Oli Peters ~ Pony Girl

20 G’s, can you believe?” Mrs. Digby jabbed her fin­ger at her face in a harsh point. The sunglasses—diamond-encrusted with gold trim, lens­es a pink ombré—glinted in the sun, which I swear, up here in the Tops, is can­died. Like at any moment a warm ray might unrav­el into spun sug­ar. Sometimes, while work­ing at Mrs. Digby’s, I have to fight the urge to point my mouth toward the sky, stick out my tongue, and wait for the sun to dis­solve. In my neighborhood—the Runoff—light takes on a strained blue tinge. It sits on our skin like a cold wet tow­el. But by the time my com­mute brings me to the Digby sta­bles, the sun is hon­eyed again and the air flut­ters warm. Every morn­ing, at 8:30 exact­ly, I sad­dle Pumpkin—Mrs. Digby’s favorite mini-pony—and begin toward the mansion.

Mr. Digby was slid­ing into lux­u­ry car #3 when I arrived that day. I caught a glimpse of his rum­pled sweatsuit—gaudy, some brand name all over it—and noticed it was the same one he was wear­ing yes­ter­day. A few days ago, Mrs. Digby—in one of her bab­bling fits (which were a new and increas­ing occurrence)—told me that he got (these two words uttered in a choked whis­per) “let go” from the firm. His stub­ble looked despair­ing; he had a for­lorn zit on his fore­head. As he shut the car door, he blared, to no one, or maybe to lux­u­ry car #2: “Hah, it’s Pony Girl and Blumpkin!” He burst into his glot­tal gur­gle-laugh, revved the engine, and left a tire mark on the stone-laid dri­ve­way as he peeled off. The mark was tar-black, but it looked red. Mrs. Digby would prob­a­bly get it pow­er washed, even though it was just cleaned on the 12th.

The front door—an enor­mous hulk of dark-stained wood—heaved open. Mrs. Digby appeared as it swung wide. In the door’s shad­ow, she looked like a disheveled appari­tion, a ghost unwill­ing­ly sum­moned to a realm it did­n’t wish to live in. She was still in her silk paja­mas, which had a stain mar­ring the oth­er­wise pris­tine white col­lar. Wine, maybe. She had slipped on an extrav­a­gant neck­lace, some bracelets, and a few rings, which made her look like she had been caught in the mid­dle of loot­ing her­self. The stones were bril­liant; kalei­do­scop­ic shim­mer refract­ed in the big one near her brit­tle-look­ing clav­i­cle. It seemed as if its glit­ter­ing cap­i­tal were col­laps­ing in on itself, light catch­ing and reflect­ing in each cut unceas­ing­ly, nau­se­at­ing­ly. And the sunglasses—diamond-encrusted with gold trim and a rose ombré—hid her eyes, which I saw unadorned the oth­er day for the first time since the 12th. They’d sunken into the hol­low of her­self, dark cir­cles swal­low­ing her pupils, iris­es, the whites like I imag­ine a pearl is con­sumed by a spec­tral murk when the clam is grudg­ing­ly shut. She stiff­ened upon see­ing the mark on the dri­ve­way. “Oh, god. I’ll have to get that pow­er washed again.”

 Mrs. Digby beck­oned me wild­ly. “Come in, come in dear—oh don’t wor­ry about Pumpkin, bring Pumpkin inside, it’s fine it’s fine, real­ly just come in it’s fine—oh hi my lit­tle Pumpkin, oh hi my sweet girl—ok, fol­low me—listen, just ignore the mess, I let the house­keep­er go, I’m not real­ly sure why, she was such a sweet woman, was­n’t she? Had you ever met Sharon? So sweet, really—but the way she was clean­ing, clean­ing everything—and so thoroughly—I just could­n’t take it any­more, liv­ing in a place so clean, I don’t know, I guess I just feel… I mean, lis­ten, she even tried to—to go—to go into—well—you know, his room and I just—I could­n’t believe she would even go near it—that’s weird right? Indecent, right? So, ok, lis­ten, I’m not going to have you out back with Pumpkin today—oh, yes, hi my sweet girl, my sweet lit­tle pony—I need you to do me a favor, ok? You’ve been work­ing for me for so long, I real­ly trust you, I real­ly do, ok? And you signed that NDA when you start­ed, but that’s no mat­ter, this is about trust—I trust you and I can’t think of any­one else to do this. It’s just a lit­tle favor, just this once; here, come here, over here—” Mrs. Digby led me to Mr. Digby’s study, where a lap­top sat on a grand desk. “Ok, so, here, I’ll take Pumpkin, you sit down, and I need you to find this, um, this video from the out­door cam­era, the one above the front door so you can see the—well, the, uh, driveway—and, you know, there’s this footage from that day that I can’t—uh, don’t want to—view and I just need you to—to find it and delete it.”

