Three Dead Horses / by Stillwater Magazine

by Cameron Bain                                                                                                           

It’s night now.

People converge on Broadway, filtering out until they reach Caroline Street. The crowds aren’t happy today. Three of the best horses died before finishing their races at the racetrack, causing people to lose hundreds of dollars. The people booed at the horses as the animals dropped from exhaustion. These people drove up from the city to watch the horses race and they just had to die. They’re angry now. They’re about to drink.

On central Broadway, the main restaurants and shops are closing. The bars are opening.

The bartender is home from school. Saratoga Springs has always been her home, and she just can’t get herself to leave. She’s in an Honors Program for her school’s English Department. Every night, she regrets not taking that internship in the city. She just didn’t want to leave her mother alone this summer. Her mother didn’t have very many summers left.

A man twice her age is trying to get her phone number. Another one is trying to get her to run off with him to Barbados and he’ll pay for everything. At the end of the bar, her friend from high school’s father is sitting. He used to drive her and her friend to Yaddo after school to volunteer. He’s drunk and hitting on her now.   

They all keep telling her to smile. She hates them.

They all remind her of her father. She has long since stopped trying to be nice to the customers. The tips she receives for indulging them no longer seem worth it.

Parking is nigh impossible to find at night, especially when the tourists come. She has to park hours before her actual shift. She hates the tourists, but everyone does. That’s why they’re the only ones who get mugged.

Her English major seems more and more distant every night. She hasn’t written anything since she got home. She tells herself she’ll get to writing that novel eventually. She has all summer to write it. There’s still time. There’s always still time.

In the alley between bars, a man is walking to his car. He doesn’t like to be out late on nights like this. He’s not a tourist, and despises them. He was only meeting a client for a drink and to sign some papers.

He’s nervous. He wishes he had a cigarette, but his wife made him quit two years ago. That was before she died in childbirth. He still wears the watch she gave him for their last anniversary. It is a little shiny for him, but he keeps his promises.

Instead of smoking, he chews two pieces of Nicorette gum, hoping to calm his nerves. It works, unlike his wife’s childbirth. He knows he probably won’t get mugged. Only the tourists get mugged. Everyone knows tha—

He tries to scream when someone grabs him from behind and throws him against the graffiti-laced brick wall. Two young men stand before him, stronger than he is. He tries to tell the muggers that he’s not a tourist, that he’s a local, that still has a mortgage to pay without his wife’s added income, that he was only out to meet a client. He tries to tell them all those things, but the nicotine gum has lodged itself in his windpipe, and is stuck there.

He drops his briefcase, and it opens. Papers start to spill into the alley. Legal documents that were important enough for him to get signed that night now litter the alley. Some stick to the ground on old pieces of discarded gum.

The muggers step away, one of them almost slipping on a document about seizing assets during a divorce. No one is supposed to die on nights like these. It’s too early in the season for that. One of them tries to leave but is grabbed by the other. They think about getting help, but decide not to. He’s probably a tourist. No one will miss him. While the man is still choking, they take his wallet and the watch his wife gave him. He hasn’t taken it off since he lost his wedding ring. His face is purple now and he tries to ask them for help. He’s not a tourist. Only tourists are sup—

Two alleys over, two cops are talking to an intoxicated man. They are annoyed. They only like dealing with the drunk tourists who come out of the bars around 2 a.m. They don’t like dealing with the alcoholics, especially not this early in the night.

The alcoholic is disoriented. He’s been drinking since 3 p.m. but doesn’t remember why he started. He never does. He had come downtown originally to see his daughter. He told himself he wasn’t going to drink until after that, but something must hav—

 The cops ask him to leave. He’s causing a ruckus and making the town look bad. The children’s bookstore is still open and the parents don’t want their kids to see that. Not today.

The cops are hoping he doesn’t get violent. Violence means more paperwork, and they’re hoping to get out of their shift on time tonight.

The alcoholic is not cooperating. He helped build this town. He helped place the bricks in the walls around them, he helped pave the roads last spring. He did all of that, not the rich people, not the businesses that try to attract touri—

The older cop grabs him and throws the alcoholic against the wall he helped create. The alcoholic has a moment of clarity, and remembers that he never got to talk to his father before he left to get cigarettes. He had been mad because his father hadn’t been around lately, so he tried the silent treatment. He tried too hard, as he never saw his father again. That makes him sad, want another drink. The drinks help. Where is his daugh—

            The cops roll their eyes and bring him over to their car. One of them texts his wife saying he’ll be even later tonight then he had planned. She doesn’t answer right away, as she’s sleeping with another man, in celebration of getting the divorce papers signed ten minutes earlier. 

They walk past a cabbie. She’s sitting in her cab, waiting for someone to call. She knows she won’t get busier until later. She could have stayed in Glens Falls for a couple more hours, but then she would have lost her spot.

Her stomach hurts but she knows it’s not her stomach. The ovarian cyst has become cancerous, and it hurts more than childbirth most days. Her right eye has been hurting too. Perhaps a tumor has grown there as well. She knows she should be home and in bed, but she needs the money. Her daughter needs it.

