This is a guest post from writer Peter E. Murphy who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. The setting is New York. Enjoy.
I read before I learned to read, or at least I pretended to. I looked at the brightly colored comic strips and made up the words I thought the cartoon characters were saying. The funnies came on Sunday when my father put his music on, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and the rest of their friends. Our small apartment sounded like a cathedral. Every Thursday night he took the subway up to Carnegie Hall to listen to Leonard Bernstein conduct the New York Philharmonic. My father was a longshoreman who never went to high school. I don’t know how he came to love classical music.
He read the Herald Tribune and The Times, but they were black and white and didn’t have funnies. My mother read the Journal American and The Daily Mirror which did. Sometimes my father read the funnies to me. One day there was an advertisement for a wallet with a cowboy embossed on the front. The wallet was filled with money. I loved cowboys and wanted to be one, typical for a boy in the Fifties living on the top floor of a six-story walkup. I loved seeing cowboys in the movies, and on TV, especially the Mickey Mouse Club on Round-Up Fridays when the Mouseketeers dressed up like cowboys and danced on little fake horses. I wanted to be Cubby because I had a crush on blond-haired Karen, his girlfriend. More than anything, even Karen, I wanted a horse.
My father helped me print my name and address on the little form, write the address on the envelope and gave me a 3¢ stamp to lick. He also gave me a dollar bill to put inside. I begged him to mail the letter right away. He walked me down 19th Street to the mailbox on 9th Avenue with its dark cars rolling back and forth, back and forth. It was a two-way street then. My cousin Henry lived on 9th Avenue above a store that had live turtles in the window. I didn’t know what the store sold, but I liked looking at the turtles even though they didn’t do anything. Henry pronounced “H” as “Heach.” I asked him why he did that, and he told me that was the correct way to say it. When I started saying “Heach” people looked at me funny, so I stopped.
My father lifted me so I could put the envelope in the mailbox. I pulled open the little door and dropped it in. I was going to get a wallet with a cowboy on it filled with cash. I was going to be rich. I was going to buy a horse, a big white horse with a flowing white mane and a long white tail. I was going to ride it down the six flights of stairs. I was going to wear a crown on my head and the other kids were going to wish that they were me. After a couple hundred years, a package addressed to me arrived in the mail. I opened it up. My cowboy wallet was beautiful with Roy Rogers or Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy on the front. When I pulled out the cash it was play money.
I was not going to buy a horse and ride it down six flights of stairs. I was not going to wear a crown. Nobody was going to wish they were me. A few years later I met a horse for the first time. When I reached out to touch it, it bit my finger.
Peter E. Murphy was born in Wales and grew up in New York City where he operated heavy equipment, managed a night club and drove a cab. His creative and other nonfiction have been published or are forthcoming in The Lindenwood Review, The Room and the World: Essays on the Poetry of Stephen Dunn, Tosca Magazine, World Order and elsewhere. He lives near Atlantic City where he directs the annual Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway and other programs for poets, writers and teachers in the U.S. and abroad. www.MurphyWriting.com