Monday, August 20, 2012

Ghostly One

        Her hair hung to her waist, dirty blonde in color, broken ends in need of a trim. Late in her pregnancy, her belly was large. A faded denim bag hung from her left shoulder, and she shifted from one sandaled foot to the other as she attempted to hold a bottle of water and take a bite of salad.
“Hey, my husband and I have a table right over there,” Kim pointed across the crowded corridor. “There’s an empty chair. Please, join us.”
“I don’t want to intrude,” the younger one said.
“You’re not. We’re just formulating our strategy. Come on,” Kim said, and made her way through the crowd.
Kim motioned to an empty chair as she moved to sit in the other one.
“I’m Kim and this is my husband Craig.”
“Thanks,” the girl said. She sat her salad and water on the table, dropped her bag to the floor, and then plopped onto the vacant white chair. “I’m Megan.”
“Nice to meet you, Megan,” Kim said, and nodded her head in the direction of her belly. “When’s your baby due?”
“In three weeks.”
“I’m a registered nurse. I work with newborns. Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?” Kim asked.
“It’s a girl. Christy.” Megan smiled.
“That’s a pretty name. Is this your first?”
“Yeah, we’re pretty excited.”
As Megan picked at her salad, Kim and Craig discussed the upcoming races and the horses that would be running.
“I can’t believe we’re already down after only three races,” Kim said. “And, there are a lot of races left to run.”
“We just need to bet smart, obviously smarter than we’ve bet so far,” said Craig.
“This is probably Grandma’s doing. She always said I’d burn in hell if I squandered money on cards or horses,” Kim said, and laughed.
“Tom Harrison’s running a horse in ten. He only runs them if they’re ready,” said Megan.
“Harrison? Is he an owner or trainer?” Kim asked.
“He’s the owner and trainer, and he only runs them if they’re ready.”
“Where’s he out of?” Kim asked.
“Ocala. He’s my boyfriend. We worked on the same horse farm, and he now owns a few horses.”
 Kim had noticed calluses on Megan’s hands earlier. She had also noted her inexpensive dress and shoes. It was obvious Megan did not have money to burn.
Megan stood. “I have to go, but thanks for letting me join you.”
“Thanks for the tip,” Kim said, and smiled at her. “Congrats on the baby girl, and I hope your delivery goes well.”
“Thanks.” Her back to them, she moved toward the throng. Kim was about to look back at the program, when Megan stopped and turned. She looked Kim in the eyes and said, “He only runs them if they’re ready.” Then, she disappeared into a maze of people.
“That was weird,” said Kim. “Do you think this all happened for a reason?”
“Maybe,” Craig said. He scanned the program for race ten.
“Let’s put all the remaining monies on his horse to win. What do we have left, twenty dollars?”
“Yeah. Here he is, Harrison, horse number ten in race ten, Ghostly One.”
“Cool name. Ten, not such a cool starting gate. Well, hopefully Megan’s right and he can run.”
“Oh my gosh, the odds are thirty to one. We may have just blown our last twenty bucks.” Kim shook her head and laughed.
“There’s always an ATM,” Craig said.
“No ATM’s.”
Across the track, the bell chimed and the gates opened with a clang. The thoroughbreds lunged forward.
“And, they’re off,” the announcer said.
Kim and Craig stood. Binoculars in hand, they both tried to spot the horse that wore number ten.
“There he is, midway back, third from the outside,” Craig said.
Twelve horses thundered around the dirt track.
“Come on Ghostly One,” Kim said under her breath. She held the black magnified lenses to her eyes. As the horses rounded the bend, she saw he was beginning to move forward, and she said a little louder, “Come on Ghostly One, come on.”
When they neared the stands, she lowered the glasses and began to shout, “Come on ten, come on.” He had moved to the third spot and began to pass the second horse.
“Come on, baby,” Craig yelled.
Ghostly One soon dueled with the lead horse. While they cheered him on, he pulled ahead and crossed the finish in the number one spot.
“Alright,” Kim shouted. She turned to Craig and her upraised palm met his.
“Yeah, baby,” Craig said.
They looked toward the field, and waited for the results on the tote to confirm the final three finishers. Number three appeared next to the word SHOW, followed by number five next to PLACE. The space next to WIN remained blank.
“Why’s it taking so long?” Kim asked. She held her sunglasses in her right hand and tapped them against her skirt. After a minute, she sighed. She swept her hand through her hair, and then placed the glasses on top of her head.
Craig sat silent in a chair. His elbows rested on his knees and he rocked to and fro. Like Kim, he stared at the large board.
When ten flashed on the tote, Craig stood and raised both arms in the air.
“Hot damn.”
“Oh my gosh, the odds are still thirty to one,” Kim said. “Holy cow, do you know what that means?”
“Yeah, I know what that means.” Craig swept Kim into a hug. “We just won over six hundred dollars.”
“When we get home, I’m going to look up Harrison’s address. I want to thank Megan, and send her a baby gift,” Kim said.
The final and thirteenth race was due to start in twenty minutes. Kim licked the side of a vanilla ice cream cone while Craig perused the horse, trainer, and jockey stats.
“The morning line picks are five-one-four-seven,” Craig said.
