On Unicorn Farm

The pig mirror had a cracked hoof, but did that disqualify it for the living room? Judy didn’t think so. “Well, maybe I can find a pretty pendent of some kind to glue to the injured foot,” she said. She smiled in the belly of the pig, her large hazel eyes framed with mascara and greenish eye shadow and her purple-tinged lips reassuring her. “I like it—it adds color to what would ordinarily be the kind of room a person would just do their taxes in,” she said to Herbert, the man she had hired to oversee the property she had just been given, and to act as a kind of super in the house. She needed someone there when the plunger wasn’t enough to fix the toilet.

“Actually, to tell you the truth, I’d like a whole collection of mirrored animals with pieces missing,” Judy said, only slightly laughing. “I think I might even mount them on the wall.” Herbert had long since ignored her—Judy got the sense he thought she was crazy and tuned her out as soon as she started talking about anything unrelated to the utility of the house. “What do you think, Herbert? You think that’s a good idea?” Herbert made a face, wrinkling his short nose. He was 10 years younger than Judy—probably no older than his late 20s, but he had the affect of a middle-aged man. “Noooo,” he said melodramatically. “I don’t think that would be the best choice.” Judy laughed and seemed happier with her idea now that it had been rejected. “Yeah, I think I’ll look for some fake jewels, maybe those little things they paste on finger nails and then paste them to the missing parts of the animals.”

The farm, technically speaking, wasn’t a farm. It was a three-bedroom house originally white with black shutters, but which Judy had painted pink with green shutters. Each shutter had a different sea animal carved into it. She had chosen the octopus window frame for her own bedroom. “Don’t worry, Herbert, you and Lily can have the starfish room,” Judy said. “Maybe Lily will start feeling better with more colors and windows with sea creatures and the wind knocking in the middle of the night.”

Herbert smiled sociably and nodded. “I don’t think so. But we’ll see. Dr. Mathis says a change in her routine might be a good idea. Her meds aren’t doing as much as he had thought.” The starfish room wasn’t bad, though Judy wouldn’t have chosen it for herself—the hills on the horizon beyond the sea creature-shuttered windows weren’t visible enough, so all you got was a horizon with nothing to put it into context. Herbert’s wife, Lily, was depressed, and it was one of those depressions that didn’t stem from any life event—she was just sad for no apparent reason. She dragged her slippered feet across the wooden floorboards of the Manhattan apartment she shared with Herbert, too de-energized to pick up her feet, and she often slumped when she walked, like an old lady would. On the streets, it was a different story. She wore fashionable, bright clothes and would only slump when no one she knew was around.

“Well, maybe cooking for all of us and working in the garden will help,” Judy said. “I heard they give people busy work to do in mental hospitals, so maybe my new house is the next best thing—”

“Right,” laughed Herbert. “To a mental institution.” Judy was afraid to live alone in the house she was given by her father. And she didn’t know how to do the most basic of home repair work, so if her old work friend, Herbert, and his depressed wife, Lily, were looking for a change of scenery and needed a cheap place to live, she was willing to give it to them. She made sure she wouldn’t have to share a bathroom with them, and the house was just big enough that she could avoid them if she didn’t feel like looking at them. “Well, I’ve never had my own garden before, and you said Lily knows how to do that stuff and knows how to cook, right?” Herbert nodded and smiled vaguely. “Good enough. She knows how, anyway.”

The next day, Judy found herself in the eye of the broken pig. She had stuck it on the wall and found a faux-jeweled ornament to cover up the missing foot. She wandered around the room laughing at how the pig’s eye followed her, like the eyes in a painting would. “Herbert, are you sure you don’t want the injured pig in your room?” Judy called up the stairs. Herbert wasn’t listening to her through his sweeping and dusting and vacuuming. Evidently he would be housekeeper as part of his low-rent agreement. Judy hadn’t asked him to serve as a housekeeper, but he found her standards of home cleanliness unacceptable. “The pig is yours if you want it. It’s kind of funny looking. Maybe it would make Lily laugh.”

When Judy didn’t hear any response, she trudged up the stairs, each step groaning the way she liked a house’s steps to talk back to the owner. Herbert was in the room he and his wife would share, using a toothbrush to scrub between the tiles in the bathroom just off the bedroom. “I keep seeing brown residue of some kind,” he said.  I like the little spaces between to be plain white.”

Judy rolled her eyes. “Who cares? I don’t have patience for that nonsense. Does Lily care?”

