Nick Francis Potter

I have a good friend named Winifred, but I won’t use that as an excuse. No, I don’t have a problem with that. If you want a horse’s name, have a horse’s name. I’m not named Winifred, that’s not my name. But Winifred, yes, she is named that way and she has that excuse, I suppose, if she needs it. And she may, that’s not my place. She is who she is. A part of that is Winifred sees things differently through her glasses, I can tell. Dimly, hazy. That is, she wears these glasses she wears and it’s obvious she doesn’t like to see, or—excuse me—she doesn’t have good vision. I do my part to do what I can to know someone, Winifred in particular, and so I have it in me to have glasses that are Winifred-glasses, or glasses that make an experience of how Winifred sees things. What I figured out is that looking through Winifred’s glasses, or using her eyes to look through her glasses (I’ve done my research), is like looking through a sheet of vellum paper. To get to understand this better, I walk around one day holding a sheet of vellum paper in front of my face. It helps me understand my good friend named Winifred and how she gets where she’s going, which is a miracle. Try walking around holding a sheet of vellum in front of your face, I tell you. Winifred-glasses. But once I understand this fact, that my good friend Winifred walks this way, as if in a sea of vellum, her large glasses, I lay on the sidewalk a few paces in front of her—perpendicular, not crossways. She falls on top of me because she can’t see through her glasses and she says, My goodness, a horse. I find this funny because Winifred’s a horse’s name and I’m not a horse, but Winifred, aside from falling on top of me and thinking I’m a horse, or saying so, she has a meadow of horses behind her tall house that’s a grey house. You would think a witch lived in the house if you’ve ever been to Salem, because in Salem they try to convince you about witches, and they work pretty hard to get a hysteria going, but I wasn’t buying it when I was there. Though anyways, since she calls me a horse, or because she says, My, what a horse you are, and fumbles around with my blouse there on the ground—we are both on the sidewalk—I don’t tell her it’s me. I simply neigh at her and she says, Shondra?, which I think is one of the names of one of her horses. I know this because I often stand behind her while she is in her meadow of horses and she has one out there she’s named Shondra, and then four others with the names Madeline, Hefner, Bimmers, and Cynthia—five horses in all. When I neigh again, she says, Shondra, what are you doing lying on the sidewalk?, and we both get up, but I get up on my hands and knees because I don’t want to give myself away. It’s then Winifred, my good friend, she climbs onto my back and she says, We might as well head home, and it takes two hours for me to crawl to the bus stop with her riding me and then I neigh-talk Winifred onto the bus. When I follow the bus on foot, jogging, keeping an eye on Winifred, the bus stops not too far from where it was when I neigh-talked Winifred onto it a couple blocks behind me, and she gets out. We are pretty close to my apartment, so I gather her up and into my apartment using my Shondra disguise of walking on my hands and knees, because Winifred is obviously confused. And there she is, I have her in my apartment. (I can’t say I haven’t always wanted Winifred in my apartment. I just can’t say that.) When we are in my apartment I use the bathroom to wash my hands and knees, which I’ve scraped and bloodied along the sidewalks while under the weight of my good friend Winifred, who, despite her horse’s name, is fairly petite (though I’ve never carried someone on my back before, petite or otherwise). Winifred sits on my couch for a while just staring forward pleasantly and we kind of look at each other—her through her glasses and me through my vellum paper. Eventually I tell her, Winifred, it’s nice to have you over but I want to use the television, and she tells me that it’s been a while and have I seen Shondra around?, and I say no while I’m escorting her out of my building, because it’s getting late and Winifred should know better, I don’t care how old she is.

I don’t use the vellum paper anymore, or at least I don’t use it to try and see what is happening on the television, because when I look into Winifred’s windows I can’t see a television anywhere and there is no need for me to see what it’s like to be my good friend Winifred watching television when she doesn’t own a television set. That’s common sense. When I’m over at her house I look out to her meadow and I can see Bimmer eating grass and I realize that horses are smaller and hairier than I thought because he’s right up close to the horse fence. I know Winifred won’t mind, because of our close relationship, so I open up the horse fence and I see what I can do with this horse she has, Bimmer, since the other horses are a ways off in the meadow and I can take to Bimmer one-on-one, which is my specialty. I feel disappointed by the fact that Bimmer is willing to bite my hair and drag me a few feet before screaming something, which when a horse screams they call it whinnying, from the research I’ve done. I’m disappointed because I feel like it’s a cliché to have your hair bitten by a horse and I don’t even bother to stop in and say hi to my friend Winifred who I came to see if she had a television for sure because I’m feeling deflated and my hair has been one of my best qualities, I’ve always thought, but that didn’t stop Bimmer. And so it is. I go home and watch a television show about a horse who is also a painter, to relieve the tension I feel about Bimmer and horses, and that not all horses fit within a box of horse traits the way Bimmer is trying to convince me about horses.

