Art Pact 283 - Ninety-Nine Percent

From beneath the water the horse's soulful eyes stared back at me. I took a careful step towards the edge of the pond, feeling the familiar damp caress around my face. My feelings towards the pond have become strangely ambiguous in the last months. It has always smelt of childhood to me, but there is another scent coming to overlay that nostalgic aroma - the smell of sex, the smell of the sensation inside me when I see a beautiful back, the curve of an ankle. The smell that makes me want to puff out my chest and sing songs of my strength.

"Hello," I said to the horse. Its nostrils flared, and for a moment I thought that it might be mute - some horses are, or they pretend to be, at any rate. But the horse blew out a pulse of water from its snout and then spoke:

"Hello yourself."

I wanted to ask why - of course I did, what else would I ask? But such large questions must be approached by roundabout means. One cannot simply march up to the front door.

"It's a lovely day," I suggested.

"If you say so," said the horse. "I suspect that we have different criteria on which to base such statements."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that the question of whether it is a good day or not depends entirely on one's point of view. What is fine weather for the dandelion is terrible for the ptarmigan, for instance. You, I suspect, prefer a day in which soil is damp but the air is warm."

It seemed to me that a horse might like such conditions as well, but I simply nodded and accepted the point. There is no sense in immediate confrontation, especially when you may have to subsequently share a pond with the person you have so strenuously argued against.

"The conditions of a lovely day," continued the horse, "are dependent on so many factors, indeed, that it is scarcely possible to determine ahead of time even for a single person what such a day might comprise."

"But surely," I said, "broad trends are evident? I, as you say, prefer a damp soil day. The smell of petrichor, the cool touch against my feet, but a hidden sun warming the air so that my blood moves fast. It is part of my nature to desire conditions that suit my body, and surely, since that body is now immutable, my feelings towards the meteorological future will remain constant and predictable."

The horse whinnied with laughter, and somewhere in its unseen lungs there must have been air, because great bubbles burst from its mouth and nose and streamed up to the surface to pop, splashing me with droplets and filling the air with a pungent odour that I could only assume to be the smell of drowning.

I stepped closer to the edge and stared down into the pond. I had not remembered the bank to be so steep as it clearly was. In my mind it sloped gradually into the water, providing a gentle ramp which one might either descend or ascend with relative ease. Now it looked as though I would have to jump straight in if I wanted to swim, and hope that there was some other part of the bank that would allow me an easier escape when the time came. Not for the first time I wondered if I had been turned around somewhere during my journey. But no - this was definitely the pond of my childhood, and I had come to it past the remains of the old pine stump. The horse, I thought, had somehow changed the pond. Or perhaps something else had changed it, and the horse was just as surprised as I was. That might explain its current predicament.

"Is there something I can do for you?" I offered.

"Sorry, sorry," said the horse. "It's just that - well, does everyone have such a short memory?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, only last year if I had asked you about your idea day you'd have said warm water, bright sunlight, plenty of water-shrimp. You wouldn't have mentioned anything about your feet, obviously. Do you think that past you would have seen anything appealing in the feeling of warm air - or would he have talked about nothing but the horror of suffocation?"

"Well of course," I said. "I suppose, there's that, yes. But... But that was different. Everyone undergoes a metamorphosis during their adolescence. That is the very essence of predictability. You can hardly suggest that as a full-grown frog I'm going to metamorphose into something el..."

I did not finish my sentence, as a creeping suspicious finally made its way into the forefront of my thoughts and I began to realise why the horse might be making such an argument.

"Do you say these things," I asked, "because you retain hope?"

"Hope?"

"Hope for the future, I mean," I said. "Is it an attempt to find some future for yourself which is not so grim as the one that experience predicts?"

"You mean," said the horse, "do I search for some crumb of hope that I, like you, might undergo a future metamorphosis?"

"Well, yes."

"I suppose it's possible. There are many such moments in life - a gamete emitted by your mother metamorphosed into a living egg when your father sprayed upon it. An egg metamorphosed into a tadpole, and a tadpole into a frog. Why stop there?"

"I've seen dead people," I said, and immediately regretted it. Perhaps in the horse's final moments I should be giving it some sort of comfort. Should I lie to it, promise it that there was indeed some other life which would emerge from the bloated remains of its equine form.

"We've all seen the dead," said the horse.

"I meant nothing by it. I mean, I'm sure you're going to be fine." Again, the regret followed the words like carriages following an engine, and I wished fervently that the ground might open and swallow me up. Oh to be a toad, and to bury oneself away.

"Well then," said the horse. "That's reassuring. But I think you mistake me for something else. Tell me, what do you see when you look at me?"

The question was curious, but I leant over the water and stared down into the water. I could see the horse, and myself, and sometimes I could see both. By an effort of will I could focus on the surface and see my own reflection, or below it, to see the horse.

"A horse," I replied eventually. "A horse in a place where a horse should not naturally be."

"Of course," it said. I detected a faint hint of amusement. "Nothing else? Do you not see a delightful female frog?"

"Just a horse," I said.

It laughed again, and pushed away from the bank, and now - revealed in the sunlight - I saw the full length of the creature's body. Not hooves and a barrel torso, but a serpentine form covered in dark blue scales and tipped by a muscular tail. On its forelimbs slender claws wriggled in anticipation of a catch. I began to back away.

"Be happy, little frog," said the kelpie. "There is still a transformations left for you, but today is not the day. The day will come when the water calls you again, and you seek a wife. Remember me then, and find a different pond."

"I will," I promised, cold to the bone.

With that the creature laughed once more and swam away, blue scales shimmering and cutting through my reflection.

I walked to the old pine stump in silence, and felt the damp soil beneath my feet and the warmth in the air.

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