Hi everyone! Happy Friday. I’m sure over the past couple weeks, you’ve been unicorned out. What with the rise and fall of the Unicorn Frappuccino, only to be chased and check-mated with Unicorn Lemonade and the resurrection of the summer ombre, we’ve been surrounded with sprinkles and sweetness, rainbows and charcoal comebacks, and Harry Potter memes (which I happen to love, to be honest—especially with the move of The Cursed Child to the NY stage and the rise of a HP book club…).
But all of that being said… I think the conceptualization of the unicorn is still beautiful. There is purity to it, as there should be, and there is an inherent quiet to its being that I often associate with horses—does anyone else see this? feel this? when they’re around horses? that reassuring, powerful quiet?—that I look for in every piece that I read that includes a unicorn… and I picked up on it in this one. This piece kept that strange mystery and took it to another place, kept it weird, and transformed the story in a way to take us somewhere else. Maybe we could use that at the end of a long week.
I hope you enjoy it.
Kevin first shuffled out of the woods a few months ago while I was playing my zither in the backyard. He lay down to listen, nuzzled his horn in the grass, then got up to pluck pieces of glass off the hanging mobiles on the eaves. These seem to be his only two motivations in life, listening to the zither and eating bits of glass. For a time I was happy to oblige him even if I got nothing in return but the belief that we somehow had found each other, me by choosing to remain in that small house after my husband left, and him by my abundance of the only two things in this world that he seemed to live for. But then I was laid off from the hanging mobile factory.
I was advised by our head of human resources to begin my unemployment by taking stock of the things that I still had. I had no nice jewelry, no nice dresses, no savings, no husband, no job prospects.
But, and I think this was the human resources lady’s point, let’s try to forget all the negatives. I still have some things. I have my car (currently in the shop), my unicorn, my French press coffeemaker, my writing stationary, my zither, my TV. I would very much like to sell Kevin to someone for the reasonable price of one thousand, seven hundred dollars so I can pay off the repairs and get my car back. I was thinking of asking for two thousand, seven hundred dollars, but I thought that might invite bad karma. Mythical creatures always have some sort of, well, let’s face it, myth behind them, and it would be just my luck that one of those unknown myths bemoans selling off a unicorn for a profit lest a terrible hex befall the profiteer’s sight, or hearing, or genitals. So in fairness to both of us I seek no profit, only the money to get my car back. Sometimes all a person needs to start a new life is a way to flee their old one. I placed an ad in the newspaper, “One unicorn, male, enjoys music, good companion. $1,700, price firm, call 555-5955.”
An editor from Good Living Magazine called a few days after I placed the ad and asked if I could write an article for them about my unicorn, since their readers find unicorns “fascinating” and they are always looking for a “fresh perspective” from “experts” on the subject. I was flattered of course, and thinking quickly, I requested a flat fee of one thousand, seven hundred dollars for the article. The editor agreed and said the article was to be 5000 words. I have never written anything more than some letters here and there to my ex-husband, but I was overjoyed at the shot for a new career in magazine journalism. I pulled out a pen and some of my stationary, made a large cup of coffee in my French press, and went out to the patio to begin writing.
I knew magazine articles had to start off with a real zinger of a sentence, something to grab the reader by the collar. I couldn’t think of anything with that kind of pizzazz however. So I got up from the chaise lounge and switched to my kitchen bartop. I remembered once hearing that Ernest Hemingway always wrote standing up, so I thought this arrangement might get the words flowing for me, too. But I didn’t know how to begin. I couldn’t just say, “My unicorn Kevin loves eating bits of glass and listening to music played on the zither.” That wasn’t what the articles in Good Living Magazine sounded like. Why didn’t Kevin do anything else? Why wasn’t he fascinating?
The next day I resolved to write the middle of the article first and get to the beginning part later. I wrote a few sentences describing Kevin’s “whispy silver” mane. After some time scribbling descriptions I counted up all the words and the total came to 85. 85 words! How can anyone ever actually write 5,000? Just because a unicorn came to live in my backyard, that made me an expert? Why didn’t the editors want an article on hanging mobiles? Those I could write for days about. But before you can begin talking about hanging mobiles you need a diagram sketched out for reference, so I did that on some graph paper as the afternoon slipped away.
I hadn’t had the urge to drink for some time, but now it overwhelmed me. A deadline loomed. In the cellar I found a few bottles of wine my ex-husband had left. There were some cobwebs in the cellar so I scrubbed out the rafters with a dustcloth, twisting my wrist in the corners.
After three glasses of shiraz I was pretty drunk and nearly called my ex-husband to tell him I drank his vintage. Then I had an inspiring thought: Kevin had to come from somewhere. He came to me from the woods so maybe he had a family back in there. The readers of Good Living Magazine would love an article with a family theme. Everyone loves a good article about family.
I baited Kevin with glass shards, and he sheepishly followed me back into the woods. Where’s your family, Kevin? I asked him. He contently crunched up the glass in his jaws and followed me down the deer-trod path.
It was getting dark out. I almost drunkenly staggered into a tree. Then Kevin skewered his horn into the trunk of a birch tree after I bumped into him. His black eyes looked so helpless. Kevin, I asked him again, this time speaking slower, Where is your family?
–appeared previously with SmokeLong Quarterly, alongside amazing artwork and an author interview. Definitely check it out.
SCOTT STEALEY lives and writes in Chicago. He runs a webzine called Please Don’t.