Herbert shook his head and laughed, never pausing in his scrubbing. “Not really. I guess she feels the way you do.” Every few minutes he would hold the toothbrush up to the light to see what new dirt it had picked up. “Well, I don’t think she realizes that she actually does care—she just takes it for granted that everything will be clean.” The light coming in from the window was still strong enough for Judy to look in the mirror and see the beginning of crow’s feet around her eyes and slight wrinkles around her mouth. Nobody else could see it, maybe, but she knew it was there. Lily and Herbert were younger, and she wondered how much they noticed. Did Herbert, inspecting the tiny spaces between the tiles on the floor, notice the creases on his face gaining on him, or the way his mouth was more marked than it was last year? “I think Lily’s probably more interested in keeping up her own looks than worrying about the bathroom tiles,” Judy said.

Judy and Herbert were outside debating which tree would be best to anchor a swing to, and whether it would harm another tree to string lanterns to it, when an SUV rolled up with Lily in the passenger seat. The driver’s seat was taken by a curtain of ironed dark hair streaked with honey-colored highlights. The curtain turned and a slightly beaked nose bobbed up and down.  When the face beneath the curtain turned down to rummage through a large purse, Judy and Herbert could see Lily with her head turned away looking out the window. She had arrived at her destination but seemed to be still in transit in her mind. She was still looking out the window in the immovable way you do when on the highway for a long stretch of time.

Judy hoped she would just stay that way for a few hours to avoid having to make small talk with her. But after about a minute she turned her small, thin neck, brushed back her bobbed dark hair, put her sunglasses on and pushed out of the car. She smiled socially and said goodbye to the hair-as-curtain friend who had given her the ride, but Judy could see it was just one of those forced smiles you do when someone is taking your picture. Lily had a small black overnight bag slung over her shoulder and she was in black Capri pants with a short-sleeved, cream-colored tailored blouse. She had on black, shiny, open-toed dress shoes with light pink-painted toenails. “Hi Judy,” she said thinly smiling. “Thanks again for letting us stay here between apartments. We really appreciate it.”

“Sure, no problem,” Judy said. “Like I told Herbert, I needed someone here in case the toilet broke.” Lily nodded and smiled and then looked away, studying the tree where Judy and Herbert had been debating about the swing. A yard measuring stick was leaning against the trunk and there was a manual for the swing lying in the grass. “That’s where we were thinking of putting a swing. I thought maybe it would be nice to have one of those tree swings in the front yard. What do you think?”

Lily smiled again and nodded. “Sure, I guess. If the tree can hold our weight.” Lily didn’t travel lightly. She had a bird that had died over the last month, but she decided to keep the cage. She had filled it with scarves and tights. It was now an accessories carrier. That was the only sign of whimsy. She had a six-piece Louis Vuitton luggage set that required several trips to move into the house. Judy wasn’t a light traveler either, so she sympathized.

“I like that I’m not the only one around here who isn’t a low-maintenance traveler,” Judy said during one of their trips back and forth to the car to retrieve the luggage. “People are always making fun of me about it.” Lily looked back at her without laughing, seeming to shy away from the two of them being grouped together. “Well, I have a lot of sets of clothes that I like to keep organized together,” she said. Judy pitied her the organized outlook. It was good to make sure all your personal things were kept out of sight, each in a place you could find, but sub-dividing into categories all these items, and then constantly sorting and re-sorting them, seemed like a terrible waste of energy. “Oh, I’m not too organized myself,” said Judy. “I just have lots of stuff.”

The strangeness of the arrangement, with Judy, a single woman, and Herbert and Lily, the married couple, living together was inherent. But the first tangible strange thing Judy noticed was when Lily began unpacking. Lily was, like she described herself, organized. In a special pouch in the suitcase were her silk scarves in a multitude of colors; in another pouch were her beaded necklaces and in another her necklaces with pendants; and in another part of the suitcase her cardigans and then her Capri pants and then her blouses, and so forth until you began to get dizzy watching. And then there was in its own special bag a cuckoo clock from a trip she and Herbert took to Austria a few years earlier.

“That’s fantastic, Lily,” Judy said. She hadn’t thought enough of Lily to think her capable of keeping cuckoos. “Does it work? Is there one of those little birds that comes out every hour co-coo-ing?” Lily smiled with her eyes cast down. “Actually,” she said, “it’s an antique from a great aunt—one of the family who stayed in Austria rather than coming to the US in the 40s. It does work, actually.” Judy looked longingly at the cuckoo clock. “Could we mount it on the wall downstairs, maybe in the living room? I would just love to be reminded of the time by a cuckoo.” Lily nodded and got back to her packing seeming to prefer staring at her socks than at Judy. “It helps to stay on task when you’re reminded of the changing of the hour,” Lily said. “I like to make a list every morning with everything I want to do that day, and then let the cuckoo remind me at the beginning of every hour how I’m doing.”