“Four just got scratched.” Kim pointed to the screen. “Which horse has the highest odds?”
“Wild Fox, number eight, twenty to one.”
“Let’s buy one trifecta with horses five-one-seven, and two to win, horses five and eight. Maybe we’ll get lucky again,” Kim said.
“Sounds good,” Craig said, and he headed to the teller window.
Kim tossed the remaining cone, and then began to flip through the program. Craig had just returned to his seat when her eye caught the photo of the young couple that stood next to a horse and jockey.
“Oh my gosh, that’s Megan in this picture. It must have been taken recently because she is very pregnant.”
Craig eyed the black and white. “What’s the caption say?”
“Holy crap.” Kim looked around and then leaned toward Craig. With a lowered voice she said, “It says they died on this very date in 1993.”
“What? That can’t be right. Are you sure that’s Megan?”
“Yeah, listen to this. ‘Tom Harrison, his fiancĂ©e Megan Williams, their unborn daughter, and the horse Ghostly One were all killed in a vehicle accident when returning to their farm in Ocala. Ghostly One had just won the Stakes Classic that very afternoon at thirty to one odds. Tom was an up and coming owner and trainer that was known for only running horses when they were ready.’ How sad.”
“Sweet mother, no way. Let me see.”
Kim handed Craig the program. “How can this be?”
He read the caption, and then flipped to race ten. “Get this, in race ten, horse number ten is Sir Prancelot, the owner is Chris Thomas, and the trainer is Ron Allen. What the hell?” Craig asked.
“When we put our monies on that horse, the program said Ghostly One, not Sir Prancelot. And, how did we chat with her if she’s been dead for six years?” Kim asked.
The thirteenth race had started, spectators screamed around them, and they sat in their seats, stared at the image, and tried to comprehend what had happened.
After the race, the fans exited the stands. Kim and Craig gathered their things.
“I have to go to the bathroom before we leave,” Kim said.
“Okay.” He took the small backpack from her. “I’m going to grab us a coffee.”
By the time Kim approached Craig, the crowds had thinned. He picked up the pack, handed her a coffee, and they made their way toward the doors. Something caught Kim’s eye and she looked to the left. Megan stood next to the wall, her hands rubbed her large abdomen, and she smiled. Kim nudged Craig, “Look. There’s Megan.”
Kim smiled, waved a few fingers at her, and mouthed, ‘Thank you.’ Megan disappeared.
For five years, Craig and Kim returned to the track on the first Saturday in May. For four years they looked for Megan, and they were disappointed.
On May first 2004, while thousands awaited the running of the Kentucky Derby, they made their annual jaunt to Tampa. That day Megan joined them for lunch, told them her boyfriend was running a horse in race ten, and that he only ran them if they were ready. Kim thanked her for the tip.
That afternoon, Craig placed one thousand dollars on horse number ten, Ghostly One. When he crossed the finish line ahead of the others, the thirty to one odds paid them more than thirty thousand dollars.
“Do you think we’ll see her today?” Kim asked. “She hasn’t been here for the past five years. Maybe she’s not coming back anymore.”
“Yeah, but we didn’t see her for years after the first time. It wasn’t until the first Saturday in May fell on the first that she showed up again. And, today is May first.”
Kim and Craig sat at the table near the deli and anxiously surveyed the crowds. Kim spotted the younger pregnant woman and ran toward her. She once again insisted Megan join them.
Kim now had a young daughter of her own and carried a second. Her heart went out to this spirit that would never get to hold her baby girl. Megan shared that Harrison would be running Ghostly One in race ten. Again, they thanked her for the tip and wished her well.
When he stood at the window, Craig’s mouth was dry. Kim stood next to him. She bit at her lower lip and twirled her pony tail with her free hand.
“Tampa, race 10, thirty thousand dollars to win on horse number ten,” Craig said.
The teller repeated back his order.
“Yes, that’s correct,” Craig said, and Kim nodded.
The ticket was printed. Both reviewed it, and then went to take a seat.
“How can the odds still be thirty to one?” Kim asked. “That large of a wager should have lowered the odds considerably.”
“Yeah, well a horse that died seventeen years ago shouldn’t be running, but he is."
Craig grasped the ticket securely in his hand, afraid to let it out of his sight. When the announcer signaled the start of the race, neither stood. Both sat silent, their hands clasped. The heel of Craig’s shoes tapped up and down on the cement. Kim held her breath.
At the end of the race, Craig was the first to look at the tote. When ten appeared next to WIN, he put his arm around Kim and said, “He won, we won.”
“Oh, my God.” Tears flooded her face.
Both were silent as they waited in line at the IRS window to collect their earnings. Their winnings that day totaled more than nine hundred thousand.
They waved to Megan on their way out. “You know, I’ve looked it up. The first Saturday in May won’t fall on the first again until 2020,” Craig said.
“Do you think she’ll still be here?”
“I don’t know, but we will. I wonder what your grandma would think of you betting the horses now?”

