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Hot As a Dead Horse


By Rachel Walker | Photo by Jay Goodrich

I perch on the edge of the open grave. The eastern Washington sun burning my neck. In the back pocket of my jeans I carry a pair of scissors. The blades warming in the sun.

Flies. I inhale through my nose, expecting rot. But it’s only been a few hours. The grave is six feet deep, as graves should be. My stomach lurches. I fight the urge to bolt.

One minute turns to five. Best get on with it. Prostrate on the ground, the bleached grass scratches my chest and belly. I grope deep into the hole with one arm hoping to make contact. But no. That was feeble of me.

I shimmy over the grave’s edge and slowly lower myself as if dropping into a cold pool. Flies. The day’s heat gone to the shade of cool earth.

My feet hit dirt and I’m level with a dead horse. His neck in a position he never would have held alive. He is on his side, eye open. Legs curled for a gallop. His gray coat—long bleached by age and weather—clinging for more time to his old bones.

I have this job to do. Snip a handful of tail for the owner, a woman I don’t know. A request from my boss. I’ve been working for Cindy for six weeks, hoping she’ll teach me how to train the unruly thoroughbred I bought cheap off the racetrack. But my stalls aren’t clean enough. The sponge I use to clean tack is too wet. I dole out too much hay. I need to scrub the water buckets better. I can’t ride well. Cooper, my horse, is a dubious prospect. And by association, so am I.

The harsher her words, the more I try to meet her standards. Cindy’s approach gives me boundaries I’ve been searching for my entire life. But I am weak. Maybe she’s right.

I gather a rope of tail into my hands and shear it. Then I tie it into a knot, stand on my toes in the dirt, and toss the scissors and horsehair into the sage. The grave is calm. Time to leave. I dig my fingers into the dirt and monkey my legs. But the dry earth crumbles beneath me.

Flies. I shiver. Fail a few more times.

I contemplate the horse. Step onto his body. There’s more give than I expected. My legs wobble. I crouch and leap. My hands hit the hard ground and my feet run in the air. Wriggling and grunting, my shoulders rise above the surface and I will my hips to follow till I can duck and roll sideways and forward. The sun burns my upturned face.

I’ll need to keep doing this long after the dead horse turns to dust.

From the Summer 2013 issue.

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