Every time the door swings open she can see her daughter inside, serving drinks. She wasn’t supposed to be there, wasn’t supposed to be a bartender. The cabbie had known about the internship and had hoped her daughter would take it. She didn’t, though, and now she was here, just like her mother had been twenty years prior. 

A call on the radio gets her attention. It’s a wedding, getting out of the Canfield Casino. She glances one more time at the bar, hoping to be able to see her daughter. She can’t. She drives off.

A sports car parks in her spot. The driver saw that it was only for cabs, but he doesn’t care. He’s happy. His girlfriend finally got the divorce papers signed. He would get bored soon and probably leave her like she’s leaving her husband, but for now he’s happy.

He’s the closest thing this town has to royalty. His father owns most of the suburban housing developments in the surrounding counties. He never did pay much attention in school. It was his father’s rule to never listen to people who were poorer than you. He knew that wasn’t fair, but he wasn’t going to do anything to make it better. He didn’t choose to be born into a rich family. It wasn’t his fault.

A couple of cabs drive by and honk at him. People tell him he’ll get towed, but he doesn’t care. He can just pay for it back. Life is good for him.

He checks his roofie supply and walks into the bar. He likes the bar here. A bartender had once accused a guy of putting a roofie in a girl’s drink, but when the drink was tested, there were no drugs. He had smiled at that, and came here often afterward.

In the alley, a homeless man comes across an unconscious man surrounded by papers. He is well-dressed, might be a tourist. His wallet is gone along with anything noteworthy to steal. The homeless man wishes he still had a phone, though he hasn’t used one in over a decade. He looks around and sees that no one’s around. He wants to help but can’t risk being seen by the police. On most nights they are okay with begging, but today the tourists are angry, and that sets the cops on edge.

He looks around. Seeing the unconscious man reminds him of a time in which he was in need of help and Private Lawson saved his life. It was a long time ago. The last time he talked to the Private was when he had his phone. It was the last time anyone ever talked to Private Lawson before he blew his brains out, blood staining his medals.  

There’s a clinic two blocks away. The homeless man could get to it without going through Broadway. He picks up the man and starts to walk. He still has his strength from the military, along with the nightmares. It isn’t too late yet.

A few minutes later, the bartender comes out for a cigarette. She knows her mother wouldn’t approve, so she smokes at work, and only when her mom’s not around. That’s the only time she even needs to smoke.

She walks over some dirty papers. Some drunk tourist must’ve left their briefcase here.

Fucking tourists, she thinks, lighting a cigarette. She keeps thinking about whether or not she had seen that rich guy roofie that girl’s drink. She isn’t sure. She was sure once but had been wrong.

Her father was supposed to stop by, but probably forgot. She is used to that. Her father forgets a lot of things lately. A tow truck arrives at the front of the alley and starts to take a sports car away.

She takes out her phone and goes to Snapchat. The stories are littered with people partying. She rolls her eyes at them and notices that twenty people have seen her story, but not the person it was meant for.

Two of the people who did are at her house. She hasn’t talked to them in years, and ignores them. They didn’t ignore her story though. They saw her post about being sad to have to go to work and waited till she left. Then their father drove them downtown before his shift started. One of them was nervous, so they walked past the bar she worked at and even saw her mom’s cab. She waved at them and they waved back, before going into an alley. Later, they went to the bartender’s house, knowing it would be empty. They broke in and took her laptop and her mother’s credit cards. They’re still there, wondering what else they should take. One of them puts a watch on from the alley. It’s too large and the metal band pinches his arm hair. He takes it off. 

The bartender sighs and puts her phone away, enjoying her cigarette. She can hear the bar, the laughter. She rolls her eyes at that, but they all do. Everyone hates the tourists. They’re the worst and ruin the lives of the people who live here.

She throws the butt onto the ground. She hears a loud bang, like a car crash. People on the street grow quiet and point. She rolls her eyes at them, thinking that some drunk probably crashed their car. She doesn’t even care if someone has died.

A couple streets over, an accident has happened. It’s between a cab and a tow truck towing a sports car. The cabbie had stopped suddenly when a homeless man had darted into the street holding a well-dressed unconscious man. The tow truck rear-ended them and the shock sent the cabbie’s head into the steering wheel hard enough to crack the top of her skull. Her right eye is dangling out of the socket it no longer fits in. There’s no tumor on the back of it.

            The police arrive. It’s a bad scene, but thankfully the alcoholic is asleep in the back of their car. The older cop takes a moment to call his kids and tells them to go home. They say they will, leaving the bartender’s house, making sure to grab all of the credit cards and bank books. One of them drops the watch they got from the man in the alley earlier. Its face shatters on the ground. He picks it up but leaves the glass. No reason to take it. 

The police find the homeless man as well, but the younger cop is on edge. He thinks his wife is cheating on him. He mistakes the homeless man’s movements and shoots him. The unconscious man falls from his hands and cracks his skull on the pavement. The bartender keeps serving drinks, thinking about what her first novel will be about.

Three dead horses walk through the night, knowing they don’t have to run so fast anymore.

The night flies by and the tourists harm no one.