"I'm not living; I'm existing," said Mike. He had hit his thumb with a hammer and didn't feel it. He
was trying to drive a nail into the wall of the Tack Room to display yet another of his deceased wife's winner's circle photos.
He dropped the hammer; cupped his hands against the wall, palms facing him; and put his face in them. For what
seemed to be the nine millionth time, the tears were flowing--not from the hammer's blow, but from the deep, excruciating
burning which seemed to flow up from the deepest recesses of his soul into his bones. The rest of his body was numb;
his mind, in a constant state of confusion.
Aside from the hum of the refrigerator, the only sound in the house anymore was that of his crying, with the
faint drumming of the ocean waves below the house for background. He couldn't bear to turn on the TV
or radio. Someone would inevitably be talking about Brin.
Brin. Absolute fearlessness packed into five feet three inches of woman. This room in which he wept
was dedicated to her. Over his right shoulder were the photos showing the end of her life--and his reaction to it.
That filthy scumbag of a jockey, George Welles, had never been able to take 'no' for an answer to his interest in her. Enter
that lower-than-lowest-plant-life-on-Earth electrician George Ramsey, who had led a double life as a hitman, and. . .
Mike slid down to his heels. Ramsey was such an abomination to the human race that he wasn't worthy of another
thought. So being a hitman required no conscience? Mike couldn't fathom how the man could've had a wife and family.
He certainly didn't deserve one.
Perhaps Mike was thinking that out of spite. Welles and Ramsey had deprived him of his own spouse and
progeny. Thank God the autopsy reassured him that another life had not been taken along with hers.
He looked up at the photo of him at the scene--"The Wail Heard 'Round the World" as it had been dubbed by the media.
He had shots of "Wail" from every possible angle. This particular version was from under the rail. Brin's lifeless
body was the white line in the foreground; he was on his knees; head back with eyes closed and mouth open; one hand
over his heart; the other, held up as if to balance himself.
He'd had a difficult time dealing with the publicity. It was, in short, humiliating; 'The Wail' in particular.
The only item in the room that bothered him now was the Southland Derby's chart from the newspaper. At the bottom
of the list was:
Despite the fact that Ersatz seemed to know something was amiss and turned on the afterburners, so to say, and won the
race by himself. The horse was off to the left in the photo used for the Stanley Family's video.
Mike surveyed the room. From the door on his left were, in succession: a reproduction jockey's locker which contained
her riding clothes with the crop tube atop the locker. Her boots were under it on the floor. Next were
three stair-stepped saddle racks which had the large weight saddle on the bottom; and the trophy case, the most important
contents being, of course, those of the Triple Crown. The shelf behind him and under the only window in the room held
her tape player and cassette collection.
The wall facing him started behind the door with her photos of her first years of racing. Most of them showed her
as a groom holding the horse in the winner's circle. The wall made a sharp turn toward him, and he had mounted her own
winner's circle photos from the Kentucky circuit there. Next came those after she moved her tack to California; then
the Triple Crown. He couldn't understand why he'd left such a large gap between those photos and the ones from the next
three years, which continued past the next bend in the wall.
He cried harder as he mourned the memory of their all-too-brief life together. He tried to hang onto the good times
they'd had, but the grief was far too overwhelming. Brin had always said that everything happened for a reason, but
he was completely in the dark about this.
The phone rang. Since he had finally run a telephone line to the alcove, he answered it there. The caller
said the track had eight large sacks of mail for him. Perhaps that's where all the support he'd hoped
for from the public had been. The van would be to his house in a few minutes.
Mike called Hank and requested his assistance with the coming task. His former captain and the track's van arrived almost
simultaneously. When all was said and done, Mike had received a few thousand cards and letters; a letter of condolence
from President Jimmy Carter; a thousand dollars in donations; and a new photo to add to the collection.
The black-and-white photo showed Brin dressed in white riding pants, t-shirt, and leggings, laying down on the couch
in the women jockey's quarters, her back to the camera. Her boots were off, and sat at the side of the couch.