It was hard to believe this was the same person Herbert said could barely be peeled off the couch. Maybe the cuckoo clock and the agenda of the day was Lily’s psychologist’s advice for getting herself on the move. The cuckoo was central to the house now. Once it was mounted on the wall, it began announcing the hours as early as 6 am, when Lily woke up and went downstairs and set the cuckoo to clucking hourly. They had all agreed the cuckoo should be turned off for sleep. Lily would then begin tending to the herb plants she grew in pots on the windowsill behind the sink in the kitchen—mint, rosemary, thyme and oregano, among others Judy couldn’t identify. She would then begin organizing what Judy and Herbert had thrown here or there. Stray magazines would be compiled and organized by month and then week and then sub-categorized according to content. Lily was the obsessive one about everything having its place and Herbert was the one who checked between every tile and around every window and door frame for dust. Judy preferred to ruminate on the broken pig mirror or wonder whether the tree swing would propel her high enough. As Judy told Herbert, she was glad they were there, anyway, in the event of a broken toilet.

Herbert was the next to rise and he would obsess over eggs for about 20 minutes. He liked to keep not one but two-dozen eggs in the house. Every morning he would conduct an egg inspection, holding each egg up to the light and sniffing each. For what purpose, Judy had no idea. Herbert said he could tell whether at any given point an egg would be at its best in taste by doing this inspection. Judy liked to sneak up behind him while he was bent down, hovering over the egg drawer in the refrigerator. “But how can you tell? And does it matter?” she would ask as he sometimes jumped back. “When an egg is at the point when it’s best to eat, you know it,” he would say. And then the cuckoo would announce the coming of the next hour and he would rush to choose his egg as if he were on a game show and the timer had just buzzed.

“Why don’t you share eggs with your husband?” Judy asked Lily as she sat by the living room’s picture window staring away. Lily usually had instant oatmeal as soon as she woke up and then didn’t eat anything else except a few crackers or a piece of fruit until dinner. She was thin. “It’s too rich for me. I like something light in the morning,” she said. “And I like to eat as soon as I wake up. I don’t want to wait for him to wake up and then go through his whole process of choosing an egg and then wasting time while he figures out what kind of eggs he wants and then another 10 minutes while he decides what he wants with his eggs and then another five minutes while he thinks about what he wants to drink. I’d rather eat, tidy up and then, then, then,” her voice trailed off like she couldn’t remember what should come next. “And then what, Lily?” Judy said. “Oh, I don’t know, whatever I feel like doing that day,” Lily said.

What Lily felt like doing was reorganization. Usually, nothing was thrown out or altered; just rearranged. Everyday, as if doing it for the first time, Lily reorganized all of her belongings. A person unfamiliar with her routine would never guess she did the exact same thing the day before and the day before that. It reminded Judy of a person who looks at the same painting from a different angle everyday hoping to notice something new. Lily’s collection of purses was a special focus. She would go one by one to make sure they were all empty and then she would try to minimize storage space by finding the biggest one and then putting the next biggest one inside and then the next biggest inside that one and so forth. It was as if she were making Russian nesting dolls of the purses. She hadn’t done any shopping since her arrival, so the bags were always the same. Yet every day she re-did this task as if hoping to find that she had been wrong and one of the bags was actually bigger than another or that she could suddenly squeeze two or three bags into one.

Meanwhile Judy had begun a daily project of pasting faux jewels to the missing parts of animal mirrors—like the pig mirror with the missing hoof. Something about seeing herself in the frame of a broken animal was appealing or comforting. She now had a small basket of rhinestones and other costume jewelry to paste onto the missing parts.

And as Judy pasted jewels to animals in disrepair and Lily slid bag into bag to make her possessions as small as possible, Herbert inspected eggs, scrubbed along the cracks between tiles, dusted behind the refrigerator, disinfected the floorboards and policed the coffee table. If he had just polished the table, it was unacceptable to put anything down on it. Judy once made the mistake of thoughtlessly putting her umbrella down and he got up from the couch just to take the umbrella off the table and put it in the designated umbrella bin by the front door. “You’ll ruin the wood,” he said to Judy as he resettled on the sofa with his iPad.

