Mark slumped in the chair and stared at his toes. His heels tapped the floor.
“I know you are trying to figure out what to say and there isn’t anything you can say. You know he’d tried before and this time, he got it right.”
“Yeah.” Ann breathed. No other words would come. She managed to swallow but only after Luke nudged her hand. Absentmindedly, she massaged his leathery ears. Luke sighed in contentment. She looked up to see gentle Mark, feet bouncing on the floor, eyes unfocused. He’d made the effort to come to her home to tell her the news. She realized how alone he must feel. She wanted to hug him, but even that seemed trite.
“I guess I should ask when and how and all those details that your mind grasps at – but none of it will change anything and I don’t want to put you through telling it again.”
“This is why we love our Ann.” Mark smiled an exhausted smile. “He really adored you. You know that right?”
“I never could figure out why. Why would he, a sophisticated, educated gay guy be so kind to a gallop girl. But I loved it. And now he’s gone.”
“Yeah. He sure is gone. I’m really sorry Ann.”
“I didn’t lose my partner Mark. You did.”
“We both lost someone who loved us. He was fucked up for sure and I knew it couldn’t last but damn, he did love us.”
Ann took a deep breath. “I should have known something was up.”
“Something’s been ‘up’ Ann for years.”
“Yeah, but he showed up here yesterday. I figured he wanted to visit and we were talking and making fun of someone on television and he got talking kind of crazy about not being around to take care of me and things and how I needed to make peace with Mateo and stuff. He never even met Mateo. And I guess I was giving him a lot of shit about every day stuff and he stopped and said the weirdest thing.”
“What did he say?”
“He said; ‘Couldn’t you just say that you would miss me?’ I had no idea what he was talking about and I brushed it off and now I think he wanted me to talk him into staying.”
Mark crossed the room, knelt to the couch and took Ann into his arms.
Roxy Ayers let herself into the house and was surprised to find a stylish man hugging Ann from the floor. She stuttered and tried to excuse herself back out onto the porch.
Ann straightened and wiped her running nose.
“Roxy, get in here. This is my friend Mark.”
Mark rose to his feet, petting Luke along the way and offered to shake Roxy’s hand.
“Any man that hound likes is okay with me. He’s a better judge of people than I will ever be. I’m Roxy.” Roxy placed the bag she was carrying down on the kitchen table.
“What’s in the bag? It sounds heavy?”
“Nothing.” Roxy stammered.
“You bring your crippled friend something and put it on the table where I can’t reach it and say it’s nothing.” Ann sat up, finding cheer in teasing her friend.
“It’s just something I was going to show you, but your friend is here and I’ll show it to you later.”
“My friend here is in need of something interesting to look at. Can we please see it?”
Roxy pulled up a kitchen chair and sat heavily. “You’ve had nothing but bad news lately and I have more that I needed to tell you but I wanted to show you something that might make it easier.”
Ann looked at Mark who shuffled uneasily. She didn’t want him to leave in his fragile state but she also didn’t want to make him sit around and hear gallop girl gossip in his grief.
“Is it about Jude? Is it about Invictus?” Ann asked.
“Invictus?” Mark interrupted.
“Yeah, he was, well is, a racehorse.” Ann said
“His name is really Invictus?” Mark asked
“Well, yeah.” Roxy said.
“Wow.” Mark exhaled and melted into his chair. He blew air out of his cheeks and stared at the ceiling lost in thought.
Ann watched her friend and tried to figure out why the name of a racehorse affected him.
Mark leaned forward abruptly, elbows on his knees. He shook his head several times and with his head down he began to recite from memory.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul. “
Mark finished his recital and stared again at the floor. His body still.
“What the fuck is that about?” Roxy asked.
“Invictus is a poem. A war poem. Written during WW1 by a guy in his 20’s. Nelson Mandela, when he was a prisoner in South Africa, carved the poem into the wall of his cell where he lived for over 20 years. Johnny kept a copy of this poem in his wallet.
“Yeah. Invictus. It’s a hell of a name to hang on a horse.”
Roxy unwrapped the package and placed the moulding gently on the table.
There he was.
In full stride, nostrils flared, giant frame extended. Fierce. His soul – unconquerable.
All three humans and one old dog sat in complete silence. The words of the poem lingered in the air around the clay form on the coffee table.
“It’s beautiful.” Breathed Mark.
“It really is Invictus Roxy. Wow.”
“May I?” Mark asked as he reached toward the figure.
“Yeah.” Said Roxy.
“How long have you been sculpting?” He asked.
“Since forever. I guess.”
“Do you have a foundry you work with?”
“I never got past the clay part. I just do it because I have to. Casting these things takes forever and it costs a lot.”
“I have some friends. I’m going to help you with this.”
“Hey, I just came over to show this to Ann. It is the best thing I’ve ever turned out but I’m just a hack that likes to play with clay. It’s nothing serious. Ok?”
“It’s totally serious. I work with artists for a living. I have to look at what they turn out and this is special. I know nothing about horses but just looking at this makes me feel the power and the determination. Art is about making people feel things and you’ve done just that.”
Instinctively, Roxy reached out to pull the figure back to herself. She felt exposed and nervous. Ann caught her hand gently. “Mark knows what he’s talking about Rox. Sit down and listen for once. I don’t know anything about art, but I know you captured everything about this horse.
“You know who else can help?”
“Julie Ullswater. You know her – right?”
“Julie Fucking Ullswater? Bitch knows how to get to the bottom of a pitcher of margaritas. But that’s about it.” Quipped Roxy
“Actually, Julie is amazing. Her taste is impeccable and she knows every good gallery owner in LA.
“Julie won’t break a fingernail to help anyone.” Snorted Roxy.
“Don’t underestimate Julie. When she gets her teeth into something, she gets results. And you want someone who is a bitchy hard-ass in the art world. And they all owe her favors.” Mark continued to inspect the figure from all angles. “This is really special. Who did you study under?”
“Did I go to art school? Is that what you mean? I didn’t even fucking finish high school. I’m just a gallop girl.”
“A sculptor is what you are my dear. Get used to the title.”
“Look, I just wanted to cheer up Ann. I didn’t ask for any of this and frankly, you are making me nervous.”
“You said you needed to tell me something Rox. What is it?” Ann asked.