Horse Two by Anita Dime is a noir crime fiction short. Currently available only as an e-book, this nine-chapter gallop explodes out of the gates, Anita’s first stab at noir. She’s a gifted writer, fitting in the genre with enough imitation to be recognizable without regurgitation–her voice and style completely her own. I was grateful for her confident prose; it’s unapologetic and real, and never winks at the audience in an amateur sort of way. We’re never reminded that we’re reading noir, and the story is devoid of dross ‘filler’ garbage that clutters so many failed attempts from others.
“The Number Two horse. You bet the Number Two. That’s the one you bet, right?” I stammered. This isn’t happening. My temples were pressing the veins to burst.
“Anita Dime” is actually a sexy pseudonym employed by Julia Huff– an equally talented artist. Horse Two is accompanied by seven original linocuts from Ms. Huff, that lend a concrete visual to an already cinematic tale.
“They’ll kill me to make it even.”
Horse Two is really a story about Carl, a downtrodden gambler, and the worst week of his life at the horse track in the 1930s. Here is the noir definition scorecard:
1) The Seedy Underworld
The setting for Horse Two is most often the track– the visceral tension of the contest clouding the grandstand, while crowds of hopeful dopes throw money at their problems. The power and beauty of the animals is perverted by the depravity of their spectators, all loveliness destroyed by desperation.
2) The Anti-Hero
Carl is the anti-hero of the noir short– he’s filled with hope, but it only serves to increase his torment as his situation worsens. He seems to desire a life away from the track, a life with Lillian perhaps (his on-again, off-again), but he’s waiting for the ‘big-win.’ He’s plunged into the noir filth when he decides to force luck’s hand.
3) The Femme Fatale
Lillian is a strong-willed femme fatale– she’s left Carl before, and she won’t hesitate to do it again if he can’t get his life together. Carl has hidden much of his life from her due to shame, and it’s his lust for a future with her that drives him to desperate ends. In this way she’s fatal; she’s his deadly incentive.
She put the bag down, reached over, and took a long drag from my cigarette. “That’s the closest you’ll ever come to kissing me again.” She flicked it and walked on.
The only misogyny in the tale stems from Carl’s dishonesty with Lillian. He keeps her uninformed, and even when he’s in danger (and he’s endangered her), he still treats her like a child; he believes her incapable of helping him or protecting herself. This ‘damsel-in-distress’ theme is further insulting to Lily because she’s unaware of the danger.
“Whatever. It’s done. You better move, and now. Lose your name. Don’t forget the Missus; I’ve seen that blonde. They’ll take her out too.” He smiled.
The redemption theme is heavily employed in Horse Two– We meet Lily in the second brief chapter, and it’s apparent that Carl is almost out of chances. His entire motivation stems from his desire to redeem himself in her eyes.
Eroticism never makes an appearance. Their sexuality is implied but never addressed; the audience kept aloof save for quick kisses the morning after.
7) Loss of Innocence
I won’t spoil the sick punchline of Horse Two, but Carl becomes desperate enough to do something for which the reader hates him. In this way, we lose our innocence with him, and perhaps more than we’re comfortable acknowledging.
My life’s love–I’d killed it. I would never again watch a race with joy in my heart.
8 ) Smoke
The obligatory homage to smoke is paid in full– beautifully rendered by Ms. Anita Dime.
All nine chapters are descending steps of masculinity and Carl plummets down them. As a failure, Carl can never be with Lily– he is constantly trying to define himself but can never attain his ideal (or hers). Horse Two is the story of his emasculation.
“Just, please, I can’t explain.” I didn’t want to tell her that I was not the man she thought she was seeing– certainly not the one she met.
I was only disappointed in the ending– it was good, but I wanted a more brutal conclusion to Carl’s journey. I felt that the consequences should have been more severe. Perhaps I’m wrong– read it for yourself and shoot me an email. Anita Dime AKA Julia Huff gave us a wonderful piece of noir crime fiction; drop a couple of bucks and download it for your collection.