Fingers trembling, I handed my sketch of a galloping pony to my father, who examined it a few moments, and then threw it into the fire with a flourish.
I watched the sheet of paper float down onto the soft flames without surprise, though with no small amount of remorse, as its life wound itself through my imagination, like a solemn obituary.
First it had been stored at the place where my father worked, which I had never visited but pictured as a silent grey building with floors that were always freshly vacuumed. Then, my father had brought it home in boxes, and I had taken some to my desk by the window in my room. I had spent quite a long time sharpening pencils, winding the handle round and round in grinding circles, and then I had sifted through books until I found a photograph that I particularly liked. The one that I had chosen was of a white pony, running with apparent abandon across a green field flecked in wildflowers and bordered by soaring mountains. The whites of the pony’s eyes were faintly visible, his delicate nostrils flared, clods of dirt flung out behind his sharp hoofbeats. It wasn’t just the scene itself that had inspired me to draw this photo in particular: it was something else. There was something about the small horse, running recklessly through a mountain valley, that had struck something in me.
And then, nearing the end of this sheet of paper’s artistic life: my father catching me lingering over the horse-racing section in the newspaper, and his accusations of continuing my rebellious affair with horses, my forbidden lovers.
“You’ve been doodling about horses again, haven’t you?” he had asked, in a voice that managed to sound gently persuasive and furiously disappointed.
I’d caught my breath, partly in anger at him, partly in the heavy guilt of failing him yet again. Of course, I had been conjuring up “doodlings,” as he so unceremoniously called them. What a disgustingly silly word! It could never come close to describing the way I felt about my writings and notes and lists and drawings. I would have preferred “scholarly,” or “encyclopedic.” But there wasn’t even such a thing as a “doodle,” it was simply an impressionistic word meant to convey something through the absurdity of how it sounded. It sounded like laziness, like scribbles by a bored student during class. Laziness on paper.
Either that, or the sound a rooster made, strutting his self-proclaimed authority across the yard: cock-a-doodle-doo.
I hung my head and nodded mutely.
“Go and get your horse writings then, or whatever it is you’ve done,” my father had commanded airily, suddenly appearing to have lost interest, possessing the power to dole out punishments without investment.
Miserably, I had trudged up the stairs and strategically chosen this particular drawing. I had to bring something downstairs to my father, and I certainly wasn’t about to hand over one of my short stories. Drawings weren’t necessarily easier, but they were more dispensable: they could always be re-done in minutes, whereas the entire business of rewriting lost manuscripts was a heartbreaking affair. Even if you could recall every vital point and all the best lines of a story, abandoning the tale to the dusty gloom of Forgotten Books almost always seemed preferable to having to write the whole thing over.
And so, I took the picture of the running pony to my father, who examined it for a few moments. I felt a sudden spark of hope pound into my heartbeat: did he see how carefully I had outlined the horse’s silhouette? Was he noting the skillful shading of the animal’s muscles, coiled tightly in his shoulders, shiny with sweat? Did he see the hundreds of lines I had had to draw in order to capture the pony’s mane, whipped out behind him as he ran?
I had a gleeful vision of my father, astounded, proclaiming “Well, we can’t throw this one in the fire! This is really good! A masterpiece!” And, since anything he declared to be great was irrevocably so in the house, everyone would agree with him: my sisters and my brother, even my mother would gather round with joyous exclamations of praise. He would hang it on the fridge, where it would eventually grow crumpled, perhaps stained a bit due to the general mess of the kitchen, gloriously, tangibly loved!
But, as you already know, my father did not say any of this, and nor did my drawing ever reach the hallowed real estate of the fridge door.
The pony with his flying mane died there in the flames, shriveling in an instant for the hungry fire. In moments, he was only half a teaspoon of ash dust in the fireplace.
Fly free, I thought in farewell, a bit dramatically. But, I was a child who had been raised on the looming inevitability of heaven and hell, so for such a thought to come to me naturally wasn’t so remarkable.
With the sort of satisfaction that one feels after finding the last piece of a puzzle, I realized what had so appealed to me about the original photograph of the pony.
Ears forward, head up, he was clearly running of his own accord, just because it was what he wanted to do. Galloping forward without a fence in sight–in my imagination I saw the pony, no, I was the pony, running, running, running through the clear mountain air. Free.
On the outside, though, I was still just myself: Ainsley Peyton, age 10, a rebellious sinner who selfishly loved horses and books more than God. And whose drawing had just been burnt up.
On the outside, I didn’t cry or show the slightest disappointment over this event. I looked up at my father steadily, who was watching me closely, as if trying to measure what I would do.
I held his gaze levelly for a moment, and then beamed him a bright smile. “Praise God!” I said.
It was something that I heard adults say at church, that I heard my parents say. It was a hollow, cut-out phrase that I sensed was appropriate at the moment.
My little pony has been burnt up. Praise God.
Jordan Richardson grew up as the oldest of eight homeschooling children. She now lives in Miami, where she reads, writes, makes Thai food, and then reads some more.