Sara didn’t have much to give. She had lost her husband, her job and then her home in the span of six months. After she was shamefully evicted from her home of 28 years all she was left with was what she could fit in a pair of bedraggled trunks in the back of her 1983 Volkswagen beetle. Sara Anderson, a woman of 62 with hair the color of the snow that was rapidly pummeling the city, took to the streets with a heart brimming with emotion and bones weighed down with creeping age.
Her beetle was a powerful comfort as she bent beneath her tribulations. The heater hummed happily despite the large piece of duct tape that was the only barrier between it and the ground, and the seats didn’t cause her rheumatism to flare up most of the time. She kept gas in her tank through a combination of selling crochet scarves and mittens to the underprepared pedestrians of New York and collecting recyclables for a nearby plant. She didn’t panhandle, beg, or steal, and very rarely borrowed, and never anything she knew she couldn’t return. Life was anything but a splendor, but she had her health, and she had the Good Lord, and so she greeted each day with a smile and curled up in her backseat each night with the hope that tomorrow would be better.
“Hewwo? Popcown am su cowd. Hab wastest babbeh. Pwease wet in?” Sara groggily rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Like most homeless, Sara was apathetic towards fluffies. They were simply animals trying to squeak by in the world, albeit a bit more stupid and encroaching. However, unlike the stray cats and dogs that had some semblance of population control, fluffies were obsessed with their foals and continued to breed, even in the barren winter.
Sara’s main quarrel with fluffies was their shamelessly needy nature. They begged relentlessly and often incorporated manipulation tactics in the form of their hungry mates or babbehs. Sara knew their strategies well, having lived alongside the creatures for almost two years.
That didn’t mean she was completely heartless, however. For example, the young stallion knocking on the door was a fluffy she had known from foalhood and considered a close, if not strange, friend.
“Popcorn? Is that you? I haven’t seen you for months!” The rusted door of the Beetle creaked open. A pale yellow stallion struggled in, a foal settled on the favored spot between his shoulder blades. He removed the babbeh from his back and shook the melting snowflakes from his fur.
“Am nice an’ wawm fo’ babbeh. Fankyoo, Sawa.” The thin fluffy struggled to lift himself into the back seat. Sara locked her hands beneath his matted arms and placed him on a nearby crochet project.
“Where have you been? You just disappeared one day.” Popcorn cuddled his foal close to the warm fluff of his belly.
“Popcown find speshaw fwiend an’ hab wots of babbehs. Bu’ wed babbeh am wastest babbeh.” He offered simply. Plump tears swelled in his orange eyes. Sara questioned him no more. She draped a nearby blanket around his small shoulders.
“You’re welcome here as long as you like.”
The fluffy smiled sadly as the red foal attempted to climb his fur, “Wub Daddeh…”
When death is approaching, dogs and cats seek solitude. Birds cease their songs and turn their beaks to the earth. Rats, gerbils, and hamsters curl up into tight balls in their nests, burying beneath the sawdust or amongst their cache of food. Fluffy ponies, so very much like humans, surround themselves with the ones they love. And the only human that Popcorn had ever loved was the gentle old woman that protected his family through foalhood. He felt the creeping sickness settling in his lungs too soon after the birth of his foals, and as if drawn from his body by happiness, the poison seeped from his body and into the fragile immune systems of those around him. One by one he watched his babbehs, and finally his special friend, curl up into hacking, bloody balls and never unwind. The disease, as if fueled by the suffering souls Popcorn had inadvertently offered to it, skulked back into his lungs and slowly spread, tightening his throat, clenching his stomach, clinging to his limbs like infected molasses each step he took towards the last place he had seen Sara. His last babbeh, a red unicorn colt that was the spitting image of his Mummah, weathered each contorting cough and bout of diarrhea until, finally, the sickness was purged from his small body. Popcorn was amazed, and prayed incessantly to the Sky Daddeh to please, please let him complete his mission before he himself succumbed.
Sara’s blue Volkswagen was a welcome sight to the weary stallion. As selfish as it was, he knew he could be rid of the broken shell of his body and finally rest. So he knocked, and climbed wearily into the car. He made sure his son was warm, healthy, and well-fed. He journeyed twenty three miles across the city to bring his last living descendent to the only human he had ever trusted, and blissfully, blessedly, he was allowed to close his eyes for the final time.
When Sara awoke, she wasn’t very surprised to find that Popcorn had died. She could see the raw heartbreak in his eyes, and could hear the soggy rattle of his breath as he struggled to inhale around the flood of mucus in his lungs. She was elderly, but she wasn’t blind to the ribs jutting from beneath his fur or the way he continued to shiver even as she layered him in blankets. Yes, she fully expected Popcorn to pass on in the night, so she made him as comfortable as possible and allowed him to curl close to her legs as he slipped away into oblivion.
