I am a lonely old man in the corner booth of an all-night diner. On the table before me is a plate greasy with fried eggs and hash browns, a plate I’ll eventually wipe clean with two slices of toast. It is midnight. I am studying a week-old Racing Form. I will make my selections, then check them online against the results when I get home. I save money that way, and it’s just as interesting. The Racing Forms I retrieve from the recycling bin outside my apartment.
Outside the plate glass window, the neighborhood is lifeless. The bar across the street has been closed since a shooting there two months ago. Before I go outside at night, I take the credit card out of my wallet, any large bills from my pocket. That way, I’m not worth robbing, and I believe it shows. The waitress whistles “The Ride of the Valkyries” while bussing a table. The only other diner lolls in an obsessive relationship with his omelet. Time creeps by like an elderly landlord and I look at the fifth race from Fairmount Park in Collinsville, Illinois.
Carpe Noctem, the number three horse, is five years old and well into a downward spiral. Three years ago he won his debut race, one with a $30,000 purse, and is 0-for-36 since. Seven second place finishes, four thirds, falling in class faster than hard rain. Now he’s in this bargain basement claiming race. For $3,200, anyone could buy him. But why? Last place in his most recent effort. The Racing Form notes: Sprinted to lead. Flattened out. Done early.
A horse after my own heart.
I circle his name and move on to the next race.
The poetry and prose of Robert L. Penick has appeared in over 100 different literary journals, including The Hudson Review, North American Review, and Plainsongs. He also edits Ristau, a tiny literary annual, and he lives in Louisville, KY, USA, with his free-range box turtle, Sheldon. More of his work can be found at www.theartofmercy.net.