Fiction Series – The 200-proof Smile

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Del Mar Races

In the first installment of our short story fiction series, contributing writer Michael Dykstra gets us ready for horse racing season with a tale from a day at Del Mar.

We showed up as the horses for the fifth race were trotting through the sun soaked paddock.

Normally I would’ve been sitting on a shaded bench under the Don Jose clock tower, waiting for someone to leave so I could retrieve their car. From there you can’t see the horses warm up, let alone race, so you have to tune your ear just right to hear the thunderous announcer with a British accent yelling as fast as the horses run.

Today I decided to take my one day off for this summer and I had nowhere better to go than here, with Ms. Sarah Lawson.

“So is this like gambling?” she asked as I was pointing out the better-looking fillies of the bunch.

“Sure is.”

“So how do you bet then?”

“There’s all sorts of ways to bet on horses.” Though I figured sticking to the basics was probably the safest bet here. “Well, I like that 2 horse there in the baby blue. I mean look at those yoked-out deltoids. Mine are almost there.”

I scanned her face out of the corner of my eye to see if she smiled—she had—and then to the program to see who was riding.

“And see here it tells you that Alex Solis is the jockey. He’s been winning a lot of races the last few weeks. But you also might want to bet according to the odds.”

“What are those?”

“K, say for the 2 horse, if I put five dollars on it to win, and it’s listed at ten, that means I would make fifty dollars because you get ten dollars back for every dollar you bet, that make sense? The higher the number, the less likely it will be that that horse is a winner.”

“I’m bad with numbers. Here,” pulling money out of her designer handbag. “Just bet for me. Pick the 2 horse, and I like the horse in green, number 7.”

The fillies now sauntered their way towards the track, signaled by the ceremonious trumpet call that I heard at least eight times a day. As the 2 horse, Firestorm, casually followed its predecessor she suddenly threw her head up in an alarming fashion, forcing Solis to jump back a bit. She was feisty and I liked that in a horse. Actually, I liked that in just about anything. Her glazed-over eyes sharpened with a palpable intensity. An animal such as a horse can silence a crowd just as easily as it can stir it into a living thing all its own. I knew that this horse would be a winner, but now it all depended on how much fire she had breathed into the lungs of the crowd. I was engulfed.

By the time the gates opened and the horses stampeded the dusty track, Firestorm was a heavy favorite.

“Look, the 2 is out in front. You were right.”

“Actually, that’s not always a good sign. Frontrunners tend to tire easily.”

I was beginning to tire myself with my smug conversation. Had I let this place and the people I waited on every day start to infect me? Truth was, I felt guilty betting on horses. Horse racing seems so uncivilized and yet the boredom of this job continually lures me to its carnality.

Sarah’s horse was saving itself as the pack converged around the ominous final turn.

“As they come for home, it’s Brooke’s Angel winging for it. Brooke and Fool’s Gold are neck and neck. Brooke, Brooke, and Brooke’s Angel is the winner, then Fool’s Gold and Primetime Player runs third,” the announcer strummed out in one, long gasp of seemingly endless air.

“No way Matt, my freaking horse won.”

“Yeah, so much for my advice on the 2 horse. I should’ve just asked you. How’d you decide on the 7 anyway?”

“Everyone knows it’s the luckiest number. Duh you moron,” she offered with a painfully sardonic smile that intoxicated me much more potently than the nine dollar margarita I had been sipping. “Wait, what was the name again, something Brooke?”

“Yeah, Brooke’s Angel. You know a Brooke?”

“I used to know a Brooke,” she replied softly, her compelling, dark green eyes slowly drifted downward. I finished my margarita and led her towards the booth to cash out.

“Where we going, to get more drinks?”

“Well, that could be arranged. But I figured you wanted to cash your ticket ASAP.” I sort of realized then that maybe that wasn’t exactly a top priority of hers. Sarah came from a pretty financially stable family and drove the kind of car I parked about thirty times a day.

“Actually I don’t think I’m going to cash it today…maybe never.”

“What a highroller you are Ms. Lawson. How about you pay for the next round of margaritas then?”

It wasn’t until a few weeks and dates later when I realized money wasn’t Sarah’s concern that day for another reason altogether.

I was unaware that Sarah had had an older sister for most of her life. Brooke was an attractive brunette who loved riding horses. Tragedy had struck the Lawson family years earlier when Brooke passed so prematurely in an auto accident.

I obviously had never known Brooke, but I did know her Angel for the 6 ½ furlongs she raced that day at Del Mar. While the odds had piled against her (48-1), the final stretch was where she flashed her brilliant speed to the amazement of thousands. Sarah had known the horse was a winner despite being unaware of her name. Was it simply the luck of number seven or was it something else entirely?

What stands as the clearest sign of divine intervention is the winning ticket that remains behind glass in the empty horse stables found in the Lawson’s backyard. At dawn each morning, the sun’s radiant rays strike that ticket with its myriad of colors. In this prism of life, Brooke can be seen riding her horse in but the few brief moments of purest sunlight. There, every dew-laden dawn, Sarah waits.

When the two sisters meet vis-à-vis, Sarah’s already 100-proof smile momentarily doubles in strength. This unrivaled smile intoxicates all those fortunate enough to have encountered its transfixing power before, so that upon waking their day is but a further continuation of their night’s most pleasant dreams.

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