The appearance of the white horse was a shock. I found him close to the main road that leaves Liverpool and heads for Southport. I had been drinking in the city centre and was walking home from the railway station. The horse had large grey spots on his nose. I removed my earplugs and stopped the music on the smartphone.
‘You’re going to get yourself killed, mate,’ I said.
The two of us stood on the pavement close to the busy road. The white horse breathed deeply but was calm. At midnight the road was quiet but the odd car appeared. If the drivers noticed anything unusual about me standing at the side of a road with a white horse, none did anything. They drove past. The horse had no saddle and under the electric light his body looked especially clean. The mane like his nose had the odd grey spot.
‘How did you get yourself here?’ I said.
The white horse brushed his nose against my arm.
‘How did you get yourself here without killing yourself?’
The white horse did nothing but I could tell that he was curious about my hands. I stroked his nose, and he snorted. As this obviously pleased him, I stroked his nose some more.
‘I’ve got to get home,’ I said.
The white horse lowered his head until his mouth touched the back of my hand.
‘I’m in enough trouble as it is,’ I said.
This was a lie. My wife would be asleep when I arrived home. We both had jobs that took a lot of time. We rarely met. Talking had become especially difficult, and usually we kept it to a minimum. When the horse had appeared I had been listening to a song about a love that stretched to the moon and back. My wife and I had been to the moon and those were the good days but somewhere on the way back we had landed on different planets.
‘I don’t think I can take you home,’ I said to the white horse. ‘We can’t pretend you’re a present.’
The horse stood really close, and I felt the heat of his body. The white horse breathed and his murmurs hinted at suppressed power. His breathing was complicated enough to fill a universe. I touched the nose of the white horse. He looked into my eyes and he raised his nose and snorted. A car passed by on the road, so I leaned into his neck to keep him calm. I could feel the strength of the white horse but also something else, promise and potential. The white horse was as tall as me, and I was aware that he could have pushed me into the road and in front of the car. I was drunk and that helped but I was prepared to trust the animal.
The wide road to Southport was lined either side by substantial semi-detached homes, and the pavement was broad which meant that there was enough space for the horse and me. Most of the residents were in bed and asleep like the cars in their drives. The white horse and me walked side by side but very slowly and each time we took a step the white horse would pause to look at me. It soon became a ritual where we imitated and approved of each other.
One of the houses had a drive like the rest but also a garden with impressive hedges and strong grass that grew high in the corner next to the front wall. I grabbed a handful of grass and fed the white horse. He ate quickly and his mouth, teeth and tongue left heat on my hand. The white horse rubbed his neck against my arms. I fed him some more grass. The white horse and me stood outside the semi-detached house for some time. I fed him and he ate. In between mouthfuls the white horse would play modestly, leaning his neck against my arms as he had done earlier. But also sometimes he would bend his head and press his nose against my chest.
‘You’re alright,’ I said.
I looked up at the closed curtains of the semi-detached and imagined a couple asleep and their dreams preparing them for the next day. I was happy to stay there and, if they woke and heard me, I was ready for an argument.
‘It’s just a horse and it’s just a bit of grass,’ I would say, ‘and I’m taking him home.’
But nobody came and the white horse and me stayed there for some time. More cars passed but the white horse enjoyed feeding and being nourished. If he noticed the cars, he did nothing. Instead, we kept to a ritual that felt as if it might last forever, me feeding the white horse grass and him leaving powerful hot breath over my hands before snuggling against my chest.
‘You’re not to know,’ I said as I stroked the white mane with the grey spots, ‘but this brings back memories for me. You’re not the first white horse that wanted to be friends.’
The white horse ate more grass.
‘I was a kid,’ I told the white horse, ‘and, instead of walking straight home from school one afternoon, I saw a horse behind the shops. We had farmers’ fields close by. I stopped and stroked the horse and fed it. And like now, mate, I found it difficult to leave.’
I was surprised how well I remembered the incident. I arrived at my grandparents so late that they called me an idiot in anger. I thought that they might be right but I believed I had potential for something worthwhile yet unexceptional.
The garden was becoming short of grass so I caressed the white horse and let it rest his neck against my chest. I put my face close to the nose of the white horse and took a photograph of the two of us. I showed the photograph to the white horse and he snorted.
I thought about my wife asleep in her bed like everyone else and remembered again the first time I fed a horse and wasted time that everybody else thought essential. It occurred to me that I might be able to walk the white horse home to a nearby stable. The walk would be a couple of miles but I thought the white horse and me could make it because we trusted each other. The time was very late, and I decided that I needed to tell my wife what I intended to do. I listened to the promise of every powerful but suppressed breath from the white horse and felt him scratch an itch against me. I had the idea that perhaps the three of us could walk to the stable. My wife could listen carefully to the breath of the white horse and feel the heat of not just the body of the white horse but also mine.
The white horse and me left the semi-detached house and we walked to the turning into the estate where I lived. I was nervous outside my house and I paused before entering. The white horse waited by my side in the drive. He was very patient and stood very still as if he knew what might happen next could be very important. Although his breathing was quieter, his power and promise was not diminished.
I rang the bell and hoped. I waited for my wife to appear and, as anxiety stretched my stomach, I became aware that the power and promise of the white horse was something I shared, nothing rare but definitely important.
The light in the hall appeared and my wife opened the door. I saw that she was angry, and at that moment the white horse disappeared from my side. I heard his steps in the road behind me but when I turned to look there was no white horse to be seen. I was, though, able to hear the sound of what had once been something fabulous running quickly into the darkness.