DON'T POT YOUR HEART ON A HORSE
When Pop put Fiona’s hard-saved money on her hunch horse he knew that if she won then he had lost — everything
IT WAS the first time Pop Janowski had been to the race track and he stood in his place before the wicket and cleared his throat nervously.
“Ten,” he said pushing the two ten-dollar bills across the counter. “On number seven, to win.” He wondered whether he should explain that he wasn’t betting for himself, but for his daughter-in-law, Fiona. “It’s for Fiona,” he began shyly, but the man in the green eyeshade pushed the ten two-dollar tickets toward Pop and said briskly Next?” and Pop picked up his tickets and coughed nervously again as he walked away.
It would have been nice, he thought, if he could maybe have told the man that Fiona couldn’t afford to bet all that money on a horse, now that she was a widow. Maybe the man would have said, “Take your money back. That horse is no good.” Fiona would have been glad then, glad to know that even with Eddie gone, there was still a man in the house to look after her and the little Gavin. Sometimes Pop felt that he wasn’t much help, with just that little pension he got from the railroad and his heart not so good, but there were some things he could do, like today, coming to the races.
Oh, but he would come to the race track ten times over if it would make her look as she had looked this morning, smiling and flushed, her blue eyes alive the way they had l>een when she had first come from Scotland as Eddie’s bride.
“I’m crazy, Pop,” she had said this morning, her smile catching the dimple in her cheek, “I’m crazy I know, but I’m betting my shirt on a horse called Edinburgh Rock.” She had laughed excitedly. “Don’t try to talk me out of it. Don’t mention coal for
the winter, or a new storm window or -or Gavin’s bike. I’m determined.”
She had thrown the twenty dollars down on the table, and Pop, sensing her mood, and matching his with it, had grabbed up the money.
“Done,” he had cried. “Show me the horse.”
Well, it was done all right. He had bet the money for her, but he had lost his enthusiasm.
But maybe, just maybe, the horse would win and Fiona would laugh again. Pop had the feeling that she had forgotten how to laugh. Not just with the mouth, but deep down in the heart. Oh, but he knew how she felt for he had known the emptiness after Momma had died. Eddie and Fiona and then the child Gavin had helped him.
He watched anxiously as the bugle sounded and the horses came into the track from the paddock.
Number seven danced into the gate, and she was brown and shiny as a chestnut. There was a meadow when Pop had been a boy, where the soft breezes whispered down from the Carpathians, and when the grass was still wet from the dew Pop had gone with his brother Fedor to get the horses. There had been horses there in the meadow like this one.
She looks good, Pop thought, narrowing his eyes, remembering the horses of his youth. Ah, but then they all looked good. And up there on the board you could see that not so many people thought she was the horse for the race.
Twenty dollars, Pop thought. I should have asked the man. He got to his feet hesitantly, but it Continued on page 40
Don't Put Your Heart On a Horse
CONTINUED EROM PAGE 18
was too late. There was a sudden noise, a general upsurge in the stands and the horses were off around the track.
In that moment as Pop stood up, the shimmering heat of the day, the dust, the smell of hot dogs and the roar of the crowd became fixed, motionless. Then the scene moved on swiftly keeping
time with the flying hoofs of the chestnut horse as it moved toward the front. Now he was no longer old Poppa Janowski but he was young Thadeus with his brother Fedor, racing across the meadow.
The years slipped away as they raced, only Thadeus and Fedor digging their bare heels into their horses’ flanks and yelling aloud with the joy of the morning and smelling the pungent smell of their horses’ sweating bodies. And Thadeus on number seven was out in front, in front, in front . . .
He stood dizzy and panting as the
race ended. “Fedor,” he whispered, “I won. I beat you. This once I beat you.” Then he became aware of the crowd and the tickets in his hand and his mind came around full circle into the present. Fiona’s horse had won!
He began to show the tickets to the people around him. “Look,” he said proudly. “Twenty dollars on him. Number seven. How’s that for luck?” “Luck?” somebody said. “Do you see those odds? Oh, man.”
“Got any more tips?” someone else said. “Know any jockeys? What’s your horse in the next, Pops?”