Miraculously, the unicorn foal was untouched, except for a bottom matted and caked with the remains of diarrhea. Having previously been a mother herself, Sara could see the yellow tinge to the foal’s eyes and the drowsy yet stiff movements of his joints and know that he was still recovering, albeit quickly. So Sara, against her better judgement, and knowing that she had a hard enough time taking care of herself, took in Popcorn’s orphan son. She named him Russet, his red fur splattered with brown flecks of dirt and feces reminding her of the small potatoes her husband once grew.
Sara buried Popcorn in a shallow grave at the foot of a weak cedar tree. Russet, having suffered the deaths of two parents and three siblings, sobbed inconsolably in Sara’s arms. Sara held him, just as all her church friends had held her after her falling out with her only daughter. She knew a hug did little to warm those that writhed beneath the blows dealt by the icy hand of death, but it was all she could give. And Russet, having no one left to lose and nowhere else to turn, accepted the clumsy comforts of the old woman.
The winter passed.
Russet was beginning to grow into his legs nicely. He often stumbled around the abandoned parking lot, tripping over sturdy tuffs of grass and playing games only he understood, as he tried to adjust to the suddenly too-tall legs puberty had given him. He was amazed by every little thing around him, whether it be the slime trail left by a snail, the symmetry of a flower, or even the clumps of dirt that stuck to his hooves as he attempted to dig holes in the ground. Sara watched the carefree stallion from her perch on the hood of the Beetle, her hands working a piece of pink yarn into a soft baby blanket.
Sara never really knew what disease it was that had taken Russet’s family from him, but whatever it had been had buried its numbing claws in Russet’s brain and never fully released him. Sara, having encountered multiple fluffy ponies throughout her stint in homelessness, knew that the creatures weren’t endowed with the intelligence many animals were. Russet, however, pushed those limits far beyond the boundaries of general cluelessness and innocence. Russet was, to put it as Sara’s Mississippian mother would have, “dumb enough to throw himself on the ground and miss”.
What Russet lacked in brains he easily made up for in his dedication. The unicorn, although he knew it was impossible in some small, barely functioning corner of his logical brain, fully believed that Sara was his birth mother. So the red stallion, trapped in a state of permanent quasi-foalhood, never wandered far from his strange, bipedal Mummah. He showered her with gifts that he felt were worthy of her, such as his favorite orange leaves and twigs with exactly three branches, and she accepted them all with a smile and a grateful back scratching. Russet knew he had the very best Mummah in the world, even if she couldn’t run fast to play games with him or even comprehend the point of their playtime. But he loved to see her smile, and did whatever he could to bring the light tinkle of her laughter forth into the scraggly parking lot that served as their home.
He especially loved the odd job of “modeling” his Mummah gave him. He wasn’t quite sure exactly what “modeling” was, or why Mummah’s friends seemed to love it so much when he did it, but Russet did anything for her. Each Saturday Mummah would squeeze his fuzzy head into a cap, or his chest into a vest, or his hooves into booties. She would then bring him into the loud city, where he would “model”. Little children loved it when he “modelled”, and he often got warm huggies and bestest scratchies from their sticky hands. Mummah would then talk with a big human about something called “money”. Sometimes the big human would ask Russet to spin around, or to pose a certain way, and he would always oblige. Sometimes the big human would smile too, and that would make Russet’s heart soar with pride. Most of the time the big human would then give Mummah “money”, and Russet would have to give up his nice scarf, or his comfy sweater, or his tight headband, but Mummah would always tell him he did a “good job”, and she always had such a big smile. Russet never had the spirit to tell her that it gave him little heart hurties each time she took away his “modeling” toys. Her smile was always worth more to him.
One day, as Russet was following a bug that looked vaguely like what his programing told him was sketties as it squirmed across the dirt, Mummah scooped him into a hug. He yapped in fear, but once he saw the grin plastered across her wrinkled face, all his terror was forgotten.
“Heawt happies?!” He slurred. Sara laughed and pulled him close to her shoulder.
“We’ve done it, Russet! Thanks to you I’ve finally broke $2,000!”
“Yay!” Russet clomped his hooves together in uncomprehending happiness.
“We can finally afford a place of our own! And we can launch our own line of fluffy crochet clothing!”
“Yes! So much modeling you won’t be able to stand it anymore!”