It becomes easy for me to have Winifred invited as a tagalong guest to things when I explain that Winifred isn’t a horse. My friends, for example, they invite me to dinner and I ask them if my friend named Winifred can come and they ask me to describe her and I tell them to imagine her in a small red coat and with glasses, and when they think about it, they know that there are no coats that are made big enough for a horse to fit in them, and then they consider, even if a coat was made big enough for a horse, how difficult it would be to get the horse’s hooves and legs into the sleeves and they can easily see that Winifred is not a horse. I also tell them about Winifred’s glasses and how she can’t see well and that, for her, seeing is like looking through a sheet of vellum paper and I bring over sheets of vellum paper so they can understand her better. These details seem to convince them that there is no way that Winifred is a horse. Though, when at last I say, She is not a horse, that makes it conclusive, and things proceed. I know because when we have the dinner, Winifred’s there. She’s easy to recognize. At dinner I can tell that Winifred likes eating meat because when she has the meat in her mouth she takes a long time eating it and chews a lot because she is savoring it and I watch her chew and chew, which is easy to do without feeling self-conscious because for Winifred, seeing me across the table is like seeing a blob of human-shaped color. I’m not even sitting across from Winifred, I’m sitting next to her, so that even makes me even more inconspicuous to Winifred when I’m watching her chew her meat. I realize, however, while watching my friend Winifred jawing at her meat, that my friends who invited me and told me that I could bring Winifred are looking at me looking at Winifred and they are screwing up their faces and making silent, confused gestures with their heads and eyes. They are looking back and forth between me and Winifred in a way that seems equivalent to saying something like, You know, Winifred is not the only one who deserves to be watched chewing meat, or, more likely, Why are you watching Winifred eat her meat?

I didn’t know how hard it was or how long it would take to kill a horse until I had to kill Winifred’s horses in order to keep her in supply of meat. I’ve done the research, and around here it’s not easy to find grass-fed meat. But I knew how much she loved meat after dinner, I knew it, and I was worried about whether or not she would have enough, or the possibility that she didn’t get enough, which would explain her eating all the meat at dinner. I haven’t yet talked to my friends about having my friend Winifred over for dinner, because after she’d finished eating the meat I thought it was best to get her home and I excused the both of us, so I can’t say what the impression was. I am prepared to tell them, however, that it’s difficult to make small talk when you’re eating meat and that’s probably why Winifred didn’t talk as much as they might have wanted her to, and how did they like her dress? I mention the dress, or I plan to, because it was light purple and I think it’s a good diversion, because I’m not interested in sticking up for Winifred when she can do it herself, and the dinner seemed undercooked, the way Winifred had to chew at it. When they get back to me, or I see them, we’ll talk, but I thought it more important to get Winifred the meat she needs, I can tell, and so, as I said, I had to kill the horses. And so far as that goes, I’m not shy about saying that horses’ necks don’t break easily and if you want to break the neck of a horse, make sure you have enough rope and some stamina, and that the tree branch you’re using, or trunk, whatever you’ve got for leverage, is set near you once you’ve cinched the neck-knot. I didn’t do this and the first horse was just dragging the rope around the field. It ended up that the old well behind Winifred’s house that is falling apart, the loose bricks from the well, those can be used to wear the head of a horse down enough that you can stop it and make use of it if you’re friend’s in need of meat. Winifred. And not only the head, I should specify, that’s just where you need to direct your aim. And even then, I didn’t know how long it was or how hard it would be to kill all the horses, and I found that even after I had used every loose brick, I had to reuse the bricks in order to get the effect I was going for: a fixed heap of horsemeat. I should say that, after things started going the way I wanted, or getting there, I’d only downed one horse, not all of them. I love horses. And while I’m not sure if that’s enough meat to keep Winifred happy, I think it will keep her fed for at least a week. And a royal week of horsemeat is enough. She’s getting up there agewise. No need to waste the horses, even for a friend. Though now I have to figure out what to do about butchering, since that is something I’m new to as well. The other horses are whinnying from across the meadow, looking in this direction, and I wonder what it means to be a horse and to have a horse roommate be horsemeat food, because all animals are food. The horse is just doing its job, and maybe they think of it that way.

