Discover more from Bonesick
7. The Pale Horse
These two sides of my brain need to have a meeting
7 | The Chariot
Last episode we learned a little more about the turmoil that’s been brewing in dear Toby’s soul: a relationship—er, something-ship—that went awry. Today, we peel back a major layer, so let’s ride on. (There’s some tie-in to The High Priestess in this one, so get your click on if you missed that episode the first go’round.)
In traditional representations of The Chariot Tarot card, we see a charioteer, ensconced in armor, sitting on a throne-style chariot. In front, the chariot is led by two creatures, often depicted as horses or sphinxes. The creatures are distinctly black and white—a frequent dualistic theme in Tarot as I’m sure you’ve picked up on. Again, they represent the delicate balance of yin and yang / feminine and masculine energy: the integration of intuitive interception and active willpower.
This card often contains a mega-load of symbolism beyond the charioteer archetype. A wand symbol harkens back to The Magician, which helps the charioteer leverage creativity and mystic forces against the wild creatures. Crescent moons adorn the charioteer’s armor (moon translates to “intuition” and the crescent is an early moon phase, which nods to much more story to come). Sometimes these symbols are drawn as the laughing and crying masks of Thalia + Melpomene, the comedy and tragedy symbols from ancient Greek dramatic theatre. A canopy of stars decorates the top of the card to symbolize the vast cosmos: does the charioteer have command over their own destiny or is their fate pre-determined?
The charioteer represents our steadfast consciousness while the untethered creatures represent our subconscious, our instincts, and even our conflicting animal urges ready to take us on some wild cockamamy adventure, even willing to tear us apart as they forge ahead in opposing directions. So it’s up to us to decide if we have command over these beasts and in which way they must be steered. When is our intellect on our side? Should we trust our instincts instead? Is there room for nuance between the black-and-white binary?
So let’s meet our Chariot, shall we?
7 | The Pale Horse
When you are determined to practice zazen with the great mind of Buddha, you will find the worst horse is the most valuable one. In your very imperfections you will find the basis for your firm, way-seeking mind.
— Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “The Marrow of Zen” by Shunryu Suzuki
As Toby drained the remnants of his morning cup of coffee into the sink, Pam floated into the kitchen befuddled. “Um… good morning? Did you go to bed last night?”
“Nah,” Toby replied as he walked to the carafe, mug in hand. “I’ve been thinking.” He poured Pam a fresh cup and handed it to her.
“Oh?” she asked as she clasped the warm mug firmly between two soft tentacles.
Without waiting for even a single sip, Toby launched into the conversation he had been waiting all morning to discuss. “I read the letter again last night.”
Pam released one of her patented sighs and let it fill the room instead of the hundreds of choice words she would’ve rather used.
“I’m tired, Pam.” Toby took a seat at their tiny two-person dinette table. “The Procedure—it’s just not helping like they—”
Pam interrupted, “Toby, you haven’t followed any of the instructions. In fact, you literally broke into the main rule…again and again. It’s as if you never believed in any of it to begin with!”
“True. Which is why I’m getting rid of it.” Toby stood up, walked to the hallway closet, and opened the door. He reached up to the top shelf to retrieve The Box. “I get it. This is supposed to be like a test of my perseverance or courage or whatever, but the experiment failed. So it’s gone.” With The Box under one arm, Toby reached for his apartment key with another.
“Listen.” Pam moved in very close, just inches away from Toby and The Box. “It’s my fault. I’ve been frustrated with this recovery process. Maybe I haven’t been the confidant you needed me to be. Maybe I was the wrong…” she trailed off.
“No, no, not true.” Toby shook his head and grabbed her outstretched pink tentacle in his boney hand. “Just trust me. This will be my real fresh start. I’ll show them.”
Pam wanted so desperately to defend the inner workings of Toby’s prescribed recovery strategy but struggled to find the words that would temper his determination. Besides, he was already at the apartment door, keys in hand.
