A long, long time ago, in 2005, I was walking through the parking lot of the Dover Shopping Center, in the great city of Dover, Delaware. I was on my way to Walmart to buy a large quantity of glue and construction paper for a project that will remain nameless. Out of nowhere, a nondescript man wearing pointy yellow shoes and a blue wig approached, asking if I could hold his horses.
“Hi ma’am, can you hold my horses while I run into Starbucks to use the bathroom and grab the last copy of Mariah Carey’s Greatest Hits?” The man asked. You have to remember, this was so long ago that Starbucks still sold CDs. But even in 2005, you couldn’t just leave your horses unattended in a parking lot after 5 pm. That’s just plain rude.
I was totally pissed. How dare this stranger call me ma’am? I was 27.
I pondered what this man was asking me to do. On the one hand, holding someone’s horses while they go into Starbucks to buy a CD is like helping a stranger find their lost dog. The dog usually doesn’t exist, and sometimes the dog is actually five thoroughbred stallions. On the other hand, I had just run into my ex in HomeDepot and five thoroughbred stallions seemed like the perfect distraction.
The catch was that I was terrified of anything that had four feet and moved faster than my great-grandmother. My great-grandmother was an Olympic sprinter, so anything that moved faster than 20 mph really freaked me out. But I had been feeling kind of stuck in my job working on a top-secret project for NASA, so I figured watching some horses for a few minutes could shake things up. Or maybe a horse would kick me in the head and I’d never have to go to work again. God, I hated NASA.
I agreed to watch the man’s horses.
Five hours later, and I was still in the parking lot with those fucking horses. By then, it was dark and cold and I was starting to worry. People keep walking past me and the horses, holding their noses and saying “Why does that woman smell like 10 pounds of rotten halibut?” And it was true. My nemesis at NASA had dumped 10 pounds of rotting halibut onto my driveway in the middle of the night. The construction paper and glue from Walmart had been purchased to make a large banner advertising steeply discounted rotting halibut.
I brought the horses into Starbucks to use their phone. Not everyone had a cellphone in 2005.
“Ma’am, you need to take your horses and leave,” the manager said.
“I’m literally 27, stop calling me ma’am. And these aren’t even my horses,” I fired back. But then, I had an idea.
“Do you happen to know the man who came in here earlier and bought the last copy of Mariah Carey’s Greatest Hits?” I asked the manager.
“You mean the Starbucks CD bandit?” A look of surprise crossed the manager’s face. “Of course I know him. He’s been stealing Mariah Carey CDs from this Starbucks since 2002.”
I had to admit, I was kind of impressed.
“There’s nothing that man loves more than Mariah Carey’s greatest hits,” the manager continued. “And stealing.”
“Do you know when he’ll be back? I have his horses,” I said.
“Oh, he’s definitely not coming back any time soon,” the manager said. “Especially if he left his horses. The only thing he loved more than Mariah Carey was his horses. All of his horses are named Mariah Carey.”
“Must be confusing for them,” I added, looking up at the stallion who was chewing its way through the metal Starbucks sign.
“I think they prefer Beyonce, if I’m being honest with you,” the manager let out a heavy sigh.
That was possibly the lowest point in my entire life, or at least during this particular escapade. I so desperately wanted to find the nondescript man in the pointy yellow shoes and blue wig and tell him that I could no longer hold his horses.
The next morning, I awoke, still in the parking lot, to the sun rising over the Walmart sign. It was a new day and I had a new outlook on the whole predicament, and terrible back pain from sleeping in a parking lot under a horse. These horses must have been placed in my life for a reason. That idea felt better than having been scammed into watching the Starbucks CD Bandit’s horses for the last 24 hours.
I bought a saddle and some Clif bars from Target and began the journey west. I figured if all else failed, I could always blunder into a Utah village of 257 people and demand to speak to the sheriff, just like in those terrible Western movies my grandfather used to watch when he blacked out on Diet Dr. Pepper and absinthe. Just me, five thoroughbred stallions, the open road, and a stolen copy of Coldplay’s Greatest Hits.
Bobbie Armstrong is a former child, current writer and student. Her work has appeared on McSweeney’s, Slackjaw, Belladonna Comedy, Little Old Lady, and her parents’ fridge. Follow her existential crisis @bobbien_