Pop shook his head and made his way to the stairway. This was no time to waste talking. Fiona would be waiting, watching for him, singing maybe the' way she used to do. “Well, Poppa,” she would say, “Shoes for Gavin,” or maybe, “A new hat for me, Poppa.” Sure, that’s what Momma would have said. Always the new hat. A tiny smile turned up the corners of his mouth. Such crazy hats Momma would buy every time. But four hundred dollars. Suddenly Pop’s footsteps faltered on the stairway as he realized for the first time how much money Fiona’s horse had won. Four hundred dollars. What would Fiona do with it? No need even to wonder. “The trip, Poppa. That’s what I’ll use it for.” That’s what she’d say. Yeah, Pop thought, apprehension fluttering in his throat. Yeah. Maybe the horse wasn’t such a good thing after all. What was there to keep Fiona here now that she had enough money to go home to Scotland with the little one? An emptiness such as Pop had never known settled coldly around his heart. FIONA danced wildly across the kitchen floor, her slippers scuffing the linoleum with a quick sighing noise like the wind through the trees. Once, twice she twirled, and the second time she fell against the table and shook the hot jars of crab apples she had just finished preserving. She was scarcely aware of it, nor of the sound of the radio blaring the racing commentary. There was no feeling in her but the deep exultant beating of her own heart. Edinburgh Rock had won, as she had known that it would. Forty to win, the announcer had said. A two-dollar bet would pay forty dollars. “Do you know what that means, my girl?” she asked herself. “Four hundred dollars.” Oh, it was beyond her wildest dreams. She could go home now instead of waiting and saving and hoping for years. Home. No more working on the night shift with Gavin at a day nursery and the housework always getting behind. No more -oh, no more just existing in this place. She could go home. Now, anytime, in two weeks if she felt like it. Home, home, home. She bit her bottom lip excitedly. Hadn’t she known that horse would win? Hadn’t she known it? She’d heen what her grandmother used to call “fey” although perhaps it wasn’t exactly that. No, it was more of a hunch. A lucky hunch. A wonderful, lucky hunch. Wait till Pop came home. “Didn’t I tell you?” she’d say. “You were so sure I’d lose.” She’d never have a hunch like that again, though. It was just one of those things. All last night she had been thinking of Eddie and Edinburgh where they had met, and then, coming home in the bus she had turned to the sports page in the morning paper and there was the horse called Edinburgh Rock. It was as simple as that. “When she wins,” Pop had said, “1 run all the way home.” Four hundred dollars. It was right, wasn’t it? She picked the pencil stub off the window sill and multiplied it out. Twenty times twenty. Of course it was four hundred. She looked at her watch. It was 2.45. Pop would be coming right home, as he had promised. She knew he wouldn’t linger. All that money. She hoped he wouldn’t stop and talk to anyone. Pickpockets were so clever. But Pop wouldn’t let anyone . . . She laughed aloud nervously. Such haverings. Of course nothing would happen to the money. Pop wasn’t a
child. Even now he was putting the money in his worn old wallet and leav:ng the track.
Supposing he caught a streetcar, say, in ten minutes. It was only a twentyminute ride home. He would be home in half an hour.
She took off her housecoat and began to dress. Her hands were cold and trembled on the fastener of her dress, and in spite of the July heat that seeped into her room, she shivered.
OH. to be in Edinburgh again.
Edinburgh, with the wind sweeping up the steps at Waverley station, and her hat blowing into Eddie’s hand. That was how she had met him. Eddie with his laughing dark eyes and white teeth, trim and smart in his uniform.
“You dropped something, miss?” he had asked gaily, holding the small green hat out to her.
“Oh, thank you.” She had returned his smile shyly, aware of her disheveled hair and the capricious wind tugging at her coat skirt. “My hat.”
“It’s very windy,” he had continued. “You could put it on better if we went into a little café somewhere—.” He glanced around quickly, and then as he saw her lips forming a determined “no” he added, “I’m just dying for a decent cup of coffee.”
He looked at her so appealingly that she weakened, in spite of the fact that it was such an obvious line. After all, what harm in having a cup of coffee with a soldier you were never likely to see again? It was Saturday afternoon, it was springtime, she wasn’t going anywhere in particular.
Oh, but she had gone a long way she reflected now as she looked out of her window and watched the cloud of dust that rose behind a passing car. She was a world, an age, a lifetime away from that windy day in Scotland and her meeting with Eddie.
“Do you, Edward Janowski take this woman,” she whispered, remembering the big church, almost empty, and the sunlight streaming in, encircling them as they stood before the altar.
She would take the train from Greenock when she landed, she decided, and arrive back at Waverley station.
“This is where your father and I met,” she would tell Gavin, taking him to the top of the steps. She would take Gavin everywhere that she had gone with Eddie; along the narrow cobblestoned streets from the Castle to Holyrood Palace, up the windswept hfeights of Calton Hill to Nelson’s monument, and on Sundays she would take him to the Gardens on Princes Street. Gavin thought Grandpa Janowski’s flower garden was the nicest in the world. Wait till he saw
The hat my wife brought home today I greeted with a shout of laughter.
Yo headgear. 1 went on to say, Could he more ludicrous or dafter.
Jl nearly ended in a row—
I'm almost sure that she resents My carefully explaining how Those layers of ribbon make no sense.
I’ve learned diplomacy, and I’ll Keep mum about that zany feather. Next season when it’s out of style— Ah, then we ll laugh at it together.
the clock of flowers in the Gardens!
She put on her best stockings, checking to see that the seams were straight. She flicked a little piece of fluff off her black suede shoes and slipped them on her small feet.
How her feet had ached that day in London when she and Eddie had tramped around trying to find a hotel room. She had begun to think that they would spend their honeymoon just walking around from hotel to hotel, when they had at last found a room.
She sat on the edge of her bed now, and surveyed her feet, moving her ankles around absently.
