Tang looked around the dark. cluttered studio apartment of Vesta Clotilde. “No cat?”
She shook her head. “Feral cats move on.” She plugged in her electric kettle and got out two mugs.
Tang sat. “I’ve been thinking about the difference between feral cats and feral horses. Cats are solitary animals and are more likely to attach to place, they say, though this one didn’t seem to.”
“Every animal has its own personality. One can generalize about a species but it won’t always be true for the individuals.”
“Yes. Nevertheless a feral horse will seek other feral horses and try to be part of a group, a herd. Even if it is a male horse and the stud of the herd drives it off, it will try to join a peer herd of bachelor horses or maybe become a satellite that follows the main herd at a distance.”
“Are your feral boys horses or cats? Do they want to be solitary or in groups?” She offered the canister of teabags to Tang.
“Mostly they would like to be in groups, I think, which urban law enforcement people know. Boys run in the night streets like bands of horses.”
“Yes, I’ve heard them go by. Even though they don’t wear metal shoes, their sneakers thud on the pavement, especially when there are many. More silent than that are the ones on bicycles, but I hear them as well. Swishing.”
“There’s another difference.” Tang arranged his teabag so the string dangled its tag to suit him.
“What’s that difference?” She put the shortbread Tang had made on a blue and white plate.
“Cats are predators. Horses are prey.”
“So predators hunt alone, at least cats do. Horses group up to lessen the danger for any one animal. Both have great big eyes.” The kettle was steaming. Vesta poured. There was a moment of silence while they watched the tea steeping in their mugs and nibbled on shortbread.
“I’m named for my dynasty, you know. Tang Dynasty, the greatest in China.”
“I did NOT know!” She was genuinely surprised though, of course, she’d always known he wasn’t named for the orange drink.
“My people come from the great steppes of the China west, horse country. We were great riders and sometimes prowled in bandit gangs. You can see them in Chinese movies today. Very romantic.”
“Ah. My own family has a branch that was in the American West on the prairie where we knew mustangs, not such different horses from Mongol ponies. My grandfather used to tell me a story when I had a temper tantrum. It was about a horse that bucked all the time. One day the herd was in a place where there had been a forest fire and there were many fallen old dead trees, silvered and broken. This little horse jumped over a deadfall and its belly was ripped open by a sharp staub that stuck up. It began to buck because of the pain and its back foot got caught in a loop of intestine. It just bucked harder and basically tore its own guts out. The smell of the blood convinced the rest of the herd that there had been an attack and they galloped off, leaving this defiant and violent little horse to die in the tall grass. When I was so angry, my grandfather would say, “Don’t buck your guts out.”
“It’s a violent story -- like the American West!” Tang was smiling, but serious.
Vesta turned away. “Someone asked me once what it was like to ride a good horse. I told them it was like having wings, like having one’s powers magnified greatly, like being connected to something magnificently powerful. And a little like sex.”
“A horse does go between one’s legs.”
“They say for many girls it is the first lover. Probably for boys as well. I was so impressed by ‘Equus.’” They were quiet, each with memories of Equus. Then Vesta asked, “Do you think that for a boy with a man who is very close and loving -- I don’t mean a sexual lover -- is like a rider with a horse? Maybe the man is a father, or a teacher, or a mentor -- well, I guess one can’t exclude a gay lover if the boy is gay.”
“I hadn’t thought about it. I suppose it depends on the man, whether he’s a predator, whether the boy is prey.”
“What would be the safeguards against that?” Both thought and sipped, then brushed off crumbs from their fronts, and looked at each other.
Vesta said, “Genuine intimacy, meaning protection of the inner uniqueness of the other person. The grown man also making himself accessible to the younger one.”
Tang said, “No separation from the peer group, no isolation, no alienation from the proper pursuits of a boy, which are often sought in a group, like sports.”
“What about no violence?”
“I think it is situational. Provoking a little horse into bucking his guts out would be violent.”
“What if it were the man who bucked out his guts? Tore himself apart?”
“Is that possible?”
“Oh, yes. Boys are resourceful. They can find pulse points and threads of vulnerability in the strongest and most wary of adults. Especially boys who have been abused and have acquired sensitivity that way, as well as accumulating the motivation. In fact, I think some don’t learn compassion and forgiveness until they are adults, if then. ”
“What is the equivalent to a bridle with a bit, reins, a saddle? All meant to control a horse.”
“I think the law is those restraints. Social opinion. Maybe the church if it would stop being a horse’s ass.”
“And as long as I’m being fanciful, what about a centaur?”
“This is against tradition, but I think a boy who does not grow up remains half-horse, if not half-goat or maybe a half-goat is an old man!”
“An old goat! How do you account for Chiron, the teaching centaur?”
“An exception. At some cost to himself, since he devotes himself to the young but has no partner of his own who is like him.”
“And Pegasus? A horse with wings?”
“Ah. That is an artist, a poet, a dancer. There are no limits, there is no thought, there is only transcendence.”
Both laughed with delight. Then sobered. “What good is this kind of thinking?” asked Vesta.
“Maybe it’s a source of courage.”