“I’ll be back…one box of misery lighter!” He smirked as he closed the door behind him. He galloped down all five flights, through the front door, and out into the early morning light that filtered through the nearby park’s treetops onto the sidewalk and street in front of him. As the sun reached into his sockets, he felt the first semblance of autonomy since he started this journey. It was as if he’d been lost in the wilderness for years and the trail path finally revealed itself to him.
In the same moment that Toby took a step off the street curb, a violent blur of white and wheels collided into his space, clipped his left arm, and sent his body in one direction and The Box in another. Dazed on the sidewalk, he saw two legs running toward him.
“Shitshitshitshit, are you ok?!” The legs yelled out.
“Um.” Toby looked around and saw an old Scrambler parked at the curb. He couldn’t redirect his focus toward the pair of legs in front of him. The motorcycle with its creamy painted tank and the worn King’s X sticker on the back of the seat — it was a direct jolt to his already pounding heart. “Where did you get—”
The legs interrupted him. “I’m so sorry, let me take a look at you.” The legs were now all helmet directly in front of his face, white but covered in a pattern of tiny black star decals, unless that was just the vertigo taking over.
“Oh, I’m fine.” Toby shook his head and refocused on the girl who wore a pale leather jacket that matched the color of the helmet and the bike. Patches adorned each shoulder: one seemed to be laughing at him. “I’m—I’m kinda indestructible these days,” he chuckled with the patch.
“‘Skin Free,’ yeah I noticed. I’m one lucky bastard,” the girl laughed as she lifted her visor. “Stay here, let me grab that box you were carrying.” She stood up and glanced at the cardboard container, now open with some of its contents spilled out onto the curb and into the street. She gathered each item and placed it back inside. There was an envelope a few feet away caught by a breeze. “Is this yours too?” she yelled backward as she ran after it. After a momentary chase, she stomped down on the paper rectangle and picked it up. When she turned it over in her hands, the name and address in the upper left corner clutched at her eyes, widened with recognition. She looked up at the huddle of bones and clothing on the sidewalk. She returned to the box on the curb, crumpled a bit on one corner, and added the letter to the top of its contents. When she closed the box’s flaps, she noticed the label’s logo. Again, familiar.
When Toby noticed that the girl seemed to take a more intimate interest in The Box, he finally got up. Dusting himself off, he yelled over to her, “Oh hey, thanks for grabbing all my stuff.”
The girl returned and handed him the crumpled container. “I think it’s all ok. We should get you to urgent care though.”
“Totally unnecessary. The doctor told me it’d take a direct hit by a Mac truck to make a dent in this material.” Toby explained as he brushed his fingers over an arm. “So you’ve heard of this? Skin Free?”
“Yeah yeah, I work down at the—” the girl started and then paused to reorganize her response. “Here, let me give you my card in case you start to bleed internally.” She grabbed a small pouch from her back pocket, pulled out a crisp business card, and handed it over. “I mean I hope you don’t need me, need me,” she laughed a little too loud.
Toby glanced at the card and met her laughter with his own, “Ah, so you’re a chaplain?”
“Yeah, again, I feel terrible about this.” She surveyed the area once more. “You sure you’re ok?”
“Totally, um…” Toby looked down at the card again for her name. “…B’trix. Yeah, I’m fine. I gotta do something about this box though.”
“Ok if you’re sure. I really gotta jet.” B’trix lowered her visor and jogged backward toward her motorcycle. “I was already running late for a thing. Just call if you need anything!”
With another glance at the motorcycle, Toby gasped and started toward her, “Wait, that bike—” but he was drowned out by the start of the engine. She exited his life as instantly as she arrived.
Toby looked down at The Box in his hands, out toward the park across the street, and back down at The Box. He shook his head. His original mission would have to wait.
He ran back up the five flights and burst into his apartment. Pam was in the living room with her coffee and a twelve-year-old issue of The Atlantic that Toby brought home from the Little Free Library. She glanced up to the ruckus.
“Pam, I just got hit by a motorcycle! A white Scrambler! It’s her bike, Pam!” Toby crossed over to the couch and handed Pam the business card.
