HEARTLAND
 
 
 
 

Gustav Hasford
 
 
 
 
 

    Wherever man has left his footprint in the long ascent from barbarism to civilization, we will find the footprint of the horse beside it.

--John Trotwood Moore, in
The Encyclopedia Britannica
 
 
 
 

Marshall Frankfort comes home from work and does not notice that for some unknown reason his wife has become a large grey horse.
    In the living room, Cecilia relaxes on a fat pink sofa with a True Confessions magazine on her chest.
    "Hello, dear."  Her voice is dry.  She eats candy orange slices.
    Marshall bombardiers his black leatherette briefcase into the formica German wasteland of his new dining table and open his fat white Frigidaire.  "Hello, dear."
    His wife asks:  "Have a good day, dear?"
    "And how was 'I Dream of Jeannie' today, dear?"
    "That's awful, dear.  You really should tell them at the office that they're working you too hard."
    Pouring Bavarian beer, Marshall pays scant attention to a thick grey horsehair frozen to the lip of the ceramic stein he has extracted from the freezer compartment of his Frigidaire.  Boldly, his right forefinger flicks the ugly horsehair off the stein and it falls forever out of his life.
    The sports page.  Too portly to participate in athletic contests in person, Marshall secretly admires Joe Willie Namath and will create a baby son of such sturdy timber when Cecilia grows weary of the easy life and flushes her pills.
    The late show.
 

    And Christmas.
    "Marshall?  Marshall!  Do I look tired?  Run down?  Does my skin look crooked?"
    Marshall (talking to Johnny Carson, exploring for Christmas presents in TV Guide):  "You look real good, dear."  An aside:  "Would I pull your leg?"
    She touches her face.  "Still..."
 

    "So for sure I couldn't fix it myself, so..."
    "--that damn Andrews kid, the little bum.  Pirates my new accounts with my ink wet on the contracts.  Why, I'll bet--"
    "--plumber took off that shiny thingy and promised it won't cost more than--"
    "--and the boss walks in, right?  Just as I'm trying to--"
    "--but sometimes I don't feel well, Marshall.  I get these pains..."
    "--told him just what he could do with--"
    "Marshall, I feel...heavy...I..."
    "--but no--no way.  Said there was just no way I was--"
    "Marshall!"
    "What?  What did you say?"
    "Marshall..."
    "What?  What's wrong with you?"
    "I'm scared."
    Marshall walks into the living room, locks the door.

 
    Breaking coffee at the office water cooler, Marshall (the archaeologist) excavates a stack of little emotional newspaper clippings about a Mexican standoff he had with Cecilia on their first date way back when.  She wanted to see Don Rickles Bites a Cow in 3-D Technicolor, but Marshall had tickets to see Pat Boone's white shoes in Bernadine.  Marshall devised a compromise:  they saw a double feature--Self Abuse and Oral Communications.  Prehistoric dirty pictures were featured in a short cartoon, The Paintings of Reindeer and Bison on the Cave Walls in Southern France.  Marshall was happy to sacrifice Pat Boone for the woman he loved.  In those shiny days he'd let her live it up all the time.  Now, picking the crunchy goodness of historical popcorn from his teeth, Marshall decides to remind Cecilia of the old days to cheer her up.
    Home life gives birth to a silent event:  Marshall finds Cecilia sitting alone in the kitchen in the dark.  On a cracked saucer before her lies an incredibly old souvenir slice from their wedding cake--half eaten.  In ten years of waiting, the cake--very much at home with the ice cubes in the freezer--has hardened into a yellowish sugar-coated fossil, as dead now as the curling full-color photographs of happy Cecilia and happy Marshall cutting the long-digested living pastry with a silver knife.
 

    Marshall remains humble about his ability to tolerate Cecilia's crazy moods.  The household disarmament treaty remains as solid as the Siegfried Line.  No cruel tanks allowed in the living room, no hand grenades in the goldfish bowl, no Nambu machineguns or pastel-colored Fokker biplanes--and none of the thermonuclear devices which utilize the erotic potential of atomic fission.
    Not even while Cecilia screams "Look at me!  Look at me!" does Marshall break his cool.  Rather, his response is calculated to suggest a more agreeable topic:  "And so Jeannie turned Major Healy into a big chicken.  What happened then, dear?"
 

    Cecilia gallops into the living room, makes noise, mumbles clumsily, "I'm a horse, Marshall.  I'm a horse.  I'm a real horse.  Really.  I can see myself in the bathroom mirror."
    "Oh, stop horsing around," says Marshall, chuckling behind his Sports Illustrated.  "Use your horse sense, dear."
    "I'm a horse, Marshall."
    "Then you must eat a big bowl of fresh grass, dear.  A person needs horse food to get enough horse vitamins, right?  And frankly, dear, you haven't look well lately."
    "Marshall?"
    "Yes?"
    "I hurt.  When I try to walk it feels like my guts are floating around inside my body.  Sometimes I can't breathe."
    "Horsefeathers.  You'll be fine.  Probably just a bug of some kind--the flu."  He laughs.  "Why, there's still a lot of horsepower left in you!"
 

    In a drugstore, Marshall skims through a paperback copy of Handy Horse Love.  He learns that a horse will not step on a man.  He reads that if a horse stays off its feet for a few hours, it dies.  He finds these facts interesting.  He decides to tell Cecilia that she'd better keep moving.

 
    Roller Derby.
    Cecilia does not produce TV dinners.  Hours pass.  Marshall waits patiently for the two small aluminum trays of cryogenically petrified food to be brought back to life with heat.
    He makes a joke about putting Cecilia out to pasture for this, but he is alone and does not laugh.
    The bedroom smells sick and hot with horsehairs and defecation, and Marshall's queen-size bed is sprinkled with decaying hay.  A real elderly workhorse, sway-backed, shedding, bone-angled and dead, crumples in all kinds of directions, crushes fat pink pillows--half a ton of gristle and cold meat and big piano-key teeth and worn steel horseshoes staring out obsidian-hard over the hand-sewn watercolors of a butterfly quilt.
    Calmly, Marshall calculates the extent of Cecilia's horseplay.  This, he quips, is the last straw.  It is bad enough that Cecilia refuses to talk to him.  It's bad enough that she trots all over the house drowning in maudlin squalor, and won't cook.  His heart is big for her.  But this?  This sloppy housekeeping?
    "I can take a joke," Marshall announces in a loud voice, "but I'll be goddamned if I'm going to sleep with a dead horse!"
    Period.
    Dirty sheets.
    Marshall goes to see if maybe Cecilia is hiding somewhere in the living room.
    On TV, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby sit in a big cooking pot and talk about love.  They are surrounded by cannibals of the wildest design.
    Marshall thinks:  Have I seen this?
 

 
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