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The Horse, the Child, the Fruits of Your Labor

Slumped there in your favorite chair, with your nine drinks lined up on the side table in soldierly array, and your hand never far from them, and your other hand holding on to the plump belly of the overfed child, and perhaps rocking a bit, if the chair is a rocking chair as mine was in those days, then it is true that a tine tendril of contempt—strike that, content—might curl up from the storehouse where the world’s content is kept, and reach into your softened brain and take hold there, persuading you that this, at last, is the fruit of all your labors, which you’d been wondering about in some such terms as, “Where is the fruit?” And so, newly cheered and warmed by this false insight, you reach out with your free hand (the one that is not clutching the nine drinks) and pat the hair of the child, and the child looks up into your face, gauging your mood as it were, and says, “Can I have a horse?”, which is after all a perfectly reasonable request, in some ways, but in other ways is total ruin to that state of six-o’clock equilibrium you have so painfully achieved, because it, the child’s request, is of course absolutely out of the question, and so you say “No!” as forcefully as possible—a bark rather like a bite—in such a way as to put the quietus on this project, having a horse, once and for all, permanently. But, placing yourself in the child’s ragged shoes, which look more like used Brillo pads than shoes now that you regard them closely, you remember that time long ago on the other side of the Great War when you too desired a horse, and so, pulling yourself together, and putting another drink in your mouth (that makes three, I believe), you assume a thoughtful look (indeed, the same grave and thoughtful look you have been wearing all day, to confuse your enemies and armor yourself against the indifference of your friends) and begin to speak to the child softly, gently, cunningly even, explaining that the genus horse prefers the great open voids, where it can roam, and graze, and copulate with other attractive horses, to the confined space of a broken-down brownstone apartment, and that a horse if obtained would not be happy here, in the child’s apartment, and does he, the child, want an unhappy horse, moping and brooding, and lying all over the double bed in the bedroom, and perhaps vomiting at intervals, and maybe even kicking down a wall or two, to express its rage?

—Donald Barthelme, Critique de la Vie Quotidienne, 1972

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