Horses are heavy, you can’t pull them, even with a rope tied around their neck. What you have to do is chop into them and get your pieces, your horse steak, and just wrap it up in tinfoil right there. Hunks of horse in tinfoil. Which I’m glad I brought the tinfoil with me, because if not then what? And I’m surprised at how many horse steaks you’ll get out of a horse, when you use every part and I fill up Winifred’s refrigerator and have enough for my refrigerator, even if I don’t eat much meat myself. I haven’t had anyone over to my apartment to look in my refrigerator because I don’t want to have tinfoils full of horsemeat falling out and having to explain what they are. Doing what butchers do, butchering, is heavy too. The work, that is. Your arms get really tired after a while and so you need a break, and I’m pretty much over dealing in tinfoil and horse pieces all day, and there are quite a few flies around the horse, which horse I think is Hefner, but I can’t tell because all horses look like horses. I just use one of the five names that Winifred’s been using and vary them whenever I’m looking at a new horse. Of course, now I will only use four names to call the horses in the meadow who they are. They are who they are, and I think, why confuse myself with names, they all look like Winifreds to me anyway, and so now I call them Winifred, regardless of who they are, because horses don’t really have names anyway. Really, it’s just too much work to full-butcher the horse so I end up leaving it in the field. I’m not worried, Winifred can feed herself. It was a worthwhile idea, but I’m not a butcher.

I re-watch the horse painter paint from the television show I recorded. The horse clutches the handle of the brush with confidence you know means the horse knows it’s an artist. There is a dead horse in the middle of the field behind Winifred’s witch house, out there with the four other Winifred horses, and I can still hear them, though only in my mind, whinnying and stomping about all jittery. And tinfoil. I call my friends to have me over for dinner, but they are busy, and they wonder why I didn’t get back to them sooner: We had you for dinner over a week ago and we haven’t heard from you since. Well, Winifred, I tell them, but I’m not sure if the answer is sufficient, or if they can parse the meaning: that one of Winifred’s horses is dead out behind her house less a few tinfoils of horsemeat and plus some flies, but that’s all, that’s when I quit. For a couple of weeks after my friends are acting weird over the phone and I haven’t been checking up on my good friend Winifred, I watch the video I recorded of the horse with a paintbrush clutched in its teeth. I rewatch it whenever I don’t know what to do, and I don’t leave my house, so I watch and watch, and I sit really close-up to the television to see if I can tell that the horse is actually an artist, or if it’s all fake, what the horse is doing—just some dog trick. The horse seems serious though. Or at least I can’t tell from how close I am to the television, and how close the horse is to the camera, whether or not the horse is faking it. The horse paints a canvas of blue lake over and over again and I don’t think about Winifred—Hefner—or the other Winifreds out in the field behind Winifred’s witch house. I don’t think about Winifred proper, with her glasses, and her distaste for seeing things and operating like a normal person my age. She’s older, so she has her excuses, she has a horse’s name, but what else can be said of her? That she likes meat? Like that is enough to sustain a friendship? It gets arm-tiring being a pro bono butcher, and hot.