“You’ve got such perfect feet,” Eddie had said that day. “Such perfect, tiny feet.”
She stood up quickly and looked at her watch. It was 3.05. With luck Pop would be home in ten minutes. She swallowed audibly. It would be hard to leave Pop, just the same. He depended upon her so much. Too much. But he could get someone to live with him, and share expenses. There was old Adam Brodie who had worked on the railroad with Pop, and who was living with young Adam and his family in two rooms over on the west side. Adam would be good for Pop, and Pop was used to Adam.
And I’ll write, she promised herself. Every week. And when Gavin goes to school I’ll have him write a little letter every fortnight, and I’ll talk to him about Pop, so he won’t forget him.
She looked at her watch again. Pop would be coming in the gate any time now. She could even go and meet him. But no. Let him come in with the money, his face happy. Let him feel that he was giving her something, that he was the donor.
She went into the kitchen and looked out of the window. Except for young Frankie Bashnik who was aimlessly kicking a tin can along the road, the street was quite deserted. Pop must have missed the streetcar.
Later still, annoyance vied with worry. What could have happened to him? It was almost four. He had had ample time to get home. Surely he wouldn’t stay on till the end of the races, knowing that she would be waiting. No, Pop wouldn’t do that to lier, she was sure. She would give him another half hour. Then she would phone the police.
The minutes dragged on. She made supper for herself and Gavin, but she had no appetite for the food on her plate, and poked at it dispiritedly. Once she asked Gavin how he would like to go and stay with his grandparents in Scotland, but even as she asked, the fear within her killed the game of make-believe, and she was
relieved when he did not reply.
Once more she glanced at her watch. 4.30. She would wait ten more minutes. Perhaps she was being foolish, waiting. Sometimes minutes counted. If he’d been beaten and robbed—the papers were full of things like that.
I’ll call now, she resolved, and went toward the phone. How tall was Pop? Five-nine? Oh, no. Five-six was closer. A small man, she rehearsed, grey hair, blue eyes, wearing a battered hat, grey in color, a faded plaid shirt, trousers
what color? Denims? She couldn’t think. She went into his room and opened his cupboard door. His good suit was hanging there, which left only his denims.
Well then, denims. Slightly built, weighing about one hundred and forty pounds. Last seen going down Abelmair Avenue at two o’clock. No, one o’clock.
She went into the hall to the phone and stood there a moment leaning against the wall. Her throat felt tight and she drew a shuddering breath.
I don’t care about the money, she thought. Just as long as he comes home safe and sound.
HEY.” Gavin ran in through the kitchen. “Here comes Granpa.” “Oh, Gavin.” She bit her lip in relief. “Thank God.”
From the porch she watched as Pop came up the walk, his gait unsteady, and she ran toward him, her face contorted in anxiety.
“Poppa, what’s wrong? Are you ill?” Ida Bashnik next door was leaning over the fence. “Aw, he’s okay. He’s okay,” she yelled. “He’s drunk. Make him some good strong coffee. He’ll be okay in the morning.”
Trembling, Fiona ignored Ida, and put her arm around Pop. “Lean on me,” she whispered. “Oh, it’s my fault, sending you out in all that heat.”
She helped him through the door, and gently pushed him onto a chair.
“Gavin, get your grandfather a glass of water. Hurry.”
Gavin scraped a chair over to the sink and turned on the tap. Fiona fussed around Pop, opening his shirt front and smoothing his hair back from his forehead.
He drank the water Gavin offered him and the color came back, a little, to his face.
Fiona filled the coffeepot and put it on the stove.
“Do you want to lie down?”
He shook his head. “I lost the money,” he said.
“I bet it on a horse. The next race.”
The water in the coffeepot began to boil, and Fiona automatically measured the coffee into it. The water came up the stem. Punk, it went slowly. Then punk, punk, punk. The fragrant smell of coffee filled the air.
“What—.” She swallowed, tried again. “What for, Poppa? Why?”
He hung his head and his work-worn fingers braided themselves with each other.
“I wanted to go with you,” he said thickly.
The black brew of hate boiled within her as she looked at him, and she shook with the intensity of it. She wanted to scream at him, to rant and rave and tear her hair, to give herself over to the emotion that possessed her. She turned her back to him and began to cry then with her hands over her face and the bitter tears trickling between her fingers.
There would be more years of working at the mill. Years of working, skimping, saving a few dollars at a time for the journey home with Gavin —sometime.
Sometime. Well, it would happen, she knew that. Not in two weeks, now, or even two years, and when it did, it would be all the sweeter for the waiting. She had never liked the prairie, she realized that now. She had never seen the dew on the shiny poplars, or given her heart to the song of the meadowlark for the vision of her homeland that had obscured her own horizon.
She blew her nose vigorously, and wiped her eyes. She wanted to reassure Pop, to tell him that she understood, but she could not find the words. “Pop,” she said. She lifted the percolator from the stove and poured twc cups of coffee. Gently she pushed the sugar bowl toward him. “Sugar Pop?” she asked, ic