Monday, August 13, 2012

She held an umbrella...

What drew me were the colors, the vibrant yellow, orange, and purple on the umbrella. On that spring afternoon, that umbrella with those intense pigments shouted to me from across the park. I nudged my husband, and half walked, half ran past other displays to the tent that held that piece, fearing someone would beat me to it.
I smiled at the man, the presumed artist that stood beside the tent. I hurried past him to stand in front of the canvas. An elegant, slender African woman carried a young boy on her back. Her soft eyes held hope. The boy's told a different story. My gaze shifted back to the woman.
She held the umbrella in her hands and I knew it shielded them from the scorching sun, rather than rain. I wanted to touch her face, her full lips, the cover the vivid oils formed over her head.
There were elements in the image I disliked. I looked around the tent, at his other works. This was not his best piece, but for some reason I couldn't stop staring at the woman's beautiful face, her eyes, the umbrella.
I wanted this work of art. Wanted to hang it in our tiny apartment. Wanted to come home each day and have her greet me.
My husband chatted with the man, the artist. Overhearing portions of the conversation, I realized they shared a distant past. They talked about guitars, music, of long ago late night sessions.
When I approached, my husband said, "He's one of the most gifted guitarists you'll ever meet. I had the privilege of jamming with him when we were younger."
I smiled and said, "I love your paintings."
This was one of his first art shows and he had no prints available, he was selling original pieces and even I knew the prices were low. He seemed eager to make a sale. But, money was tight. Jay and I talked and I finally agreed to make the purchase I hungered for.
When we walked away, Jay said, "PoPimp was the best guitarist I ever knew. I think he could have made a living playing guitar, but the drugs took over. I was surprised to see him here. He probably hasn't been out of prison long."
"PoPimp? Prison? For what, drugs?"
"No, murder. He killed a man one night. I think it was his dealer. It's good to see him. He looks good."
Over the next few years, his artistic talent was getting mention, he was often winning best of show. I knew he was now selling prints, and I planned to obtain more of his work.
Then, nothing. We looked for him at area shows, searched for him in the press. It seemed he had vanished.
In time we discovered he was once again confined within prison walls. He was paroled a few years later, after being diagnosed with liver cancer. John would spend his final months at home with his family.
Like the woman and her umbrella, his half century was often filled with brilliance, hope. And, like the little boy's sad eyes depicted, his life was often overcome with overwhelming hopelessness.
His piece still hangs in our living room. A daily reminder to let hope prevail.
John W. Butler

May your soul be filled with peace.