It’s a couple weeks, as I’ve said, and I think I can see it in the horse painter. I’m close enough to the television that it looks like the horse is the real thing, a real horse artist. I do some research and I decided to make amends with Winifred, for not getting her enough meat. And her horses, the four remaining Winifreds. I research making horse-talk and decide to teach them how to be artists themselves, and to make more of themselves than the food people will claim of them. I make it out to the house when the sun is out, so Winifred can see the blob of me that she sees, through her glasses. The grey house seems darker in the sunlight, I always think, and in Salem they would really love the way Winifred’s house looked, to get their hysteria going. I bring the television with me and the recording of the horse painter, because I think Winifred might appreciate it, since she keeps horses. Through the windows, however, it seems that everything of Winifred’s has been covered in linens. Like the furniture and other items are traditional ghosts, draped white, though without the eyeholes. I can see that it seems like Winifred might not be there anymore. I knock and knock on the windows and the door, but nothing happens. She must be lost, considering how Winifred can’t see very well, and I imagine her walking around in one of the upper rooms of the house, walking into the ghost furniture on accident, knocking things over, because she has a problem with navigation. It doesn’t matter, though. I’m figuring, even if we’ve been good friends, our friendship has become strained. Or, if not strained, I should move and give myself distance from horse-named women, whether or not that can be used as an excuse. As a result I am out in the field behind Winfred’s house, and the horses, who I’ve known well—they’ve always been there—are gone. I walk the field looking for Hefner—in death, now, I say his name—but he too is gone. It’s easy to see they are gone, but I walk the field regardless, because you never know if you might find a paintbrush, or something else. It’s not as important as it seems, but Winifred and I were good friends, though you should be careful with friends, if they have a horse’s name, and keep horses, because there is something there, in how meat is consumed and what foods are artists, that has me wondering about going back to college and finishing up, maybe taking some horse-talking classes.

When I break into Winifred’s abandoned house a week later than that, a man asks me, Excuse me there, ma’am, just what is it you think you’re doing? The man wears hair on his face like he wants me to know that he’s that kind of animal. I roll my eyes at him and say, Well, Winifred of course, hoping this amounts to an answer. He bristles, though. What do you know of our Winifred? I just walk on by, peeking under the linens at the couches and chairs, trying to find the ones that I thought might look good in my apartment. The man is following me and I don’t look at him but it’s obvious he has a look on his face like, Just what do you think you’re doing? I tell him, You look like her, you know, which is something I assume, because he’s probably her grandson. He says that he looks nothing like her and why am I here, I don’t belong here, I need to get out. I walk up the stairs and he stays standing in the entryway, arms folded. Get back down here, he says, like he’s the authority on where I should be. Right when I’ve found the lamp I’m looking for, he’s finally come upstairs and he says, Now, this is my great grand-aunt’s house, you hear? I need you to leave here immediately or I’ll have the police escort you. I’m holding the lamp. I knew you looked like her, didn’t I? He tells me, no, he doesn’t, probably because Winifred is homely and has horse teeth. He must know this. And give me that lamp! Later, when I’ve subdued him and the police are on their way, we are sitting on the porch and his name is Douglas. Douglas tells me that Winifred is none of my concern now, and that for all intents and purposes it’s God that is the one to be having concerns. I say to him, That’s too bad, seeing as how she was so, and I don’t finish what because I can’t figure out what it is exactly. What happened to the horses, I ask. What horses? Over there in the field, my good friend Winifred had some horses. She wasn’t your friend, look at you. She was old and she didn’t know here from there, so just cut that shit right now. They were Alpacas. I don’t know what he means. And one of them got one of those diseases where you run your head into the bricks and Great Aunt Winifred, she was always one to use every part of everything, never waste nothing, and they think she took the animal and made meals out of it and didn’t cook the meals, or she didn’t microwave them long enough, and now she is where she is, and we all in the family, well, we know where she is now. It’s where she’s always been headed. Oh you bet, I say. After we fall in love the police never arrive, but I tell Douglas that I had left the tape of the horse painter under Winifred’s pillow up in her room and I tell him I’m not interested in a relationship right now, because it’s just not good timing, but he doesn’t seem bothered and isn’t looking at me much, so I tell him I’m sorry to hear about the…he says alpacas and I say alpacas, and then I tell him that Winifred was a good friend of mine, I promise, and that maybe someday we should work on getting to heaven together, but he’s already closed the door. Walking home I think about what Winifred might be doing with that al-pac-a up in heaven and if that means anything for me as an artist, if I work hard enough, and I take the rest of the week to figure whether an al-pac-a can have a name like Madeline, Hefner, Bimmers, Cynthia, or Shondra—Winifred even.

Photo by Michael Gallagher

Photo by Michael Gallagher

Nick Francis Potter is the author of New Animals, forthcoming from Subito Press.