One late afternoon, with the sun glaring eye level through the picture window and Lily staring through winter tree skeletons at an unnamed target in the distance, Judy began mapping out her spring garden. She wanted both a flower garden and fruit and vegetable garden—and wasn’t sure if it was too late—whether a great spring garden is something that needs to be planned in the fall. “What do you think, Lily, is it too late to plan for my spring garden?” she asked as Lily continued to stare out the window. Lily didn’t respond, so Judy just kept talking. “I mean, let’s say I wanted daffodils, crocuses, and then peonies and lilies and lilac and all the berries I like—strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry—”

Lily spun her head around, her dark bob of hair swinging. “Actually, I don’t know much about gardening,” she said. “I don’t know why Herbert told you that.”

Judy laughed. “Yeah, that’s strange. It’s not like I wouldn’t have let you stay here if you didn’t.”

Herbert, who had been playing one of his puzzle games on his phone, butted in suddenly: “What are you talking about? You had about ten herb plants growing on our windowsills in our old place.”

Lily rolled her eyes. “That’s nothing. Anybody can grow mint and things like that on a windowsill. I don’t know anything about the berries Judy is interested in.”

“Well, who cares?” Judy said irritably. “You can just help me with as much as you know.”

It was still bitter winter, so the garden planning was all internal now, behind fogged-up windows and artificial heating. Judy didn’t bother to talk about it out loud now that she knew neither of her housemates could help. The peony bushes were most important and the tulips were pretty important, too. The roses, which Judy guessed would be eaten by beetles, were less important, but she would have liked having at least enough for a bouquet. She wondered if the daffodils would come in naturally with the crocuses at the end of March. And whether this garden she envisioned would look good twined around the small, steel unicorn she purchased at an antique shop in the fall. Judy’s mind was set about wanting a garden surrounding the unicorn. “Do you think there’s anything strange or unpleasant about a unicorn in a garden?” she asked the other two. Lily swung her head around again. “Definitely strange, but not too unpleasant. Maybe there are some religious people who think it’s a sign of the devil, the way they do about things like crystals. Assuming nobody sees it as a devil symbol, I don’t think it would offend anybody.”

The cuckoo clock struck the hour and Lily and Herbert jumped up like puppets with their cords pulled. Herbert began putting all his electronic devices away—phone, tablet, laptop computer—and Lily began straightening the pillows of the picture window couch. Judy continued to reside in the ungrown garden in her mind, preparing to plant, yet uncertain of how and when the flowers would come in, or where the unicorn would go.

The room became vacant before the garden could come fully to mind, and Judy turned to the growing collection of incomplete animals—the mirrored animal art missing paws and hooves, ears, eyes, and, in one case, a fang. The pig she discovered at the antique shop with Herbert was now on the wall in the living room opposite the cuckoo clock. His missing hoof glittered now with rhinestones and faux pearls. When the cuckoo announced the hour and darted in and out of her wooden box, the cuckoo’s reflection was caught and magnified in the pig. An owl mirror, which Judy named Floyd, was next—his beak was chipped. A new beak of faux turquoise was needed. As Judy rummaged through her brown bag of fake jewels, assorted beads and sparkles, the raised voices of Herbert and Lily drifted down to her. “I resent that you don’t believe me,” Lily said. Herbert just laughed and laughed. “Oh, come on!” Judy heard her stomping back and forth in the upstairs hallway. “No, really, it says a lot that even about something like this, you don’t believe me,” Lily said. “Well, where would the horses come from?” Herbert asked. “Why would they be running across this lawn?” There was a long pause and then a creaking of feet toward the top of the stairs. “How am I supposed to know? I just know I saw three white horses running really fast across the front lawn. I don’t know why you won’t believe me,” Lily whined as she came downstairs.

Lily was in a huff once downstairs, pacing from picture window and back along the other side of the room. She moved fast twirling her hair and frowning. She was mumbling to herself. “Well, I believe you,” Judy said. “Sorry—but I couldn’t help overhearing about the horses. I think it’s possible.” Lily stopped and half-smiled. “Thanks—I guess that helps. It’s just so aggravating to always be second guessed about everything.”

Judy held up the owl mirror, Floyd, with his new rhinestone and faux pearl beak. “What do you think? He’s looking good now, isn’t he?” Judy took Floyd to the kitchen sink and began washing him so you could see yourself clearly when you passed by him on the way in or out of the house. She thought Floyd would do well by the front door as the kind of mirror you give yourself a first or last look in after arriving or just before leaving. Lily, meanwhile, had brought her purses within purses downstairs and was taking each out of the one it had been tucked into until a dozen purses were laid out on the sofa. She then began her usual routine of sliding her hand into each to ensure nothing had been forgotten, zipped up and thrown into the closet.  “I could have sworn I left a pendent for a necklace in one of these,” Lily said irritably. “I just can’t find it anywhere.” Judy who had returned to the living room after tacking up Floyd to the entranceway wall, didn’t want to embarrass Lily by stating the obvious—that she searches through her purses compulsively every week, and that Judy knew she was doing it as a compulsion rather than as a search for any keepsake. “Well, I’m sure it will turn up sooner or later—you know how it goes,” Judy said gently.

