When is a horse not a horse?

Now, I don’t want you gettin’ no preconceptions about me. I live my life tellin’ lies that mean somethin’ to me, an’ that’s my truth. That ain’t no riddle, neither. See, there you go: readin’ too much into my words already.

I’m what they call an artist. Me, I call it paintin’ shapes on paper and gettin’ paid. Hey, I ain’t no cynic – I’m good at what I do an’ I charge to match. They get to go home with somethin’ they like; I get to put bread on the table an’ have enough dough left over to keep bakin’ fresh batches of my work.

But you know what does get me cynical? Is when they see what ain’t there. It’s always the same sort: nose turned toward the clouds, eyes turned toward my work but lookin’ straight through it. 

“Mmm,” they say, agreein’ with their own self. 

“I see it – the mother cradling her infant!” they cry, pointin’ at my sketch of a horse. 

“Fascinating use of space,” they breathe, admirin’ the horse fillin’ the frame. 

“I’ll take it,” they smile, thrustin’ too much cash my way with one hand an’ silencin’ my protests with a wave of the other. 

Now, I know I should be content to be makin’ a sale, an’ I am, up to a point. But somethin’ just don’t sit right with me. If I paint a horse, I paint a goddamn horse. I ain’t hidin’ no secrets in it. Ain’t no Trojan horse. Ain’t no Virgin Mary an’ Baby Jesus. A horse is a horse is a horse. 

’Cept, apparently, when it ain’t.

An’ just like that, I release a lie into the world. It ain’t no lie to me – it’s a horse – but that don’t matter. They believe a lie an’ I let ’em. My truth is right there on paper, but they don’t buy it. They buy what they see.

Tomorrow I’ll paint a cat. Happen somebody will see the cat an’ buy the cat. That or they’ll look toward the cat an’ see a volcanic landscape.

But who am I to say? What’s horse an’ cat to me might be virgin an’ volcano to you, an’ that’s your truth.

Ah, who understands art anyway. 

Laura Coleman is an amateur writer, professional copywriter and vocational worrier. She lived in the Czech Republic, Spain and New Zealand, before returning to her native UK where she won a national short story competition in 2019. She tweets at @lauravcoleman.

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