There is no plot in this short work, only a portrait of a put-upon unicorn keeper. Amilioona, the unicorn, has dainty gleaming, tufted—perfect— hooves which gleam “the same sparkling shade of white as a hillside of snow in the sun.” Those dainty hooves manage to kick the slop bucket over regardless of where the keeper leaves it. They also kick up fresh hay, making the keeper sneeze.
The unicorn’s trespasses go from inconveniences that could view with indulgence to more serious things. Is Amilioona conscious of the pain she inflicts? Or, like a spoiled toddler, does she simply not understand?
Amilioona earns her keep, performing in a carnival and visiting children’s birthday parties. However, she insists on being fed by hand. She won’t eat three-leaf clovers. They taste different from the four-leaf clovers she demands. If the keeper tries to set limits, Amilioona stops eating and loses her silver-as-moonlight ethereal glow. Everyone blames the keeper and cries for her fix to the unicorn.
It’s hard not to see this as the quintessential abusive relationship. Everyone is enchanted with the unicorn who performs ludicrously impossible acts in the carnival. A trapeze artist walks the unicorn home and says goodbye to the unicorn while ignoring the human because after all, the human is only the unicorn’s keeper.
The keeper sees the situation as her fault. Amilioona is a difficult eater because she babied her when she found her as a fawn. The bandages she wears when the unicorn cuts her with her horn are the result of things the keeper has done. (Again, is this deliberate? Out of negligence? Or does Amilioona simply not know better?)
This nicely crafted little piece leaves the reader unsettled.
According to her blurb, author Mary E. Lowd lives in Oregon with her husband, two children, a bevy of cats and dogs, and the occasional fish. Her fiction has won an Ursa Major Award, two Leo Literary Awards, and two Cóyotl Awards. She is also the editor and founder of the furry e-zine Zooscape.
The story can be read here.
Title: “The Unicorn Keeper”
Author: Mary E. Lowd
First published: Theme of Absence, January 17, 2020