As Lily consumed herself with the purse inspection, Judy looked through her growing collection of mirrored animals, settling on a cow with a chipped udder as her next project. Throughout the day she worked at covering over the chipped area with saffire-looking jewels and some sort of yellow semi-precious stone she couldn’t identify.

At dinner that night, the theme was silent irritability. There was waiting-for-the-elevator-with-strangers chat interspersed with yearning glances away from the table out the dark window. “Well, I meant to tell you, Herbert, I like the way the sconces ended up looking in my bathroom,” Judy said. “The sea horses are illuminated well.” Lily laughed in a guffawing way and cleared her throat. “What’s wrong?” Judy asked looking shyly at her. “It’s a unique choice of lighting fixtures,” she said, laughing again. “It goes well with your mirror menagerie, I guess,” she said. Judy detected sarcasm, but played dumb. “Yes, well, you know me, I’m nothing if not a sophisticate.”

“What I don’t understand is why you don’t at least get animal mirrors with their parts in tact,” she said. “It’s like you feel sorry for them as if they were real.” Judy thought about it, shuffling her peas on the plate. “Well, if you have an animal mirror that’s old and in a garage sale or at an antique store, there’s a good chance part of it’s going to be chipped because glass breaks so easily, and usually they’re a good bargain—because they’re broken. Actually, until I happened to see the pig mirror, I never knew animal mirrors existed.”

Lily went upstairs immediately after dinner saying she was in the middle of a good book she wanted to get back to, so Herbert and Judy cleared the table and loaded the dishes in the dishwasher. “Why were you goading her earlier about whether or not she really saw horses?” Judy asked. Herbert shut off the water from the kitchen sink and turned to face her. “Lily does this kind of thing all the time. She makes up stories. Like back when we were in the city, she said she used to see a homeless man everyday on her way home from work who used to do magic tricks for her until she gave him money.” Judy laughed and nodded. “I don’t think that’s unbelievable. There are probably a lot of homeless magicians in New York.”

Homeless magicians didn’t seem strange at all to Judy. She added: “Actually, what’s strange to me is if they’re magicians, why don’t they pull an apartment or house out of their hat so they don’t have to live on the street?” She laughed again and turned back to the dishes. Each dish had an animal on it, and with the wear of many years and meals, most of the animals had parts that were fading, though you could still get the idea. You knew you were looking at a pelican with a fading beak or a rabbit with one ear deteriorating or a peacock with nothing but tail feathers left. “Well, anyway,” Herbert said shortly, “she makes stuff up. Parts may be true, but the whole thing lots of times isn’t.” Judy wondered what the problem was—as long as the general idea or point was true, couldn’t she be given some leeway? “So, maybe it wasn’t three white horses running across the lawn, but three deer or a large rabbit,” she said. “Who cares?”

“God is in the details,” Herbert sighed hanging up the dishtowel and walking out of the kitchen. “The devil, you mean,” said Judy. She retreated to her cow with the chipped udder, contemplating the adornment that could conceal the missing edges.

Over the next month, the only intact animal in the house was the cuckoo clock’s cuckoo, who zipped in and out in a sing song announcing the hour. The cuckoo was flawless as Judy labored over a barnyard of mirrored invalids, Herbert checked the cracks in the house for dust and Lily organized and reorganized her belongings and slouched around, often with a disgusted downturn of her lips. She would sometimes mumble to herself: “He’s so dismissive of me, ready to disbelieve me, I’m so sick of this, cleaning this and that and inspecting everything.” Judy would let her go on and rattle to herself thinking maybe it was good for her, like a catharsis. Plus, it was pretty funny. “Yes,” Judy responded one afternoon, “Herbert is an inspector. He’s always pointing things out I never would have noticed. Like the other day—”

Lily was rubbing her hands vigorously with coconut-smelling hand moisturizer and staring again out the picture window. “I know what you’re about to say—that he noticed the dust at the edge of the floorboard. That’s one of his big things—the accumulation of dust and the idea that there are spaces too small for a broom, a mop or one of those little vacuum cleaners to reach. It drives him crazy that there could be dust that’s out of reach, I—Hey, hey, hey, gimme my phone!” Lily said hysterically. “I think I see them again!” She was tapping the window glass and bouncing up and down on the picture window seat. “Did you hear me? Gimme my phone!”