Brin had her feet propped up on . . .something at the far end of the couch, away from the camera. In the center of the
photo was the Daily Racing Form which she held in her left hand. Her right hand, propped on her head, held a pen.
A horse's record on the page had been circled, and the words, "WATCH IT!" written over it.
This race was the only dead-heat finish of her career. He put the photo in a frame, and hung it over
the photo of the two horses nose-to-nose in the winner's circle.
After Hank left, Mike fell into another deep, black, ebony funk. Brin's voice within commanded him to go to a certain
park. Once there, he sat facing the ocean, legs out in a V, head inclined, tears rolling down his face. He was
making and repairing divots in the grass with his hands. One thing that made him so sad was the fact that he couldn't
feel the ocean breeze.
"Hurts so bad when she's gone," said a female voice behind him.
"Like my soul's living in a fire," Mike responded.
"Don't see how you go on living."
"I'm not living; I'm existing."
"She was your strength and your breath."
"My chest hurts all the time."
"She made your heart expand, made you a better person."
"I'm a shadow."
Mike realized he was having a conversation with a living human being and looked over his left shoulder. A small
woman with dark hair and sunglasses, wearing skirt and blouse, sat with her legs out to the side. She was propped on
her left hand. He spied her white cane on the grass to her right as he turned around to face her.
"Yes, I'm blind," she said. She was looking up and to the left, then center, and back to the left.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to be rude," Mike said.
He was about to introduce himself when she said, "I know who you are." She continued to answer questions as they
popped into his head.
"Yes, I've been told I look like Brin. She and I are both from Kentucky. In fact, I grew up in
the shadow of Churchill Downs, in one of those ubiquitous shotgun houses surrounding the track. Warren Avenue to be
exact. On Derby Day, the roofs fill up with spectators. We used to offer our front yard for parking. On
Derby broadcasts, if the camera is panning to the right from the finish line, you can see the neighborhood beyond the turn."
"Fascinating. But what's a shotgun house?" Mike asked, surprised that she didn't jump the gun on him this time.
"Long and slender. Has a hallway to one side, and the rooms can be open to the hallway on either the right or the
left, depending on which side the front door is located. They call it 'shotgun' because they say you can shoot a shotgun
from the front door, and the spray will hit the back door without hurting anyone."
Mike pondered for a moment. "I think I know what kind of house you're talking about now. And I seem to recall
seeing your neighborhood when we were at. . ." He choked with the memory.
"You never get over it," said the blind psychologist. "You just learn how to deal with it."
That unloaded a ton of baggage from him.
"I want you to go home and make a list of 10 good things about Brin. You'll return here when she tells you to,
and I will be here to talk to you."
Mike saw something move out of the corner of his left eye and looked up to see what it was. Rooster was walking toward
"Vincent is my intern," she said.
"Are you ready, Dr. Poe?" Rooster asked.
"Yes, Mike, THE Dr. Poe. Although I need to stop answering questions before you vocalize them. Vocalization
of questions helps the client."
He had been thinking 'THE Dr. Poe? The Dr. Poe who sued a local university over their saying she couldn't teach
psychology because she was blind?'
"Call me Tristin. Such is what is usually done in provider/client situations."
"Okay, Tristin. Nice to meet you."
"Pleasure's all mine," she said. "Now, after Vincent--or Rooster as you call him--takes me back to the car, he
will talk with you. Explanations will be coming your way. Answers to the questions that are too deep for
you to recognize right now, but you will recognize them when the subject is brought up."
Mike really didn't know what to make of what she'd just said. "Thanks," was all he could muster.
Rooster returned after escorting Tristin to the car. He sat down in front of Mike.
"There's a lot you're wanting to know. In a way, you're afraid to ask and afraid of the knowledge, but you need
the information for the sake of closure," Rooster said.
"Like what?" Mike asked.
"Like what happened in the jock's room after Brin went down."
"As I recall, the stewards put them through a grueling interrogation."
"After we got out of the stewards' office."
"You were in the . . ."
"Yes, I was. I was behind her."
Mike reeled. He was glad he was already sitting down.
I think we're all ready for some answers. . .