November 1, 1947, was the day Man o’ War died. Lordy, you should have seen this town. Everyone went out to the burial. Talk about being in mourning. The day they shot Kennedy, well, it weren’t even close.
I was still young and single back then, in 1947, in my 20s. Them were the good ole days. The parties we used to have! I was the belle of the ball, only, of course, when I wasn’t bettin’ the races.
Then I got married and had kids. Now they’re all grown, and George and I, well, we can barely stand each other. About the only pleasure I get out of life these days is my Marlboros, my Old Fitz, and bettin’ the races, of course. I reckon them’s all vices, but even an old lady like me is entitled to some fun in life. At least I don’t cuss like a sailor. David, he cusses enough for all of us.
One day in September I was leafin’ through the magazine, the first monthly we done. And I come across this Man o’ War ad. It was for a print of him and Will Harbut. They was both gettin’ on in years, but you could tell how much they loved each other. “I got to get me one of those,” I thought. “Forever Friends” is what they called it.
About this time David came over to ask for a ride home. He likes to walk usually, but every once in awhile he ask me for a ride if the weather’s real bad. It was rainin’ hard that day.
“I got to get me one of these,” I said to David, tappin’ the page.
“Man o’ War and Will Harbut, eh? ‘Forever Friends.’ Nice title. They do look awful cozy together. How much do they want for it?”
“Well, let’s see. A hunnert and 75 dollars, it says here.”
“Yeah, that’s about the going rate for good prints these days. But I’d say this one’s worth it. Go for it, Martha! Money’s no object, is it?”
“Well, I don’t know. I got to buy new tires for my car. Seems like every time I turn around something’s wrong with the dern thing.”
David just laughed that funny laugh of his. “That’s one big reason I don’t own one. But anyway, Martha, are you gonna send away for it, the print, I mean?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I can afford it between the dern car and Keeneland coming up. I got to have my bettin’ money, you know.”
“Well, maybe you’ll do well enough at Keeneland, hit a few doubles or exactas, to be able to afford it.”
“Be too late by then. They say it’s a limited edition of 900. They start shipping October first. Keeneland don’t open till the fourth.”
“Well, Latonia, I mean Turdway’s open. Head on up there tonight and win a few hundred.”
“I wish it wuz that easy. All I know is I want one of them prints so bad I can spit, and I cain’t afford it.”
Well, I dropped David off that day, still thinkin’ about that print. Man o’ War and Will. They really loved each other. You could see it in their eyes. Will died about six months before Man o’ War did. Some folks say Man o’ War died of heartbreak, ’cause he missed Will so much. I don’t know. He was 30, and that’s awful old for a horse anyway. Older than me now relatively. I don’t know. Sometimes lovin’ a horse hurts worse than a human bein’.
I told a few other people about how bad I wanted that print. But Keeneland weren’t no help at all. Lordy, I swear I was havin’ a hard time. Seems like I couldn’t pick my own nose, much less any winners.
About the third week of the meet I got a message that there was a package for me downstairs. After I got back upstairs and opened it up, what do you think it was? That Man o’ War print! Dern if you couldn’t have knocked me over with a feather. Someone I told must have sent it to me. I looked around for somethin’ to tell me who it was and who I should thank, but there was no note, no card, nothin’. For the life of me, I couldn’t figger it out.
I went over to tell David about it. He acted surprised and came over to have a look at it.
“Wow, that’s nice, Martha,” he said. “You like it?”
“I surely do. I love it. I just cain’t figger out who must have sent it to me and who I should thank. There was no note, no card, nothin’.”
“That ain’t important, Martha,” he said. “Someone did. It’s here. Looks like you barely made it too. See, number 825 of 900. You were right about time being of the essence. The important thing now is for you to win some money at Keeneland and get this framed properly.”
“I’ll surely try, David. I’ll surely try.”
Funny, but that Saturday my luck turned. I hit the double, both exactas, and a 25-1 shot. I was up over three hunnert dollars for the day, best day I ever had at the track. I got the print framed fro $75 and had enough left over to fix the dern car again.
But I still cain’t finger out who in tarnation sent me that print. It had to have been someone I told about it. That narrows it down to about a dozen people. But I just don’t know. Someone out there is a true friend, but I don’t know who it is or who to thank. Whoever it is, I thank ’em kindly from the bottom of my heart.
But maybe that’s not important, like David said. Man o’ War and Will are up on my wall now, along with my other prints. That one’s the best though. It’s my prize possession. Man o’ War and Will. Like it says, they wuz forever friends.
With Thanksgiving next week and Christmas coming up after that, I felt like doing something more “heartwarming,” “uplifting,” “inspirational,” or whatever. Take your pick. I wanted to leave the acrimony of the HOTY debate behind. I said what I had to say about it, and now it’s time to let nature take its course, for better or for worse (probably the latter).
The above was the last short story I ever wrote. It was written in 1986. I had told everyone that I had sworn off writing any more “fiction” of any description. Then I heard from a college friend by the name of Aimlesseth. She begged me to write one more short story for her. So I gave it a whirl (or a scribble or whatever) and sent her a copy. Never heard from her again. Anyway, I am usually not very good at telling a story from any point of view other than my own, but this one seemed to work out OK, I think, I hope anyway.