By Desmond Homann, Staff Writer uploaded at 8:41 a.m. on Friday, March 23, 2018.
It was a Sunday. I stopped into the grocery store to pick up a couple things for a cheesecake. I wasn’t all that good at baking, but it was a friend’s birthday and I had nothing better to do. Surprisingly, the grocery store didn’t have a lot of traffic for a Sunday night. Maybe it was the weather; I wouldn’t be surprised. Snow had just started coming down recently, but more of a dark, heavy snow than the picturesque, Hallmark-card weather I had hoped for.
The cake I was going to make was a complex one, and I had only made it once before, a few months ago. It went pretty well, I sent a picture of it to some friends. I sent a picture to Philip, too. This was before I knew the truth. This was when Philip and I had only just met each other; Philip and I had barely even talked yet, but I showed him the cake, and he was proud of me. The cake was delicious, but the memory was...off? Maybe that wasn’t the right way to phrase it. The memory was a bit sour, especially with my current level of knowledge of Philip.
I shook my head, as if to erase the memory like a child erases an Etch-A-Sketch. I then realized how long I had been standing in the dairy aisle, staring at the cream cheese but not seeing it. My date with Philip, if you could call it that, had been almost three months ago. I still thought about it on occasion; I ran through it sometimes, trying to find something I could have done to make things come out differently. Was it stupid to think that, if I could go back to when I first met him, I could have led Philip and me to a different outcome?
I put the cream cheese in my basket and moved on. All that was left was to find the chocolate chips, wherever the baking aisle might be. I’d always been a bit of an absent-minded person, so I was taking longer than planned. I began walking faster, scanning along the signs above. The odd thing about hurrying, though, is that it tends to give off the feeling of being chased. Was I hearing the echoes of my footsteps on the pristine linoleum floor, or was there someone behind me? I looked over my shoulder and, upon finding nobody to be following me, I allowed myself to breathe once more. To be fair, I hadn’t even noticed that I was holding my breath.
Up ahead, maybe four aisles away from me, I saw the sign for baking supplies. That was where I needed to be, but why was I going even faster now? As I took quicker steps, I became all too aware of the clicking of my dress shoes on the floor. It had never bothered me in the past that these shoes were loud, but this time, something was wrong. Each click against the ground sounded more and more like hooves.
“Get yourself together,” I silently urged myself. I was being irrational. Logically, there would be no reason for a horse to be anywhere near a grocery store. I took a sharp turn around the corner, directly into the baking aisle and directly into-
I looked up into warm brown eyes that I once would have found comforting. He laughed uncomfortably and asked if we’d met somewhere before. I shook my head and stepped around him with great caution, my whole body suddenly feeling as if it were made up of radio static. Confused, he watched as I slowly made my way to a bag of dark chocolate chips. They were the same color as his eyes, his inquisitive eyes, his eyes that would not yet let me leave this space. When he turned, and his eyes were no longer on me, the static left my body, allowing me to move quickly in the other direction. All that was left was to buy the food and leave.
“Oh! I do remember you!”
His words rolled down the aisle, freezing me once again. I didn’t turn to face him, and I did not answer. His voice came again—louder this time.
“You’re that guy who stood me up on a date! I didn’t recognize you at first; your hair was a different color in your pictures.”
Stood him up on a date? I had done no such thing, but maybe this meant he didn’t see me frantically leave. Maybe this was my one chance to find that different outcome. With a forced smile and a half-hearted apology, I told him that I was so sorry that something had come up. I was sorry that I hadn’t gotten back in touch with him. The lies crawled from between my clenched teeth, but they were enough for Philip.
“It’s all good. I’m glad I finally get a chance to meet you! Maybe we could get together sometime and watch a movie. Or at the very least, I could walk you to your car today.”
“That would be fine,” I replied, though I don’t think they were my words. I was still unsure of the possibility of repairing our chance to have a relationship.
We caught up a bit, making small talk as we checked out. I told him which car was mine as we approached the doors to exit the store. We seemed to have been the only ones shopping, so I assumed it wouldn’t be any problem to find where I had parked, especially since I was right out front. As my shoes clicked onto the ground outside, Philip let out a surprised laugh.
“Looks like we parked right next to each other! What a cute coincidence!”
Beside my car was a beast I had seen once before in person, but multiple times in my nightmares. Once again, I was faced with Philip’s large, soul-snatching horse. Though I could feel my legs melting away from beneath me, I kept some outward composure.
“This is Sapphire, who I love more than anything else in the world,” Philip sighed with joy, patting his horse on the side. Though he may have been feeling love for the creature, it did not give off any compassion whatsoever.
I figured it would be better to let out words than vomit. With forced grace, I said my goodbyes to Philip, not acknowledging Sapphire in any way. Philip promised he’d be in touch with me to make plans. I hoped he’d forget. I hoped he’d pick up and leave town, never to return. Or maybe I hoped he’d find his brain somewhere deep down inside his beautiful head and get rid of the monster. It wasn’t until I was in my car and Philip was gone that I was able to let out my screams of frustration. I should have known that there would never be any outcome besides the damn horse. No way to get around it...no way to ignore it. Everything came back to the horse.