When they got to the bottom of the road they, took the saddles off the horses, rubbed them down, fed them some grain, and released them into the corral. The boy said they could spend the night in the cab of the old blue truck and so they rummaged for spare horse blankets and coats from behind the seat. They searched the truck cabs for something to eat and found a box of old fashion cake doughnuts and drank some tepid coffee from a red plaid thermos.
They situated themselves in the truck and let the night settle around them. A horse snuffled and stomped as if to claim ground upon which he would stand and sleep.
The boy sighed and glanced over at the kid.
“Can I tell you something?”
“One time the old man decided to shoe one of the horses. It was a two-year-old sorrel and a little jumpy. I held the reins while he locked the front hoof between his knees and started working on the hoof and eventually the colt started leaning on him.
He yelled at me, “Get ‘em off of me!”
“I didn’t know how to do that. I spoke to the horse and pulled the reins away, trying to get the horse to shift its weight. When I did, it jerked his foot away. He started cussing and threatening. I didn’t know if he was threatening me or the horse.
“He picked the front foot up and started tapping another nail through, and I guess he got the curve of the nail wrong cause it went into the quick instead of out, and the horse jerked his foot away. He took that hammer and started beating the horse with the claw end over and over again. Rippin’ clumps of flesh from its belly as the horse sidled away. The old man’s little black dog was running round, making racket with its yippin’.
“He yelled at me to hold the horse still. But the horse kept shying away from the blows. It was horrible. Sounded like someone hittin’ the ground with a pick ax. The horse’s eyes rolled back into its head and all you could see were its whites. Finally, I let the reins go so it could get away from the hammer. And that’s when he turned towards me with the hammer raised like he was going to hit me with it. I just froze, didn’t know what to do. Suddenly he had this strange look on his face like he just recognized me or something. Anyways, he lowered his hand, and then I heard the hammer hit the dirt.
“His chin was quivering, but his teeth were clenched tight around that pipe stem, and he was heaving his breath. He bent over and picked up a little spiral notebook and his glasses case that had fallen out of his shirt pocket. Then with this blank look on his face, he just started walking into the cabin. I grabbed the horse, pulled the shoe off and let it go, put all the horseshoeing gear away in the saddle house, and sat down on the stoop. That black dog scratched and whined at the door until the old man let it in. I don’t know how long I sat there. But stars started coming out. I could hear him building a fire in the stove so I got up, picked up an armload of wood, and went in the cabin. When I stacked it in the woodbox and turned towards him, he had that little black dog in his lap and was petting it. He said, ‘“I put some beans on to warm for your supper, and I put some biscuits in the oven. I hope that’s okay with you?’”
“I said, Yeah, thanks. Then he went back to pettin’ his dog sittin’ there in his lap.”
“Why’d you tell me this?”
“I don’t know, maybe to help you understand him.”
“Well, it didn’t. He’s a mean son of a bitch.”
The night grew cold, and the two boys pulled their jean jackets tight to their bodies and nestled themselves down into the rounded corners of the old truck.
“Get your foot off the brake,” said the boy. “You’ll run down the battery.”
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