So why did the slow workhorse want to race the speed horse?
Well, having heard the story of the tortoise and the hare, she had hope.
As for the speed horse…
She agreed to the contest because she wanted people to marvel at her swift grace.
However, at the starting line, the crowd cheered only for the workhorse. The speed horse realized: no matter how grandly she ran, people would favor her heavy-footed opponent.
How unfair, she thought. Yes, I’ve been blessed with speed. But I have sacrificed much to develop my natural ability.
And no matter how hard she worked, her parents criticized the effort. No matter how fast she ran, they said she could run faster. From her brother and sister, she received only stinging words of jealousy.
The gun sounded and the workhorse began to plod up the road, straining those bulky muscles to the maximum…
But the speed horse lingered behind, still pondering her dilemma.
As she watched her opponent huff and heave, she began to feel sorry for the poor beast of burden. Imagine having to drag a heavy steel plow all day long!
Perhaps I’ll let that snail win, she thought. Give her a highlight moment to ease a life of drudgery. I’ll just sit myself down for awhile.
But as the speed horse began to lower her legs, she felt a fierce hot pain deep in her chest.
As for what caused that pain…
Some say it came from a heart denied its true desire.
Others claim it was merely heartburn. After all, she’d eaten a green apple earlier that day.
In any case, both groups agree on this point:
The speed horse believed the pain to be a message from her heart…
So she leapt up and bolted forward in a flash.
Spectators all along the road felt the rush of a gale…
…and glimpsed a streak of mahogany and silver with a long mane stretched out straight. A wild boil of dust covered them in the aftermath.
But wait—a third group claims her decision wasn’t based on any internal pain. They say the speedster made this quick calculation in her head:
Since I was a colt, I’ve run and run well. I’ve always been known as a speed horse. But what if I don’t run? What am I then?
Fearing a loss of identity, the speed horse once again became a flowing mechanical motion of picture-perfect gallop.
Though they felt sorry for her opponent, the crowd then cheered the gleaming beauty of that otherworldly creature.
Some say she truly felt appreciated in that moment…
But others declare: she did not hear them, did not even see them. No, her attention was focused on a mirage glimmering just above the distant horizon. A silver-gray cloud of nebulous fog. That dream image spoke to an unnameable desire now realized for the first time.
In an effort to obliterate that overwhelming desire, the speed horse ran all day and all night. Finally, with the rising of the morning sun, she collapsed…
…but died happy because the desire ended with her death.
That version has much appeal for me…
…but from experience I know: the poetry of our lives usually remains hidden beneath the daily river of prosaic events. So I’ve accepted this more mundane end to the tale:
The speed horse won many more races after that one. However, like all the greats, she eventually succumbed to injury and age. But though forced to retire to a gentle green pasture, she had enough good memories to pacify whatever twinge of desire remained.
As for the workhorse…
Her racing career ended with that disappointment. She resumed her usual labors and worked very hard for a very long time.
Yet she was at least blessed in this way: when she couldn’t pull the plow anymore, her master was kind enough to let her live to the natural end of her days.
No, the race wasn’t a good memory for her…
…but it did, in time, become a great story. In her later years, she often told the upstart colts of how she’d beaten a speed horse on a spring day, long ago.
Her overconfident opponent had lollygagged around, until it was too late. “Yes,” she said, “the story of the tortoise and the hare is actually the story of how I triumphed against incredible odds!”
No, the workhorse wasn’t always honest. But I think we should forgive her this little lie. After all, she had to work very hard for a very long time.
© 2018, Michael R. Patton
myth steps: poetry ebook