We had the ceremony in our backyard, under the lilacs, and I vowed to love him, with no “until,” and he promised to love me even after that. When it got dark, and the cake was gone, and it was all official, I set my husband dancing with my sister and I left my shoes on the lawn and walked barefoot around to the front of the house to have a cigarette.
There were no lights on inside the old woman’s house but I could tell the unicorn had a horn again. I crossed the street to see. The hole had been filled by a tapered candle, swirled and white. I petted her cold back, saw my house from the other side of the road. I heard the music from the backyard. My husband, I knew, would be good to me. He would take out the garbage and clean the toilets and it’s not as if I was particularly pretty. I couldn’t have counted on anyone else falling in love with me later if I’d walked away. I tossed my cigarette into the street, and I lit the unicorn’s candle horn. Her eyes were closed. Probably, they were cast that way, but in the moment I wondered if she hadn’t shut them just then against the light.
In the morning, when I woke up married, I looked out the window and saw the wax had hardened in streaks down the animal’s nose.
In the fall, the unicorn lost her legs. I do not know if the legs were cut off, or if four small postholes were dug and the unicorn was lowered into the ground. But from then on, the creature’s belly rested on the lawn. The first snow came not long after, and an ambulance drove up my street. The ambulance’s lights and siren were not on; it drove up slowly and parked in front of the unicorn’s house. My husband would be home from work soon, but I put socks on, and shoes, and I walked away from where I lived until I knew the street would be clear.
About the Author:
Jennifer A. Howard teaches and edits Passages North in Michigan's snowy Upper Peninsula. Her collection of flash sci-fi, You on Mars, was published by The Cupboard Pamphlet.