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A Horse Named Sorrow

Trebor Healey

Publication Year: 2012

Award-winning novelist Trebor Healey depicts San Francisco in the 1980s and ’90s in poetic prose that is both ribald and poignant, and a crossing into the American West that is dreamy, mythic, and visionary.
    When troubled twenty-one-year-old Seamus Blake meets the strong and self-possessed Jimmy (just arrived in San Francisco by bicycle from his hometown in Buffalo, New York), he feels his life may finally be taking a turn for the better. But the ensuing romance proves short-lived as Jimmy dies of an AIDS-related illness. The grieving Seamus is obliged to keep a promise to Jimmy: “Take me back the way I came.”
    And so Seamus sets out by bicycle on a picaresque journey with the ashes, hoping to bring them back to Buffalo. He meets truck drivers, waitresses, college kids, farmers, ranchers, Marines, and other travelers—each one giving him a new perspective on his own life and on Jimmy’s death. When he meets and becomes involved with a young Native American man whose mother has recently died, Seamus’s grief and his story become universal and redemptive.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. 2-11

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Prologue: Rusty

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pp. 3-4

I’m a clown. And I don’t mean that in the sense of being a fool either— although I’ve been that too. I mean, I’m an actual clown—as in I wear face paint (an exaggerated frown, of course), a big red nose, balloon ...

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pp. 5-12

Jimmy came from Buffalo, New York, and he had the acronym with him on the train platform the day I met him. Along with everything else: the bicycle he’d named Chief Joseph, the pannier bags, the tattoo ...

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p. 13-13

I ended up right back on that same platform a year later. Alone. And going in the opposite direction. But the bike was the same, and the panniers— even the clothes on my back were the same, since they were ...

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pp. 14-16

I’d yanked a coarse blue thread off the seat cushion on the BART train that day we’d met as we sped along under the bay toward San Francisco, lights flashing by that I always liked to believe were those ...

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pp. 17-19

Riding the elevator down, with its buttons for 1, 2, Fire, I looked at the purple velvet bag full of his ashes under that fluorescent hospitallike light inside those stainless steel walls, standing on that filthy gray...

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pp. 20-21

We parked the bike in the hall and tossed his gear in my cluttered, messy little windowless room, and I marched him grinning into the bathroom, which was miraculously empty. And I turned the ...

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pp. 22-23

I hadn’t packed up and left right away, thinking it a fool’s errand— which everyone agreed it was. And yet I was a fool, so what kind of argument did that make? Besides, he’d asked and I’d promised, and all ...

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pp. 24-30

After the bath, Jimmy had pulled out his maps and showed me how he’d traveled. One long red squiggly line, from Buffalo to Eugene, Oregon— with circles where he’d stayed the night—and then down the ...

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pp. 31-32

reached down and grabbed my water bottle, quaffed a gulp, and returned it to its holder on the bike frame. Then I hopped on the bike and rode down the very same street Jimmy and I had wandered a year ...

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pp. 33-41

A week went by after that blissful truncated honeymoon and not a word from Jimmy. So, after a dubious digging around in the alley looking for my discarded Zoloft with no success— to think I’d ...

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pp. 42-43

And pretty soon I’m in Berkeley— and rising above the campus in front of the steep dark green hills, I can see the Campanile Tower, like some phallic monument to my dashed college career. I’d ...

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pp. 44-46

I found a postcard of the old chief in a card shop and pinned it on the wall over my bed, hoping to conjure the boy I’d lost.
I turned and saw Tanya, leaning on the doorjamb, and I gave her a sheepish glance. ...

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pp. 47-48

Berkeley became Albany became El Cerrito became Richmond— like biblical begetting, the miles passed me and that bike from one on to the other, like the word of God (or in this case, the words of ...

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pp. 49-54

The next day I went to Crystal Pistol, figuring Jimmy just had to eventually appear at one of these sideshows of choice for the lost young punky boys who came to San Francisco, who did things like ...

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p. 55-55

The wine country was beautiful and all that, and the redwoods too, but everything I saw wasn’t really itself, but just something that in some way reminded me of Jimmy. I suppose I looked for him—or ...

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pp. 56-60

Lucky we were both so skinny because Jimmy and I had to sleep that first night together on Guerrero Street in his sleeping bag, which left no room for anything but an embrace. When his eyes opened, I told ...

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pp. 61-65

Up in Sonoma County someone had painted that Katmandu Buddha on a barn and it made me think of Jimmy’s third- eye tattoo.
“It was very cool once,” he’d said as we lolled on the bed, “but so were a lot of things. I wanna get rid of it.” I agreed with him, it was sort ...

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pp. 66-71

Jimmy had gotten a job through Sam and Julie, those same friends who snatched him away from me after the bath. Good thing too because he’d get insurance eventually, but not for six months, at ....

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pp. 72-73

I slept in campgrounds— all up California, all the way to Eugene— among redwoods, on rivers, sometimes near motorhomes or young hikers with tents. I always camped a ways off though, on my own in just ...