Judy did as she was told and rushed to the window. Sure enough, there were three white horses. This time they weren’t running but nosing around the bushes at the edge of the woods. They were treating the backyard more as a pasture than as a path to stampede through. Lily gingerly opened the window, but as careful as she was, it seemed the horses heard her because just as the window hinges creaked, they sauntered away.

“Don’t worry, Lily,” Judy said. “I’ll let Herbert know I saw them, too. He probably won’t believe it until he sees it himself, but at least he’ll have to call us both crazy now, or say I’m lying.”

Herbert, up a stepladder changing the batteries in the house’s smoke detectors that night, didn’t argue about the presence of the white horses, but, worse yet, didn’t seem to care. Lily at one side of the base of the ladder and Judy at the other, took turns explaining what they saw. “And then they nosed around the bushes. Like they didn’t have anywhere to go,” said Lily. “Yeah, they weren’t running anywhere this time, they were kind of contemplative,” Judy added. “Maybe they would have stayed longer, but the opening of the window must have scared them off,” Lily said. “Yeah, it’s a shame because I was just getting Lily’s phone so she could take a picture when they ran off,” said Judy.

“That’s good to know,” he said in a nearly flat tone. “The account of the rampaging white horses has been substantiated,” he laughed. Lily took a deep breath then and stomped away and Judy laughed back. “Yes, really, no joke, I saw them myself—but more nosing around this time; not really a rampage.”

The next week saw so many mirrored animals tacked to the walls of the house that injured or incomplete animals reflected back toward one another wherever you looked. Outside the bedrooms upstairs a pair of foxes, each with a missing ear filled in with orange beads, kept watch, and as you descended the stairs, monkeys with cracked tails filled in with paisley beads looked back, showing you your face in the descent. Lily would pause in front of the filled-in animals and pat her hair or smile to check that there wasn’t food stuck between her teeth. Sometimes it seemed she couldn’t keep from glancing sidelong at herself, even when perched on the picture seat—her favorite spot—looking longingly at the edge of the woods.

“Coo-coo, coo-coo,” the cuckoo clock said on the hour one late afternoon with the sun in early spring staying longer than they had gotten used to. “All these broken animals,” Lily said to Judy who was reading a book on the couch. “They can’t help but find you—wherever you look—in this house.” Herbert was assembling one of his model airplanes, the pieces spread out on the dining room table. “A lot of reflections,” he grumbled, overhearing Lily.

But the time for reflections had come to an end—or at least the reflections through the window Lily had been looking through since her arrival. The three white horses were nosing around again. Judy ran to get her phone to take a picture this time through the glass, but Lily stopped her. “Don’t! You might accidentally press against the glass and frighten them. I’m going to sneak out the back door and see if I can get a good look at them from the side of the house.” The funny part was neither Judy nor Lily thought to get Herbert. Instead the first thought was to just take a picture of it—as if they knew he would believe a photo more than his own eyes. Documentation was more important to him than experience.

Lily put on her slippers and crept out the backdoor. She was cat-like, you couldn’t hear anything at all—from inside the house, at least. Judy saw her profile and bob of hair at the edge of the house and watched her tiptoe slowly toward the center and edge forward to get a good view of the horses.  She crept and crept ever closer and the horses didn’t seem to care—they were too interested in the exploring the grass near the woods’ edge. But at some point, Lily must have stepped on a twig or tapped a rock because the horses all looked up suddenly and moved back into the woods.

“Wait! Don’t leave!” Lily shouted loud enough that Judy could hear her through the closed window. For a few seconds Lily just stood there agitated, rubbing her hands, but then she moved toward the woods herself.  The sun was going down, but it was still light enough to clearly see what remained visible of the horses—one’s tail, another’s hindquarters, the edge of the third one’s mane. And you could see Lily in her gray, loose fitting yoga pants and sweatshirt and her shearling slippers following about five feet behind them. She crept closer to them and then they receded a little more into the woods. It reminded Judy of a child trying to catch a ball that started at the edge of the water at the beach and was slowly moving out farther and farther away from the shore.

“Hey Lily,” Judy said, finally opening the window. “They’ll probably come back tomorrow, don’t worry about it. They probably live around here and will be coming through a lot now.” Lily looked back at Judy and half-smiled, but moved forward into the woods, pushing branches aside and clucking her tongue. “Herbert, your wife is going after the horses—into the woods,” Judy yelled into the kitchen, where Herbert had been using a scraping device for the last half hour between the tiles. “Maybe you should go get her. She’s not listening to me.”

