Horse walked into a bar. He was called Horse since he was three years old for his immediate affinity with a particular pony at his father’s hobby farm. When he first ventured into the paddock that housed Tutti-Frutti, the prized pewter Pony of Harry’s Hobby farm, the pony bowed to Horse, instantly suggesting its servitude. Patrons at the time gasped in amazement at the little child who casually stroked Tutti-Frutti’s grey mane before the pony rose and belted out a loud grunt of what could only be constued as satisfaction.
“A pint of Coopers Dazza mate.”
“How are ya Horse me boy?.”
‘The fucking farm’s going under mate. No one wants to play with real animals anymore. A mate told me there’s a fucking computer game that you look after a puppy as it grows into a dog. A fucking computer game!"
Darryl, the publican and captain of Ferntree Gully Football Club looked bemused as well as genuinely concerned for his old friend and forward flank. He set the freshly poured beer before Horse on one of the beer-soaked mats that lined the mahogany bar. Horse drank a third in one gulp.
“I mean it’s just getting so hard mate. Dad hardly leaves the house since the accident, and Fred only comes to work when he’s sober enough to find his car keys.”
‘Oh Fred’s still around is he?"
Judy walked into the bar, and being a Friday was accompanied by the tones of a bag of dollar coins. She played the pokies every Friday without fail, leaving her reserved seat only for the loo, and to eat her braised lamb shanks, which she would consume at the bar.
“How are ya Judes?”, shouted Darryl with indifferent enthusiasm.
“Bloody Hungry Dazza. How long to muster some shanks? And chips?.”
“I can get you chips now. Give me another halfa for the shanks babe.”
“Hook me up – i’ll just pop in a few dollars first.”
Judy was in her early forties, but had resigned to the same schedule for twenty years that she acted like an older lady and could even be misconstrued as a widow from her disinterest in men.
Sitting in the corner of the pub, by the dwindling log fire and jukebox that didn’t play anything newer than Nirvana’s Nevermind album was Jack and Jill. This couple were almost an institution in Ferntree Gully. Childhood sweethearts, they were now married with three young children. Jill’s mother was babysitting while the once passionate lovers enjoyed their fifth bourbon and coke. They were celebrating Jill’s 23rd birthday. Friends would be joining them later in the evening.
“Shay’s got dioarrea again.”
“What ’ave you been feeding her – fucking laxatives?”
“No, same as always. Same as all the kids. Baked beans and a milkshake for lunch, and two-minute noodles for dinner. The others are fine. Just Shay keeps filling her pull-ups every couple of hours. I better take her to the doctor next week”
“She’ll be right. Will she eat all-bran? Or even better, crush crush some Metamucil in her food.”
“Good idea hun.”
Back at the bar, Judy was quickly stuffing heavily salted chips down her throat, lubricating the fried potato’s journey with sips from a tumbler of vodka and raspberry. Horse sat next to her.
“How’s the farm Horse?”
“Dad’s a fucking mess. No-one hardly comes anymore. The grass is so fucking dry, it crunches when the visitors walk around. I can’t afford more animals, and if I could I couldn’t afford the staff to care for them.”
“Sorry Horse”, she said with heartfelt concern.
Horse’s best friend growing up, next to Tutti-Frutti, was his little sister Julie. Five years his junior, she was born one year before their Mum had suffered a heart attack while retrieving the mail from the box on the road, five hundred metres from the house. She had been poisoned by some species of bug that manifest itself over several years in the shit of their three dingoes. The doctors said it was very rare, and they just didn’t know how to treat her. Horse thought this was bullshit, and that they knew his family could not afford the treatment and travel to receive that treatment. It was a moot point. She died. Julie was the most wonderful, adventurous and bubbly little girl. Horse would swing her in circles, always ignoring his ever increasing dizziness until she was ready to stop. She never knew her Mum so was not scarred by her untimely demise.
When Julie was seven years old and Horse was a buff twelve year old, there was an accident that shattered the close knit town of Ferntree Gully, and friend’s of Harry’s Hobby Farm. Julie had been playing with Horse all afternoon. They had fed the dingos, skimmed rocks across the small lake that served as a drinking bowl for the emus and wallabies, and they had even added to Horse’s collection of flattened coins, courtesy of the Belgrave train line (He now had a flat five, ten and twenty cent piece.) It was shortly after five in the afternoon, and they were running around the paddock temtping Tutti-Frutti to join in their chasing. He did, as always. Exhausted, Horse lay down for a rest while Julie kept running about with Tutti-Frutti who kept sounding happy horse sounds. Julie was coming towards where Horse has placed his tired young body, and Horse stuck out his solid young legs blocking the planned path of Julie’s nimble frame. Julie tripped over his legs. After the initial shock, Julie joined Horse in hysterical laughter. Life was good. Julie was climbing all over Horse in an attempt to stick her index finger in his ear. They both knew this was the greatest revenge that anyone could administer Horse. Horse’s ear was a sensitive area ever since he was being annoyed one afternoon by a persistent itch, and had used a finger to fix the issue, only to realise that a now squashed bug was the cause of his annoyance. Horse was moving so that Julie couldn’t reach his ear when Tutti-Frutti began huffing with what seamed like great anxiety. Suddenly Tutti-Frutti picked up little Julie by the pants with his big mouth and teeth and swung her several feet off Horse and onto the ground. He then turned towards her and began to trample her like an elephant, not a pony, is known to do. Horse shouted at the pony and tried to reach Julie but Tutti-Frutti was just too strong for a twelve year old boy, however solid. Julie’s neck was crushed by several blows from an always otherwise adored member of the family. When Harry ran out of the house clutching the shotgun the screams had stopped.
The funeral was three days later. Horse was sitting at the kithen table, sipping coke through a straw. The noise of people combined to create an indistinguishable muffle that ebbed and flowed around his chair.
BANG BANG. Two shots were heard. The muffling stopped. Where was Dad, Horse thought. Briefly.
“Sorry buddy, no more”, Darryl informed the rather drunk and burly fellow that had propped himself at the end of the bar several hours ago. Darryl had recognised him as a player from Belgrave Football Club.
“Come on mate”, was the heavily slurred response.
“Sorry. You better go mate”, replied Darryl.
The man instantly became very aggresive and threw his empty pint glass at Darryl. Darryl sidestepped and the glass hit the mirror behind the bottles of spirits. Horse quickly grabbed the man and began to drag him towards the door. Darryl had swapped sides of the bar and was now helping evict the drunken man. With great force they threw him down onto the dusty ground beside a filthy white Toyota Hilux.
“Stay the fuck out.”
It was only ten minutes later, and Darryl was back behind the bar. Horse had too resumed his earlier position, and Julie was at her favourite machine, waiting on a couple of shanks. Jack and Jill had fed the jukebox another dollar and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was finishing its first refrain.
The pub door swung open. Faces turned to the noise of the heavy thud and looked at the person entering with annoyance and disdain. This shifted to fear. The very drunk man recently evicted was standing in the doorway clutching a semi-automatic rifle. Bang Bang Bang. Jack was dead. Shot in the head. Jill was on the ground, screaming and covered in Jack’s blood. Bang Bang. Judy’s head slammed into a screen of revolving dolphins. Bang Bang Bang. Darryl was hit in the arm twice and his limp body hit the floor. The gunman took two steps forward, and aimed the rifle at Horse. He could hardly see straight, was watching himself from above and could have sworn that the man staring back at him just smiled. Bang.