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pp. 74-78

Jimmy made really good miso soup and we ate it all winter long, with different vegetables we’d scrounge up at Rainbow Market, the big co-op on Valencia Street. One night it would be purple potatoes, beets, and burdock root with tempeh; and the next green cabbage, ...

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pp. 79-88

Out on the road, I made a habit of stopping at Catholic churches whenever I’d see them on account of an old superstition of my mother’s that I always thought was swell. It goes like this: if you are a baptized Catholic, you get three wishes every time you enter a Catholic ...

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pp. 89-91

Jimmy gave me a fighting chance, that’s what he did. Jimmy liked keeping things in line. He’d had a string of disobedient pets as a child, and he’d learned he had a gift for an odd kind of discipline: pull, Seamus; sit ...

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p. 92-92

Each morning out on the road I’d rise not long after the sun, moving about quickly in the cold, climbing into my sweat- dried, stiffening shorts and salt- stained Red Hot Chili Peppers T- shirt. Then I’d get Jimmy up and tie him on the handlebars, quickly pack the sleeping bag, ...

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pp. 93-96

Jimmy grew impatient with illness and suggested we start going to ACT UP weekly.
“What about fight no more forever, Jimmy?”
“It won’t be forever, trust me.”
It was somewhere to vent, but also: seeing what needs to be done ...

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pp. 97-99

When I couldn’t find a campground or state park near Jimmy’s red hoops, I’d stay in whatever small town was nearby. Like me, Jimmy obviously liked back roads and empty places as that’s where his red line took me. I’d sit in diners, or coffee shops, wondering what it ...

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pp. 100-105

Back in San Francisco, we’d go up to Dolores Park to amble, sit some-where, amble some more under the big date palms, amid the shiny- eyed Guatemalan boys dealing weed and grinning— because long before the cannabis club, we had to buy Jimmy pot for his appetite on ...

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pp. 106-112

It rained on and off over the pass out of California, Mt. Shasta obscured and looming among the clouds, intermittently appearing and disappearing, but ever- present all the same. Hunched over in Jimmy’s blue nylon poncho, I couldn’t turn my back on it. Had to have just one ...

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pp. 113-114

Jimmy got philosophical, which made me worry about dementia. An El Greco–looking saint muttering mysticisms. He talked about Indians— Chief Joseph and Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull—while we waited in clinics with water bottles and little Playmates to keep food ...

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pp. 115-119

In Eugene, Oregon, next stop north of Roseburg, I got a fateful, hankering hunger for one of Jimmy’s favorite foods: tempeh. And in a place like Eugene, all you have to do is look. And I saw. The characteristic plants and benches out front, the sun and cornucopia....

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pp. 120-123

I was the nurse and the janitor and the candy striper, bouncing around the room in just a jockstrap, hoping to cheer up poor Jimmy.
“I’m pullin’, Jimmy, I’m pullin’!”
“You’re a motherfucker.”
The words of love. ...

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pp. 124-140

I ate the carrots and treats and amazaki— and even the tempeh raw—my sad little seder feast for Jimmy, sitting against the parking lot wall with Jimmy- in-the-bag and my bike under the big mural of Gaia and her cornucopias and prancing cherubic black children, swinging ...

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pp. 141-145

I had to call the morgue and his family both. The Government Pages, I guess? Sure enough. I took a deep breath.
“City Morgue, County of San Francisco. May I help you?”
“Hi, uh, my boyfriend died . . . and uh, . . . I don’t know what to do: ...

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pp. 146-149

The frat had a pay phone, and it was as good a place as any to call my mom. I made a point to call her at home instead of at her office, so I wouldn’t have to talk to her. All she wanted was to know I wasn’t dead ...

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pp. 150-155

I climbed up and over the Cascades— out the 126, which just happened to be the steepest route across those mountains. Well, I’d promised. And then the mist turned to rain again. So I pulled over and put my ball cap on—that was Jimmy’s too: Buffalo Freight & Salvage— and ...

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pp. 156-158

My friends kept calling to cheer me up, leaving invitations on the machine. Jimmy’s friends, Julie and Sam, appeared one night after several unreturned messages. There they were, all in black, showered and ...

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pp. 159-160

I rode into the sunrise, followed it in my backasswards way, since all the time it was sliding right over me, going in the other direction. A backasswards wise man looking for a star over Bethlehem. Bethlehem Steel more like, because? ...

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pp. 161-162

I went to visit Jimmy, but they wouldn’t let me in. I gave the flowers to the security guard, who sort of held them out in front of him like a soiled diaper.
“What am I supposed to do with these?”
“They’re for Jimmy, the guy in there.” I motioned....

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pp. 163-164

I reached the Ochoco Mountains within an hour, rising up east of town into pine forests. So much for my dream or delusion of sagebrush forever after my previous delusion of Douglas fir forever. One delusion leading into the next like ...