“Wait you got hit by a what?? Are you ok?” Pam searched for injury before she peeked at the card.
“Obviously not a scratch, but I’m freaking out here! Someone — this chaplain chick’s got my ex-girlfriend’s bike. She wouldn’t give that thing away for a trillion dollars.” Toby put The Box on the floor and sat down next to Pam in a daze. “Something’s wrong.”
“So you’re sure it was hers?” Pam asked, her voice laced with skepticism.
“Who in their right mind repaints a ‘68 two-tone Scrambler all white?” he replied. “It’s hers. The King’s X sticker and everything. Maybe it was stolen?”
She put a tentacle on his shoulder. “We’ll figure it out, buddy, I promise. You should call this B’trix person and see what’s up.”
“Yeah… probably.” Toby continued to sit and catch his breath as Pam looked over the card.
Miles away, B’trix parked her motorcycle in the back of the Institute and jogged to the door, late for her pre-op review with Stu. Today would be his first experience in the Room, and she knew he was probably having a shit fit she wasn’t there yet.
As she grabbed the door handle, she remembered the address on that envelope. Coincidence? A synchronistic sign? Breadcrumbs to follow? For now, at least, she would have to shake off the bewildering questions that pulled her imagination from all angles. She muttered to herself as she looked upward, “Sorry, mom. Not today.”
— End of Act 1 —
King’s X is one of my forever human’s favorite bands. We saw them a few years back in this ratty, but iconic club with a miniature Stonehenge affixed above the stage. My favorite song of theirs is called “A Box” if you want to take a listen.
The Scrambler I’m referencing here is something along the lines of this ‘68 Honda CL350. And Toby’s right, who would paint over that slick vintage two-tone?! We had one from ‘68 or ‘69 sitting in our garage for years — an abandoned barn find — but it never found itself fixed, so into someone else’s hands it went.
The sub-line to the title of this episode is a lyric from “Fell in Love with a Girl” by The White Stripes because B’trix is clearly a fan. Listen if you need a kick in the ass today.
Last week I had a chance DM exchange with a French yogi named Sybille in my online YWA Kula group. She sent me her blog (predominantly in French) and the most recent post was called “Zen Horse.” My brain immediately perked. I set Google Translate to English. I’m sure lots got lost in translation but the English version was beautiful! I also stumbled into a Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, which I hadn’t encountered before (and I’ve dabbled quite a bit in Buddhist reading). The quote at the top of “The Pale Horse” story slice is from that reading and very much fits the theme of Bonesick. More from that piece: “Those who can sit perfectly physically usually take more time to obtain the true way of Zen, the actual feeling of Zen, the marrow of Zen. But those who find great difficulties in practicing Zen will find more meaning in it. So I think that sometimes the best horse may be the worst horse, and the worst horse can be the best one.” Man that’s good stuff, especially when you’re having a total “I’m the shittiest person ever” kind of day.
As I researched different styles of The Chariot card, I stumbled upon Lisa Sterle’s version from The Modern Witch Tarot — a deck I don’t own, nor have any experience with — but a total coincidence with the motorcycle imagery! The [fortuitous] thing is that I found her card prior to drawing my own. In my head, I had a similar image (front-facing of B’trix on the bike), so I had to alter my imagined version to ensure there would be a distinct difference. I dig the end result—moments away from collision—a lot better anyway.
Next time: Well, folks, I wince as I deliver some bittersweet news. We are now at the end of Act 1, which means several things. I’m about to re-enter my busy side-hustle summer season, which means a lot less time to devote to Bonesick. I know, my heart hurts too. My next episode will not feature the next card in the series, but rather a little more explanation as to what the next few months hold for Bonesick. Please do stick around though — pleading with you, new subscribers — because good stuff is on the way, that I can promise!
Until then, may you find that your worst days are your best ones.
Don’t miss what’s next in the skeletal development that longs to keep moving albeit at a snail’s pace. Subscribe for free!