Mrs. Digby’s mouth had gone dry and sticky. I watched her lick her lips.

So, you know—I believe it’s the footage from the 12th.”

She spun on her vel­vet loafer and shut the door, leav­ing me in the com­put­er’s cas­cade of chilly light.

The cur­tains were drawn. A weak lamp shone in the cor­ner. When my eyes adjust­ed, I saw red. Burgundy, crim­son, gar­net, cher­ry: car­pet, rug, books, chair—I felt like I was inside of a mouth. I start­ed to rise to open the cur­tains but fal­tered a bit, knock­ing over a pic­ture frame. I grabbed it, relieved the glass had­n’t shat­tered, and placed it back on the desk. It was a por­trait of the Digby’s, or what used to be the Digby’s. William’s pale round face cut through the dim. He was seat­ed between Mr. and Mrs. Digby, their faces free of acne, stub­ble, dark cir­cles, ghost­li­ness. The pic­ture looked recent; he must have been nine. It prob­a­bly was­n’t tak­en long after I dressed Pumpkin up as a space­ship for his birthday.

I sat in a creep­ing still­ness. William watched me. How lone­ly he must have been dying in his room that day, the 12th. I remem­bered walk­ing up to the man­sion, see­ing a tarp on the dri­ve­way, and before I could take a good look at it to guess what was under­neath, Mrs. Digby sprint­ed out of the house, hys­ter­i­cal. She was weep­ing, shak­ing, shriek­ing about some con­gen­i­tal heart defect I did­n’t know William had. He was dead, she told me, irre­versibly so. A shiv­er prick­led up my fore­arm. I snatched my hand back from the por­trait and, when I did, my knuck­le hit the key­pad and the video began.

There was no sound and it was time­stamped: 08:41:04AM, the 12th. Mrs. Digby must have watched up until this point. The back of lux­u­ry car #1 was in the cor­ner of the frame. The video was emp­ty of sub­ject; it was all back­ground: tree leaves flit­tered, grass blades undu­lat­ed, a bird flew in then out of frame. Haltingly, like the world was too timid to car­ry out the orders, snow began to fall. It was the first time we’d got­ten snow in near­ly a decade. At 8:46:32, William stepped into frame. He was in his plan­et paja­mas, his ears tucked into a big pair of head­phones. He seemed to smile up at the sky. Then he laid down on the dri­ve­way in his favorite cloud/s­tar-watch­ing spot, right where I would lat­er see the tarp. His ankles were crossed and his arms stretched out so he looked like a human T, but with a head. His eyes were closed, snowflakes melt­ing on his lids. At 8:52:21, Pumpkin’s lead rope appeared, then her hoof, then she paused. I remem­bered pulling the rope taut. I was just out of frame, a sug­ges­tion. William opened his eyes and sat up to say hel­lo. I recalled most of what we said as I watched his lips bob up and down, his mouth open and close, sound­less like a fleshy mar­i­onette. After we greet­ed one anoth­er and exchanged sur­prise over the snow, I looked at Pumpkin and real­ized I for­got to put the bows in her mane that Mrs. Digby had request­ed. I would have to go back to the sta­bles. I told William not to tell his mom I’d be late, and he said Mrs. Digby her­self was run­ning late to some­thing, and would be leav­ing soon. I said to keep an eye out for cars, like I always did when I saw him in his spot, and hur­ried away with Pumpkin in tow. As my video self moved fur­ther from the clutch of the cam­era, I jolt­ed back into my role as spec­ta­tor in the study, watch­ing the time­stamp fran­ti­cal­ly replace itself ever upward. On the screen, William leaned back again. He turned the vol­ume up on his head­phones. He shut his eyes. I watched his chest and stom­ach rise and fall. A breeze ruf­fled his shirt. That bird flit­ted into view again. Quietude. Then it was 9:01:21 and William opened his mouth as the brake lights of lux­u­ry car #1 flared on and he caught a snowflake on his tongue and the car backed up with break­neck speed and the back left tire explod­ed his head.

