The smell of sage courses through the racing veins of the wind. Unlike mortals, the Wyoming Wind never dies. As he shuts the old two-tone Dodge’s heavy door he turns around to face his destination, Dead Horse Draw, aptly named for its purpose. His weighted blue eyes peruse the all too familiar jagged geometric landscape. Everywhere he looks clean white bones lay bleached, juxtaposed against gray rocks that gleam an ancient greenish blue. Secrets of past life hide in the hollow eyes of old skulls and like slithering snakes that make an all too sudden appearance, life meets death and a story comes to an end. Somehow the sage brush is able to bloom in this seemingly barren gully that holds bodies, bones, and hooves. That’s what he always notices, the hooves. They’re just there, no different in their death than in their life, except that they’re attached to bones making them somewhat nightmarish, if you believe in that sort of thing.
He grabs a cigarette from his breast pocket, lights it with OK-Corral-like fluidity and inhales. Damn things, he’s smoked them since he was 9 years old, it’s a habit, that’s all it is. He likes them, they’re a part of him. He wishes he’d hurry up and die, instead of witnessing everything he loves die. Doc watches him through the open truck window, those once fierce border collie eyes now clouded with cataracts. The smartest hardest working dog you’ve ever seen reduced by time to a gentle companion who knows too much. His red muzzle peppered with a tired gray, the slope of his head has become more acute, the way it does in old dogs. There’s nothing sadder than an aging dog, especially a good dog. You can’t rewind time, nor can you control the wind.
He came here to put Holiday down. Holiday was his wife’s palomino horse. He’s done everything for that horse since she’s been gone, it’s like he can apologize to her by caring for her horse. After this is done he’ll have finished burying her. Only in theory of course, because in Dead Horse Draw nothing is buried, it’s left to the elements. The wind decides your burial.
The old man thought about Holiday, he was “gregarious” and a “flirt” she use to say, smiling from the inside out as she watched him graze against the majesty of the Wind River Mountains. He was the last colt of her favorite horse Belle. She loved that bitchy mare more than he’d seen anyone love an unlovable quadruped. The old rancher who owned her bred her and let my wife take them both when the Ranch down on the East Fork was dismembered. The times are changing was all he’d say. They had left the two of them in the dry lot with the herd, but never used them. Emma had a lot of work to do when she got Holiday, she loved him right off the bat, since he was Belle’s baby. The only reason losing Belle didn’t kill Emma was because she had old ‘Day here to care for. A truck and trailer flew by causing Doc to raise up from the passenger seat, his one ear lopped over while his other stands at attention. The old man nods his head in the familiar way you do out here. The passerby knows about Dead Horse Draw, only he doesn’t know that shooting this horse is like killing your sweet wife. Emma wouldn’t want him to suffer, the old man reminds himself as he unloads the arthritic horse from the trailer.
You see, Miss Emma died a terrible death, Lung Cancer rotted her big sky beauty from the inside out. Miss Emma probably smoked a total of ten cigarettes in her life. Sometimes when the two of them were sitting on the porch she’d motion to him that she wanted a drag. Other than that she just asked her stubborn old husband to quit once or twice a year for their entirely too short life together. She never nagged him about quitting, simply letting him know that she’d wish he’d quit. He promised her he’d quit on their first date.
He drew the imaginary X from ear to eye noticing the fingerprint-like swirl of hair on the horse’s face between his eyes, the old man said a prayer for the horse and a desperate apology to his dead wife was carried by the wind. He exhaled and pulled the cool firm trigger. A shot rang out. And of course, the wind kept blowing. Loyal old Doc tilted his head to the wind smelling with his mouth partially open, exposing his chipped and yellowed canines. Everything knows about death, only the wind is free of it.