The Secret of the Black Horse Inn (circa 1993)

Jackie grew up in one of those little hick towns that got stuck somewhere in the seventies. While the rest of the world grew and evolved, this town just went on clinging to the views, ideals, and moral judgments that it has always believed in. There is a small Jewish community that resides here, conveniently and conspicuously segregated in a small section on the north side of town. There are all of two black families that dwell here among the Catholics and WASPs; they are doctors and lawyers and send their children to expensive private schools. There is no high school within its borders; the population isn’t large enough to require one. Not one establishment serves alcohol on Sundays. The stores close at four o’clock, the post office closes at five, kids run home when the streetlights come on. In other words, Jackie’s hometown was one of those places that, when you grow up, you either never leave, or you leave and swear you’ll never go back.

In all towns like this, there’s always some kind of  local tavern smack in the middle, an establishment that you would swear has been there since the beginning of time and will remain there long after you’re on the other side of dirt. A place that you walked or drove past every day of your life, yet never had any desire to go in. A bar where local firefighters and cops hang out, dimly lit and smelling like desperation and broken dreams. The Black Horse Inn was a place such as this.

When Jackie turned twenty-one, she fled to the gay bar scene, in search of her kind. The nearest gay club was just outside her hometown, a nondescript squat gray building with the un-queer, simple name of “Todd’s.” Inside though, it was packed full of older, tougher dykes and aging, pearl-clutching nancies. She liked spending time with them; they were once passing women and closet queens, had lived through Stonewall and the infamous bathroom lines. Jackie learned their history in a way she never could from books.

One night, a couple of her favorite local lesbians were discussing upcoming social plans for the week when she sank into her barstool. She imperceptibly leaned to the left a bit, listening for clues about what they did outside of the bar. Unexpectedly, one of them uttered the words “Black Horse” somewhere in her sentence. Startled, Jackie rudely interrupted,  “Did you just say Black Horse?” They both stared at her. “I’m sorry, it’s just that…I…live close to there and, well, just curious.” That seemed to be a satisfactory apology because they went on to explain their plans and extend an invitation. 

Jackie was amazed to discover that the landmark Black Horse Inn was a popular haven for her fellow dykes every Wednesday night. Jackie was beside herself. Could it really be that a small band of her people congregated after hours in her town, a place likely to be a home to the KKK in decades past? She wondered if the town was aware of this; surely the village people drank there on Wednesday nights too. She simply had to go and witness it or she would never believe it.

She arrived at exactly eight o’clock, having been instructed to appear anywhere between seven-thirty and nine-thirty, and sat outside in her car for a while to see if she noticed anything unusual. Nothing—she was almost disappointed. Jackie walked across the parking lot and slowly opened the door, thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?” Sure enough, there were three of the women she knew from Todd’s, already perched on barstools, beers in hand, chatting with the bartender. Jackie practically ran to them from across the bar when, to her horror, she realized that there were other people present from her town, followed by a horrible thought: What if she ran into someone else she knew?  Not that she wasn’t out, or that she wasn’t proud, but there was something disturbing about running into her parents’ next-door neighbor. She steeled herself and kept walking.

So, Jackie thought, this was the Black Horse, nothing particularly special about it, just a bar, like a million other bars. One by one her comrades filtered in. A few burly men would leave, a few husky looking women would enter, like a scene change in a play. She kept waiting for something miraculous to happen. Something had, she just hadn’t noticed.

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