Herbert didn’t seem too alarmed. He slowly put down his tile grout scraper and walked—didn’t run—out the door to the yard. You could just see Lily’s outline as she moved deeper into the woods. The outline of her body was framed by the skeletons of early spring trees, which still didn’t have buds on them. “Forget about it—they’ll be back,” he shouted.

Judy saw Herbert place a hand on Lily’s shoulder, but then retreat. He walked back to the house shaking his head. “I think she just has to satisfy her curiosity. Let’s just leave her alone and see what happens.” They waited by the window seat, Judy repairing the missing claw of a mirrored raccoon and Herbert polishing an antique candlestick Judy just bought. About an hour went by and they didn’t see Lily. Then there was a rustling of leaves, and one by one, the white horses emerged from the woods. They again didn’t seem like they were in a hurry and began nosing around. Herbert and Judy looked at each other with wide eyes. “Oh, so I guess Lily must have been following them,” Judy said. “She probably isn’t far behind.”

The horses were in no hurry, especially with Herbert and Judy staying inside and just watching from afar. One of them looked like he (or she?) had some kind of glitter just above his eyes, on his forehead. Maybe decorative bridal with glitter that had smeared off onto his head. “It looks like he had something there on his head that’s gone now but left a mark—or rubbed off somehow,” Judy said, pointing it out to Herbert. “Should we go out there and look for her?” Herbert didn’t answer, but instead tapped the glass and laughed. “Just wanted to see if they would notice that and run back into the woods. I’ve never liked horses.” Judy laughed and pushed his hand away from the window. “Don’t do that, I’ll go myself. I love horses.”

Like Lily, Judy also was in slippers. She crept out, tiptoeing until she was close enough to see the mottling on the skin of one of the horses. “I love you horsies,” she said softly wanting to pet and brush them. Judy almost forgot her mission. “Hey, Lily,” she said loud enough that she hoped her housemate could hear, but not loud enough to frighten the horses. “They’re out here now. There’s no point staying in the woods anymore.”

Judy heard a rustling of leaves—possibly—but no sign of Lily. She wondered if she should joke about how Lily should come back to the house because she wouldn’t want to miss her weekly purse assessment, but decided Lily probably wouldn’t find it funny. Judy crept closer to the edge of the woods and peered in and raised her voice louder this time: “Lily, are you in there? The horses are out here now, in the open, in the front yard. There’s no point staying out there anymore.”

There was leave crunching and twig-moving sounds and Lily emerged, her bobbed hair only slightly mussed up and her slippers slightly dark with soil at the edges. She was breathless. “The thing is,” she said,” catching her wind, “the thing is, I think there could be more. You know that? I think there could be more.” Judy stifled her laugh. “What do you mean, you saw or heard other horses in the woods?” Lily shook her head, hair sticking to her lips. “No, no, I just mean, just because I couldn’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there. These horses here could just be missing from a larger herd.”

Judy extended an arm out to Lily, as if wanting to help a person with a leg injury walk. “Well, if there is a larger herd out there, we’ll probably see it sooner or later, without looking for it, don’t you think?” Lily moved back toward the edge of the woods and turned her back. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I just worry if I don’t keep watch—I just worry—I don’t want to miss anything. I keep thinking the others will come back for these three in the yard, and I’ll miss it. I’m just going to keep watch here.” She folded her arms and stood staring into the woods, her back to the house.

Judy shrugged her shoulders and walked back inside. Herbert would have to convince his wife there were no more horses coming—at least not tonight. Judy, meanwhile, looked for her next damaged animal mirror to repair—a duck, a goat, maybe a reptile this time. Or a wolf? What beads or jewels could mask a missing fang? Judy saw her reflection in the completed animal mirrors around her, just broken up here and there by the opaque spots where she decorated over missing parts. She could even see Lily in some of the animals, still at the edge of the woods with her back turned, only part of her cut off by a missing hoof.


Lily’s Poetry Journal


Garden in a Bathtub


White porcelain clawed


Gardens inside

Where a shriveled end-of-day

Person might lie

Petunias grew

Cleaning in late summer.

Sun Canvas, Sun on Horse

Bright orange

Brushes water

Colors lapping

White canvas

Setting in the horse’s eyes

Galloping down

Her mane

Tracking a tub-entombed


Late Day Walker

Plastic-sheen sky

Cornered the walker’s trail

Rabbits burrowing, deer foraging

The moon


Stars dimmed out

The walker persisted

To a lit wrap-around


Moon on a Foggy Night

Oozing from the moon

Fog or mist

Smeared gauze.