Before the tire was all the way across his face, his left eye yo-yoed out of its sock­et, an umbilical-cord-like—an earthworm-like—tube still teth­er­ing the blood­shot sphere to his head and at the same time, sinewy whips of brain began to pop out of his skull—one long, shiny, wet strand cat­a­pult­ed itself through the air—it looked like a fly­ing snake I saw on TV as a kid—and land­ed in a mossy patch of lawn, and the rest of William’s brain erupt­ed into fat, egg-sized chunks that framed his fair, shat­tered, tire-marked face like a crown of entrails—and blood spurt­ed from him in relent­less bursts like the finale of a 4th of July fire­work show.

The dri­ver’s door opened and a fig­ure emerged then sprint­ed around the car and toward the wreck­age that was left of William. I rec­og­nized her pink tweed skirt, her gold heels with a red bot­tom, and her croc­o­dile-skin purse. Mrs. Digby. When she saw him, her body jerked back­ward as if flicked by a giant, invis­i­ble fin­ger; she tripped over her stilet­to and fell onto the lawn; her hand land­ed on the fly­ing snake, that strand of brain that soared. She yanked her hand away, real­ized what it might be, and start­ed to vomit.

I shot up from my chair. My breaths were heaves—I could­n’t get enough oxy­gen and also had too much—my whole body was tremor­ing like I was in the death-grip of my own per­son­al earthquake—bile start­ed to shoot up my throat. I lunged at the door, put my hand on its knob, and as I pulled, I could feel some­one on the oth­er side push­ing. Mrs. Digby stum­bled toward me. I jumped away. She stead­ied her­self but, still tee­ter­ing, spoke:

Listen, I’ve changed my mind about this favor—I don’t want you to do it any­more, ok? ok? oh god, oh god, you’ve seen it. Listen, just—just—my lit­tle boy—my lit­tle prince—how could I have known he was—it does­n’t even snow here—who decid­ed it would snow—listen, lis­ten, I was run­ning late—I was going to Angie’s since, you know, her hus­band left her and I want­ed to give her some­thing nice and I found these sun­glass­es and I thought they would cheer her up since they’re just like the ones she wore in Turks and Caicos, remem­ber when we went there? And I gave you the week off? Wasn’t that so nice? To have the week off? Next time I give you the week off I’ll pay you, ok? I’ll pay you the whole time, and you’re gonna get a bonus at Christmas, ok? And—and—well, I saw these sun­glass­es and thought wow, how beautiful—you know? I’d want these if I’d been cheat­ed on and left all on my own and—you know—why was it snow­ing? Who decid­ed it would snow? We don’t get snow here—” tears began to roll down her cheeks, spit bub­bles formed and popped on her lips “—and I picked up the glass­es and asked the clerk how much and at first I said oh, god, no way am I buy­ing her these glass­es but then I remem­bered how much I love her—I tru­ly love her—and him, I love him, I loved him, how could I—how could I have known—my lit­tle prince—I—I bought the sun­glass­es but now they’re mine because—because—I nev­er made it to her house that day—these sunglasses—my sungla—my son—” Mrs. Digby point­ed at her head, which was intact. “20 G’s, can you believe?”

We didn’t breathe. We didn’t move. We stared at one anoth­er. The sun­light from the hall­way back­lit Mrs. Digby; it accu­mu­lat­ed in a strange radi­ance around the edges of her form. The red-stained haze of the study fell on her chest. It seemed to merge with the cloy­ing aura of Tops light to make a bit­ter bluish hue. The jew­el near her clav­i­cle was life­less. She looked like some­one from the Runoff.

Mrs. Digby,” I said. “I don’t know who decid­ed it would snow.”


Oli Peters is an MFA can­di­date at the University of Notre Dame. She is based in the Midwest.