Pink Horse by Kate Bernheimer

I got fooled by this terrific story and I bet you will too.  It’s got it all: a compelling opener that pulls you right in, atmospheric detail that makes you feel the scene, and a doozie of a surprise. You gotta read the story so we can talk about it …

Pink Horse by Kate Bernheimer

A long time ago, I was very poor and often traded my body for cigarettes, Chelada, or food (in order of preference).  I had two children – both daughters – and together we lived in a motel on the coast.  It was a knotty-pine kitchenette cabin, and came furnished with a teapot, a few chipped flowered plates, and some utensils and bedding. The cabin overlooked a paved parking lot and beyond it, the beach. If a man came to visit, I sent my youngest girl out to find driftwood and starfish and shells.  (Her sister was in kindergarten, so always gone in the morning.) There was no market for these trinkets among tourists; but they were precious to my little girls, truly their only possessions. We washed them and kept them along the edge of the porch rail and inside, on the white windowsills, which otherwise were very empty, apart from a pink horse my youngest had found in the woods. That pink horse! How she loved it. Once when she had gone a very long way to gather her treasures — all the way under a natural tunnel inside the cliffs, which led to a narrow beach that would trap you and kill you if you were stuck there during high tide — an old woman with pink hair approached her and sang her a song. My daughter told me about this old woman, but I didn’t believe her. Later that week, my girl brought home a sea urchin, closed. She said that when the sea urchin opened, the old woman would return and that she had promised then to bring us good luck. I got an empty jar from the cupboard — it had once been full of beach plum jelly but had long been gathering dust. We walked down to the edge of the ocean and filled it with water. Back in the cabin, we placed the closed sea urchin carefully into the water, where it sank and stayed closed. The next morning my littlest girl didn’t wake up and the sea urchin had bloomed. It was on her grave that my other daughter placed the pink horse. Then she too was taken — by the high tide — the very same week. She’d gone into the magic tunnel. Now I do nothing but drink Chelada all day, haunted by pink. Pink urchins, pink cigarettes. Pink horse, pink horse, pink horse on the grave — if ever the pink horse flies into the sky, your daughters will come back to life. The pink-haired old woman sang that to me once when I passed out in the sand. For now, there you stand in the dark of the wood — beautiful, all-powerful, and silent. Pink horse, you are everything, and everything is everlasting in you.

 

This story walks like a memoir. It talks like a memoir. It smells like a memoir. It’s a memoir, right?

Wrong!

The story was written as part of an experiment devised to demonstrate the effect of narrative on an object’s value.  This pink horse, and many similar thrift-store objects, were auctioned on Ebay with an author-contributed story as the object description. The project raised a whopping $8000! The original price for the pink horse was $1 and the final auction price was $104.50 – a brilliant illustration of the power of personal narrative.  Check out the anthology that immortalizes the project: SignificantObjects, conceived by Rob Walker & Joshua Glenn and published by Fantagraphics.

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Categories: sample stories

4 Comments on “Pink Horse by Kate Bernheimer”

  1. lucewriter
    December 2, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    I was so caught up in this story. The tension and the lovely lyrical quality to it are marvelous. I have to admit the way it ended, though, wasn’t satisfying or thought-provoking for me. It seemed at that point as if I was following a thread that wound all over the yard and that, ultimately, the place I was left off was just random. You didn’t feel that way? maybe I’m missing something important. Probably I am. Once I heard what the experiment was, i have to admit, I just loved the whole idea of it. How cool that it could have that effect? And what does that say about our own writing?

  2. December 2, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    Hi lucewriter!

    Yes, I’m sure this story is going to be a bit controversial and strike different people in different ways. I didn’t see the ending coming and it happened so abruptly that it shocked me. That’s what I love most about flash stories – that surprise around the corner.

    I too love flash story experiments and am compiling a list to share. If you know of others, please post links here and I’ll add to the list with credit to you. Writers are so darn creative. :)

    I’m a big believer in the impact of storytelling. I encounter many beginning writers in my class who are trying to find their voice and the value in their stories beyond themselves. By the end of class, each one of us is changed. The power of stories to help and transform is a study unto itself and part of the fabric of humanity.

  3. December 7, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    I was so surprised at the end that I had to go back and read the story again. I was sad until I read your explanation of what the story was really for! I would love to see a photo of that pink horse!

    • December 8, 2012 at 10:58 am #

      Hi Galen, I know, me too! There is a photo of the pony in the link to the online story in the title above. It’s an old-fashioned style toy horse, plastic, pink & prancing, with downy feathers for mane & tale. And, it’s awfully good looking for a thrift find, obviously lovingly cared for. I find the project intriguing and am on the hunt to find out about similar story projects. Thanks for your comment!

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