The Perfect Horse Costume

by Marshall Marcovitz

There are some people who remember everything about the past.  I’m not one of them. But, in my mind’s eye, I can still see the horse costume my mother made for me when I was eight years old. Roy Rogers had Trigger, a palomino. Gene Autry had Champion, with a banner that said, “The World’s Greatest Horse.” Not as great, as the one my mother made for me, silver with four coal black hoofs. She made it on her Singer sewing machine. It seemed like every night, I could hear that clickety-clack of her making the costume, stitching it together: four leg sections, body, and horse’s head with a shimmering mane. She had me try on the head again and again to make that sure that the eyeholes were lined up with my eyes so I could see. She always wanted what she did for me to be perfect.

When my father got home late, he’d ask, “You still at it? You’re not finished yet?” The impatience in his voice made it clear to me that he thought she was wasting her time, trying to make it ‘just right.’ He wasn’t home much, but when he was, he was always angry about something.

Finally, it was the day of the Halloween Costume Party scheduled for the gym at 2:00 p.m. After a morning at school, I walked home for lunch and ate my usual peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread with a glass of milk. Then my mother helped me into my costume. It had a zipper in the back. I put on the head. It fit perfectly. The eyeholes fell exactly where I could see in front of me.

I went into the apartment as a boy. I came out a horse—a really fast horse.  I galloped down the street to get to school on time. I gave a few Whinnies…. Even now I smile when I think of the sound coming out of me. WHEEEEOOOOOO!

Just before I got to school, I had a terrific urge to pee. I had forgotten to go at home and now I strained to keep it in.

When I reached school, I ran to the boys’ bathroom. I wanted to be careful not to ruin the best, almost perfect, horse costume.

As I recall, I went to unzip my pants, but I couldn’t find the fly. I was standing over the boy’s white porcelain urinal ready to go – desperate to go, but I couldn’t find the opening. Where was the pee-hole? I felt all over – inside my left leg, inside my right leg…as high as my bellybutton.

I couldn’t believe it wasn’t there. I had to go – I kept holding it in harder, and harder. I kept looking over my shoulder, thinking someone was going to come in, seeing a horse standing over a urinal. I was embarrassed that someone would think I was playing with myself, which my mother told me never to do.

I finally worked up enough courage to go to the nurse’s office, thinking she would help me.

The door was locked. Maybe the nurse was at the Halloween party. I went to the gymnasium where everyone had gathered in their costumes. Mine was probably the best, but I couldn’t stay at the party because I had to pee so badly.

So, I dashed out of school—really galloping, galloping down the busy streets of Chicago.

I looked down and saw this yellow stain, spreading, and spreading down my leg. I was so embarrassed. I can see it today. The yellow stain getting wider and wider. Physically I felt relieved, but emotionally I felt terrible. How could this happen? Why did this happen?

Now I felt I had ruined my mother’s horse costume.

When I got home, my mother was there. I could see by the look on her face that she could see the yellow.

“What happened?” she asked.

Angrily, I said, “Mother, there was no pee hole. I couldn’t get it out because there was no opening.”

My memory of what she said is foggy … but the memory of the look on her face is sharp and clear. She looked horrified and devastated that the costume she had made out of love and had made me so happy had caused me such pain.

She was stunned. I don’t think she had ever seen me this angry. And I don’t remember ever feeling so angry, loving and sad all at the same time. I loved that horse costume, and I had loved talking to her, standing next to the sewing machine, while she was working on making the costume, and it was just the two of us.

Some memories are foggy, just out of focus snapshots. This one is sharp and clear.

I always loved her, but I felt she had let me down. She had made this beautiful costume that I couldn’t get out of.

I felt trapped, by my mother’s creation. By the very thing that I thought was world’s most perfect horse costume.

Marshall Marcovitz, who died in 2020, was a much loved member of the IRP community. For Voices, he was the first photo editor and a frequent contributor of prose.