Half man, half bull, that’s me. Half myth; half monster. And you thought you had it bad. My mother fell for a white bull. Not that he ever loved her back. She had to have a false cow constructed, climb inside, and have it rolled into his field, before he’d give her a second look. Try explaining that next time someone asks, “And how did your parents meet?” Even the most liberal have difficulty understanding a woman degrading herself like that. Half-pathetic; half contemptible. I just tell them: “Don’t have a cow!”
Not that I get out much, not since I entered my teens. My stepfather’s ashamed of me, won’t be seen dead with me. Oh, it was cute enough when I was a kid – people liked to pet my muzzle, watch me flare my silky nostrils – and I was always a hit at Halloween. But now I’m an adolescent – half-child, half adult – now it’s clear I’m not growing out of it, that it isn’t just ‘a phase’, he’s lost patience.
“What?” he ask my mother. “I suppose you’d like to take him to a china shop?” It was his idea to confine me to this basement labyrinth. “Not confined,” I can hear him telling her, overhead. “He can come out anytime he wants. I’m a man, not a beast. Maybe you’ve forgotten the difference?” Which always shuts her up. I feel sorry for her, in truth. Anyone can make a mistake. The heart is the heart. And now she’s gone from bull to bully. She visits me every day – I’m home-schooled – and even slips down in the night sometimes to cradle my head in her lap, stroke my velvety head. I lie very still so as not to gore her. Your father, she whispers, was a god; Zeus in disguise. She means it as a consolation, but I fear I inherited only the disguise, none of the godliness.
My demi-god, she calls me. ‘Demi’ being the polite word for a half of something worth having, the cup half full, the demi-tasse.
Technically, of course, he’s correct, my stepfather: I’m not confined. There are no locks, no gates, no chains, no bars. I’m just here at the center of the labyrinth. The room’s pretty comfortable – cable, microwave, internet, even a cramped little bathroom (it’s hard to maneouver in a shower stall with horns). All the usual amenities you’d expect in a finished basement. Bow-flex, knotty pine, futon. And I can call out, order in – half pepperoni, half field-greens (the pizza guy used to bring his own thread, but now he’s got the route down). But it’s hard to leave, you know. Agoraphobia, is what I tell people if they ask (they often do in chatrooms). Sometimes, I say, I don’t have the use of my legs.
But really, it’s this – at the door of my room, there are two choices: left or right. I stand there for hours at a time, looking down one passage, then the other, staring into the darkness. What would it be like to charge down there? Or there? But I can’t choose. If I think of going right, start to imagine it, pretty soon I start to feel half-hearted, regret not turning left. Then again, if I’m of half-a-mind to go left, I soon feel the same thing about the right. And the worst of it is, as I understand from the pizza guy, these choices just keep recurring, every few steps – left or right? Right or left? Of course, even if they didn’t, even if the labyrinth is a lie, an invention of my stepfather’s – he pays for the pizza, after all, probably tips the guy well – it wouldn’t matter. Why ten choices, or a hundred, when two are enough to stop me in my tracks, snorting and pawing a bald spot in the shag?
The horns of a dilemma? My horns are my dilemma.
Sometimes I hear my stepfather up there – he drinks, no surprise – when my mother is out. He likes to stamp around, sometimes it sounds like he’s doing a jig, sometimes a rain dance. And when he has my attention, he calls down, in a mocking sing-song: Pick me! No, pick me!
I toss my head and snort hotly.
“Half-breed? Half-wit!” he taunts. “Half-man? Half bullshit!”
“Half-father?” I bellow back. “Half cuckold! These are your horns, old man! I got them from you!”
“Want to give them back? Come on then!” He pounds the floor. “What are you waiting for? A red rag?”
He wants to make me angry enough to choose, but I can’t. I can’t! For a long time, I thought it was fear, indecisiveness. Half-coward; half-Hamlet. But why does it have to be left or right? Why settle for half-measures? Given those choices, I refuse to choose. And why just those two? Why not up, or down, or straight ahead. Why not a third choice? So I’ve been trying to make a new way for myself, charging and running my head against the wall, ripping through the pine and particle board with my horns. Beyond them, as I guessed, are dirt walls, hard packed, but dry and crumbling. It’s hard work – I have awful migraines that flash like sparks from horn tip to horn tip – but the sight of my own blood on the earth only urges me on. What’s a bull’s head good for, after all, if not butting and battering, gouging and goring.
And all the while, over the ringing in my ears, I tell myself, This is my choice, and lower my head once more.