Living on the rough streets of this big city’s poorest neighbourhood, Montana and her horse Chuck were inseparable from the day they first met.
If you think having a horse in a city is strange, wait until you hear about the bizarre creature that everyone – and that included all the adults in their varying degrees of cynicism – referred to as Chuck.
You see, our dear little Montana had quite the imagination. I guess that’s a good thing, seeing as it must have helped her escape the depressing reality we all found ourselves in. She never did seem to belong here, if you know what I mean. She was too good for her family, too good for this neighbourhood, too good for the life she was forced to endure.
Lord knows why her parents named her the way they did. I doubt they could find that state on a map. Hell, I bet they couldn’t even find America. And I know for damn sure they’ve never set a toe past the invisible line that surrounds their ‘hood.
Anyway. Montana found herself an abandoned red wagon one day in the field behind the old telephone manufacturing building. Some rich kid must have given up on it because it had a wobbly wheel and a bit of chipped paint but that girl fell in love with it at first sight. Sometimes she’d be able to convince one of her neighbours to pull her around in it, usually me for that first while but then others as I began to wear down. The rest of the time she was on her own so she’d get a good running start and jump in, cackling like a mad child as she bounced down the street on one of her rampant charges.
After a few months of bouncing off garbage cans and walls and everything else in sight, so much of the paint had come off that wagon that it was more silver than red. But if you think that made Montana love it even a single iota less, you’re sadly mistaken.
Then one day, maybe a year and a half back, the transformation took place. Montana must have constructed it during the night, when everyone was either sleeping or passed out or too drunk to see two feet in front of their faces. She emerged with her wagon that morning and we all just stood and stared as she paraded it up and down the street.
She had converted a broken broom handle into a fragile neck and attached it to the front of the wagon. Atop that was an empty pop bottle that had been covered with at least five different shades of coloured tissue paper, arranged to form a mouth and eyes and two floppy ears. The mane was made of dirty shoelaces, the tail of weeds and dead foliage that she must have collected from the park three blocks away. She had scrubbed the remaining paint off and the thing sparkled like a silver bullet in the morning light.
“Everyone come say hello to my horsey. His name is Chuck,” she announced after a few lengths of her road. Nobody said a word. We just had no idea what to make of it, you know?
Ever since that day Montana’s taken Chuck everywhere. I’ve heard she’s even taken to sleeping on him instead of her own bed. I can believe it – it’s probably more comfortable than that bug infested floor in her bedroom. She rides him around the neighbourhood every single day, firing off crisp salutes to all she meets. I’m not sure how long it was after she introduced him to us all that she began collecting bits of glass and pretty stones and calling them diamonds and gold, but I think that’s when people really started talking about the cause of it all.
Some people say Montana was dropped on her head by her alcoholic father not long after she was born. Others say the damage was already done in the womb by her heroin junkie mother. But I know better. I know how it all started.
There’s a legend that’s been passed down through my family for generations. No one can say for sure when or where it came from but we all believe it without question. Outsiders might call it a myth. I call it a promise.
On little Montana’s fifth birthday, two long years ago, I foolishly told her my family’s tale. I didn’t speak a word of what I’d done to a single soul, so great was my shame. Until now.
So, as the cancer tightens its grip on my blackened, rotten lungs, I must pass it on. I have no sons. I have no daughters. But it must not be forgotten. It must not be lost. So I share it with the world:
From the midst of the people of the street
She will bring us out from beneath their feet
She will give us the gift of hope once more
And she will shake their system to its core
On her shoulders we place our hopes and dreams
She will tear this world apart at its seams
She will come when we are in greatest need
And she will ride upon a silver steed