Horse | Sandra Newman | Granta


Sandra Newman

Throughout my childhood I desperately wanted a horse, but my parents said we couldn’t afford one. Awkwardly for them, when I was twelve my friend Emily, whose mother was on welfare, got a horse. It was a rescue horse, but a horse.

The day we first got drunk at thirteen, Emily and I took this horse, Rebel, for a walk. We’d both thrown up many times and were too fucked up to think about riding. The horse also had a heart condition. I can’t remember if this factored into our decision. I know we three were all frail, walking slowly through the neighborhood, the horse saying nothing while we two humans talked about our shame.

In addition to the horse, Emily’s family had two dogs, two cats, a raccoon, a descented skunk and innumerable guinea pigs who escaped and now lived and reproduced in the walls of her house like mice. The house was a real log cabin, built as a summer house on the bank of a pond. Her parents were divorced and her father lived in a trailer a few doors down. Once she brought me to his trailer while he was away to show me his stash of pornographic novels. I remember two sentences from the most shocking novel, Pre-teen Sex Club. The first sentence was, ‘Jean’s cunt itched.’ A few pages later, when Jean is pretending to be asleep while her pre-teen son has sex with her, the son thinks to himself: ‘Oh Mother, you are a no-good filthy slut.’

Emily’s older brother, David, had severe developmental disabilities. He never learned to speak or dress himself. He was a big guy and it got hard to keep him at home as he developed a teenaged emotional life. On occasion, he violently defended himself against the people helping him. It was already clear he was headed for a home; he would die in one at twenty-eight. There is no good solution for some problems.

I was at the house once when this brother was riding the horse around the paddock while masturbating. From outside the fence his mother kept patiently, vainly asking him to stop. The horse walked round and round. The boy masturbated happily in his safe perch.


Artwork © David Jiménez

Sandra Newman

Sandra Newman is the author of four previous novels; The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done, (shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award), Cake, The Country of Ice Cream Star (longlisted for the Bailey's Prize for Women's Literature) and The Heavens. She co-authored the hugely successful How Not to Write a Novel with Howard Mittelmark. She has also written The Western Lit Survival Kit, Read This Next, and a memoir, Changeling. She lives in New York.

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