Sara found a pathetic excuse for an apartment shoved into the dingiest alleyway in city, and she was never more grateful in her life. At a $300 a month price tag, she could afford to house, feed, and provide for herself and Russet, all while building up handmade stock for her budding business. Once he was within the apartment, Sara crocheted Russet an orange collar. It complimented his fur nicely, and Russet, although unsure of what the new “modeling” around his neck meant, was happy to finally have something no big human could take away. The collar was fully his, and he had never felt so blessed by his strange Mummah.
Russet spent most of his time in the seedy backyard. It was smaller than the Beetle he had come to know as home, but that didn’t stop his simple mind from finding hours of amusement. He discovered a small species of bug that, when prodded, would curl itself into a ball. He would push these makeshift balls around with his muzzle, laughing riotously when they would unfurl and embrace his snout with tiny huggies. He also enjoyed following a trundling species of bug as it climbed tall hills and, raising its thin arms in the air, crawled in. There were usually too many of them for the stallion to keep up with, and after one gave him huwtie huggies, he only observed them from a distance. Russet was displeased to note that the plants that grew in this yard were much less tasty than those that had grown in the parking lot, but he couldn’t ever tell his Mummah. It might make her smile go away, and he could never do that.
Mummah did smile a lot, Russet was pleased to note. She spent a lot of time making things for Russet’s “modeling”. Russet loved to watch her make the sweaters and hats and sometimes skirts that he would later get to wear, he was amazed at how she could make one long piece of fuzzy sketti into a “modeling”. Sometimes while Mummah did her strange work she would sing. The songs were usually something different each time, and Russet was enthralled with how many Mummah songs his Mummah could remember. He truly did have the very best Mummah in the world.
Sara was quickly approaching 65, however. Her hands began to cramp and freeze as she crocheted, and she often found herself forgetting her patterns, or even why she entered a room. Sometimes the fat, red unicorn would trundle through the living room and Sara would jump in surprise. Her mind was beginning to slip, dates and times and dreams all crowding together and muddling one another out in a blend of confusion.
So maybe it was for the best when she, like the yellow fluffy stallion before her, went in her sleep. She didn’t have any time for fear, or agony, or sadness. She was here one minute and gone the next, her soul whispering out of the curtain with the gentle coaxing of a new breeze. Russet found her, of course, and after his ministrations and begging for upsies went unheeded for upwards of three hours, he finally understood that the forever sleepies had taken her. And so he plopped on his rump, shook his yellow mane away from his eyes, and screamed.
The police couldn’t get much from the fluffy. When asked about the deceased, he would merely blabber about modeling and Mummah, about crochet and about ants, about an ancient Volkswagen and the way dirt stuck to his hooves. He was positively useless, and the head officer had trouble understanding why the old woman had kept such an idiotic creature around. He blamed it on senility and a creeping case of Alzheimer’s, and the case book was closed with an incorrigible snap.
Sara, having no accessible relatives or savings account, was begrudgingly buried by the state. She was laid to rest in a government sanctioned plot, trapped in a pine box and buried in the first thrift-store dress that would fit. The only attendees to her meager funeral was a charitable pastor, a woman she had attended church with over a decade ago that had happened to see her obituary in the paper, and a rust red unicorn fluffy pony that sobbed in great, gagging gasps the entire service. As the sun huddled against the jutting concrete mountains of the city, Russet suckled his hooves. He buried them in the freshly-turned earth of his Mummah’s grave and burrowed down, caring not for the squirming sketti bugs that he misplaced. He dug until his hooves bled, until the dirt rose over his chin, until the wan moon hung in the sky as if suspended by a sickly string. He sobbed into the night and he dug, thick tracks of muddy snot dribbling down his cheeks and matting his chest fur. He dug until he didn’t know how, or why, or even for who he was digging, that the only thing to do was to dig, that by digging deep enough he could burrow into his very self and remove this horrible thing that throbbed and festered deep, deep within his dirty chest.
Surely this wasn’t, could not be, the very same heart that had fixated on his Mummah’s smile? This heart, that loved “modeling” for strangers, that loved rolling bugs and squirming bugs and even the mean biting bugs that also dug? Maybe they dug to escape their problems too? No, it couldn’t be, it couldn’t be the heart that pounded after a playful run with his Mummah, the heart that slowed when he curled up beside her for a nap, the heart that skipped when she surprised him with upsies or the heart that bled so warm when she held him when he hurt. This was a different heart, a mean heart, a heart that existed only to hurt, that had never known the love Russet had known. How could it? How could a heart so full of love become so empty?
Dig. Dig. Dig. Dig. Dig.
Dig until the heart shudders.
Dig until it breaks.