Tracking across the sky

We didn’t bother

the sleeping


padding across the porch


our elongated light.

Spying on Aliens

Spying on aliens

Was the goal

Of our new telescope;

Seeing aliens

In private deliberations

Cooking dinner

Playing games

Of cards.

We could never get

Close enough

Or zoom in enough

But we’re optimistic

People like us

Are alive

On planets beyond

Our galaxy.




Strung across living

Room, picture window

lake, dock,

Swans, ducks

And frogs

Weaved into the blue


Swim out

The daydreamer

Peering, couched

Bleeding Blue

Bleeding blue

Caved purple iridescent

Plants drowned

Fish hooked

Lines down

Sank in

Striped companions

Moths in a Lamp

Light inverted

Wings singed

The upward-bound

Spiraled down


Gardener’s a Witch

The gardener

We were suspicious

Was a witch;

Plants he seized

Danced around

Offered himself

A magician

Of cold cures.

Winter here

He watches the woods


at abandoned birds’ nests

Inviting Paw Prints

Paw prints on our porch

We kept,

Waxing until


A record

Of the stray animals

We invited

Grandfather Clock-Jewelry Dispenser

Grandfather clock became jewelry dispenser,

Stuffing left over


Into the clock


A diamond or rhinestone

Rolling out the bottom

The luck of the chime

Self-Portrait as an Owl

Eyes sliced sharp

To a talon

The last gulp

Before midnight

The mirrored inspection

Just looked like myself

With glasses on

On the wrong side of the window


The key dangled

On a horseshoe

A horse roamed


While a key chain

Handily was tacked

To a wall.

The key opened

A door removed

The horse since

Moved on, too

With no shoe

Happy to be

Tromping along

Her feet


Dying at the Pool’s Edge

Dying at the pool’s


The frog seemed


Rearranged from his swamp

He nosed

Chemically enhanced


Hoping for the smear

Of algae

Or a passing


A sign of

Under current


Fish at least—

But he saw clear

Voided water

Silk Flower?

Dark pink


At the core

The flower

Was real


The bees buzzed

Around it

The dog sniffed

Its outer bands

And nothing moved


Or fell off

The darker edges

Always just seemed

About to fly away

Daffodil in Broken Fence

Our fence has a hole

A daffodil grows between

Bugle-heading herself

In the accidental


Attempted Mummy

I asked

To mummify


And you acted

Like it was


To ask.

I unspooled

White gauze


And started

At your feet

You asleep

But woken up

When I touched

Your eyes.

I’d have mummified


Right on the property

Given you

Your own sarcophagus

But you remain


Burying Watches

On a whim

I buried an old watch—


A watch collection.

I ensured

At least some

Were still ticking

Buried alive.

The hour hand

Kept steady

Minutes crept


A face submerged

In dirt

Struck noon

High-Up Church

Stepping up

On slippery moss

The monument

Was an aged church,

The tram


You had to

Toe it

Up the edge

Of greasy rocks

To kneel

At the altar

Swooning Swan


The swan

Fawned over

The stone swan

Linking stone

And feather


The real and


Swans, linked

Were a distant



You couldn’t tell


Which was stone

And which just swooned

Snow Blind

I wanted to pull snow


Our windows.

Coating the ground

The view still

Wasn’t obscured

So I wanted to make

The white

A black eye shade.

I shoveled careless

Of keeping

The snow in a tidy

Pile on the ground

And slammed

Our house’s


Funny Nectar

Humming into

The nook

Of a flower’s stamen

The hummingbird

Made concentric

Tightening circles

Apart from her


She was brought

As a pet to the farm

So she searched

For nectar

Finding it tasted funny

A Rocking Horse in Fall

A rocking horse

Pink with green

Polka dots

Idled in the fall

Grass, the dead


Fall leaves

Impeded the rocking



I just lilted

The wooden

Animal by the ears

Crunching dried out


In mid-rotation


Hot Air Balloon Ornament

Setting the toy

Balloon on the ground

The model

A hot air balloon

Was too small

And lacking

To take flight—

So became

A lawn ornament

Birds and rodents

Perched on


In the ground

Remaining terrestrial

The children

Pulling it to play

One-Eyed Lion

The lion

Had an eye

Chipped off

But I kept

Rubbing its back,

A known amulet.

The next-door


Kept razing

Trees in favor

Of a diminished view

The lion

Stared one-eyed

At the reduced


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