You see the unicorn again this morning, cropping grass under the trees in the neighbor’s yard. The dog freezes growling, ears up, hackles too: she hasn’t seen it before today. The unicorn raises its head and studies you, eyes melting-chocolate dark, one behind a snowfall forelock. The dog falls quiet beside you.
Good morning, you say, to be conversational, and also, How are you today? as if myths had always come to visit.
The unicorn tosses its head and sunglow dances on sharp spiral horn. If it would like the newspaper, you decide, you aren’t about to stand in its way.
A school bus rumbles past, heading towards the school; the unicorn flicks an ear but does not turn. A boy salutes with one finger and you understand the unicorn’s ignoring them. A girl presses face to window glass and then looks away; she doesn’t want to see.
You see, but aren’t sure if you believe. How can you, in myth and magic, in an animal that shouldn’t be able to lift its head? How can you not, as it nuzzles your dog and munches the tall grass around your mailbox?
You pick up the paper and turn to go. The dog joins you, trots ahead with tail gently waving. You glance over your shoulder once. The unicorn watches you go.
You return home that evening after class, pull into the driveway and stop. The unicorn approaches, hooves ringing on dull asphalt. You glance one driveway over to your neighbor; she waves hello to you, but ignores the creature at your side.
There’s no magic in this world, you tell the unicorn, but know you’ve never believed it yourself. You try again: must be hallucinating. You think of causes and effects and whether you could also hallucinate your dog. The unicorn stretches its muzzle towards you, but doesn’t quite touch.
You don’t want me, you say. Isn’t it all about innocence? The unicorn watches you gravely. It seems thinner than this morning, and less present. I have to let the dog out, you say, and do.
You walk, and the dog gambols ahead, dashes back to snuffle the unicorn. You think about unicorns and about golden bridles and virgin girls. You remember the school bus and grimace, thinking of innocence.
They called you innocent, once. Also naive, for your generous view of the world. Kind, well-intentioned, but maybe not so bright. As if cynicism is a mark of intelligence.
You pass a trio of students on the corner, waiting for the light. One glances wide-eyed and quickly looks away — too cool for unicorns. You cut through the park, past an old man who glares at you in your comfortable clothes, looking yourself. He does not see the unicorn.
You turn for home past the bookstore and pause, looking in for the clerk who always remembers you and your dog, always has a kind word for your choices and a flame-brightness behind the eyes. Duller lately, less responsive to your fumbling attempts at conversation, as if the world has begun to lay heavier on his shoulders and no one will relieve the burden. You’ve seen that look before, in your classmates and companions. They call it growing up. Becoming practical. Seeing the world as it really is, not just how you’d like it to be.
You wonder how you missed that step, and how the clerk did not. You put your hand on the door. You wonder what you’ll say. Your hand slides off the knob and back into your pocket.
I believe, you tell the unicorn, and it puffs warm breath against your face.
The unicorn seems smaller than it was and follows you inside your home. I hope you’re housebroken, you tell it, but it’s too busy negotiating for a share of the dog bed to notice. Much smaller then, but somehow substantial. You wonder if a unicorn will eat lettuce wilted from forgetting in the back of the refrigerator.
You open the paper, left on the table since this morning, unread. The front page is everyday destruction and corruption, one prominent group of activists disbanded, another destroying books. You find another section, an article about a musician, level-headed, laid-back, love of life warm in every quoted word. You peer at the photograph, at a unicorn watching in the background.
You call your dog. The unicorn follows.
You wonder again what to say as you trot through the dusk past the beaten-down and the self-consciously cool. You pause for a toddler who flings arms about the unicorn’s leg and calls it: Puppy! The mother shrugs, apologetic; you wonder what she sees. You pause again, for a tattooed teen shooting baskets, hand stretched to velvet muzzle through chain link fence. And again for a couple from the university, one defensive, uncertain, the other on edge. They pat the unicorn and smile; you smile back.
The clerk looks up as you push open the door; cowbells shiver in your wake. The dog scampers over and sits and though she wins a smile, it takes a moment to surface.
Come on, you tell the clerk, glancing out the window at the waiting unicorn. There’s something I want you to see.