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pp. 165-168

Looking over at Jimmy- in-the-jar on the mantle, I realized I needed to find something to put him in for the journey. I remembered he had a velvet sack, Jimmy did—purple as I recalled— and I rooted around for it. He’d kept his drug paraphernalia in there: a bong, roach clips, ...

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pp. 169-172

Eventually, I reached a small town called Prineville, and I was back in sagebrush high desert with its grasses and occasional pines. I found a diner, and while scarfing a burger and fries, I noticed a banner across the street announcing that the Prineville Public Library was having its ...

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pp. 173-174

I hadn’t the heart to tell my mother Jimmy was dead or even that I was leaving. The last time I’d visited, she’d made us Russian tea and snickerdoodles. Comfort food. All wrapped up in paper and bows, sitting on her little entry table, where she’d always put my ...

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pp. 175-176

It was already dusk when I finally left Prineville; I couldn’t stay there. In the book, Indians had called paper “talking leaves,” and something about that image and Andrew Jackson on the twenty and all those books was ...

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pp. 177-179

My mom and I went out for lunch and I told her I was leaving. She gulped a rather substantial swig of her Chardonnay, picked up her napkin, and dabbed her lips before ...

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pp. 180-193

The next day I saw Jimmy crucified in a church in a town named Dayville. It was dark in there, and I mistook the J-man for sweet Jimmy up on the cross. One more skinny, put- upon man, out to save my ...

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pp. 194-195

If it was time for goodbyes, then I owed the kids at the Y a visit too. I’d neglected them, which is a rotten thing to do to little kids. I hadn’t even explained, and kids don’t sit around surmising on death and taxes, so they probably just thought I ...

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pp. 196-207

Carl was right. It was the most beautiful place on earth. All morning I rode through rolling hills with big orange rocky cliffs off in the distance, the sun bright and rising toward noon. I’d lucked onto a good road with little traffic, and the pancakes and coffee and warmth ...

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p. 208-208

I put Jimmy in the purple velvet bag, hammering on the bottom of the second mayonnaise jar to get him all out. Then I tied him to the handlebars upfront where I could watch him—and of course, talk to...

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pp. 209-215

I owed her a call. So after pancakes and a good dose of seven or eight cups of overcaffeinated Denny’s coffee to give me courage, I dialed my mother at home, where I knew she wouldn’t be. Some ...

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p. 216-216

My last night in San Francisco, I snuggled up in the sleeping bag and put a candle in each of Jimmy’s mayonnaise jars so as to burn up whatever was left of him and wish him well. They burned all night, and in the morning I tossed the jars out the window ...

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pp. 217-224

From the map, I knew that Craters of the Moon National Monument was twenty miles further on, and in the setting sun I decided to press on through the chaparral to reach Jimmy’s red hoop, knowing there’d be ...

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p. 225-225

It was 6:00 a.m., so Guerrero Street was more or less empty, fogenshrouded— all the better to make my escape. But so beautiful too. San Francisco was a maddening city, hard to leave, a place where nostalgia could set in thirty ...

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pp. 226-234

I rode out of Arco, and into the sagebrush nowhere, as empty as I was. One hundred miles of INEL, which just goes to show you how deceptive a short little acronym can be. This particular acronym looked like the rest of the grass and ...

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p. 235-235

And sure enough, San Francisco made one last play for my heart, as once down in the station I encountered the same problem Jimmy had had when I’d first found him on the platform in ...

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pp. 236-245

We drove the rest of the way to Idaho Falls in silence. Where I got us a motel room. Two double beds. I didn’t know how that was going to work out until Louis climbed into one of them and said, “Do what you gotta do, but don’t make too much ...

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p. 246-246

Aside from a few dirty looks—me being a rule breaker and all with my bike on the BART train at rush hour—it was just another day for most of these people. And yet, was it ever just another day? All of us deep in the middle of some story ...

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pp. 247-254

Louis found us sleeping under a blanket. “Hoka hey!” he shouted. He clamped the new hose in place in no time while Eugene lit up his pipe. Back on the road, I asked Louis why he kept calling me Blue ...

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p. 255-255

On the BART train there were a dozen people buried in the newspaper, so thick with stories you’d see people fold it up and put it down with a sigh. There were babies, who didn’t know what they were in for, kids starting ...

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pp. 256-257

I reached Greybull and found a campground. In the morning, I went looking for breakfast and saw the town was on a river.
“What river is that?” I asked my waiter at the diner as he delivered my pancakes.
“That’s the Big ...

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p. 258-258

The BART train finally slowed down to the platform, and then the doors slid open. I hesitated— the platform like a question. He’s not there when ...

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pp. 259-275

I headed south (what color was that? And I looked at my fingernails: red). I followed the Big Horn River, through a town called Basin and past mountains that looked like heaps of ice cream.
Kissing Eugene.
He too, disappearing and yet ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780299289737
E-ISBN-10: 0299289737
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299289706
Print-ISBN-10: 0299289702

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2012