Now that the horses knew their course they trotted up the trail, Ruby swishing her tail roughly, striking Buck’s face close behind her. The girl turned around in her saddle and looked into Buck’s flaring nostrils and then laughed at her father.
“Your horse is so ugly.”
“He’s a good boy,” her father said seriously and rubbed the horse’s thick neck.
“I know. He’s just so neurotic.”
“He’s been through a lot. And I think he’s handsome.”
This was another repeat conversation. It was amazing how frequently they could say the same things to each other.
The girl’s life in the last year had contained as many challenging adjustments as the rescued horses had undergone. She’d spent that first year after her parents’ separation alone with her mother. And now she was living an existence full of complexities she chose to mostly ignore. The girl slept in a study, where each night she opened a sofa bed. Her father slept in a second bedroom off the living room, and his friend Janet, had the master bedroom.
It was Janet’s house, but her father was pouring money into it. Including a grand renovation of the basement, which the girl had been told would be her living quarters. But wasn’t she leaving in just under a year?
She didn’t question them on any of these matters. On her weekly dinners with her own mother, she willfully ignored her mother’s many questions, trying hard to maintain her purposeful lack of curiosity. She knew not the answers and was determined to keep it that way.
When they arrived at the top of the hill, horses’ breath coming in short bursts, Ruby’s neck damp with sweat, the girl was thoroughly surprised to see in the distance many lit windows. The little hamlet was nearly complete. In the eerie light she could make out driveways with SUV’s and cars parked in them, upstairs bedroom lights leaking through curtains, young trees in dirt circles on new front lawns. She and her father walked the horses parallel to the development, beyond an arm’s throw or shouting distance, they both wrenched their heads off to the right to observe the new development while the horses walked and cooled down a bit. It looked unreal, like a stage set. The girl’s school had done a production of “Our Town” that year and she remembered her classmate standing atop a ladder in front of a wooden set house delivering her lines to her pretend father, another classmate.
“Wow, they’re done.” The girl said to her father.
“They’re big houses. Not so bad. I wonder what they’re going for. They can’t build any more.”
They were half way across the edge of the new development when they heard their dogs barking in the distance. There was often barking from them on these rides, possibly at coyotes or rattlesnakes or even rarely a mountain lion, or just at the fun of chasing each other. But the girl felt a moment’s discomfort, fearing that the dogs were in the new development, perhaps hassling a new owner’s pet, or even being territorial toward a person, thinking they were protecting her and her father.
But then the dogs were bounding back toward the horses, over a slight arch between the houses and the riders. She saw their dark bodies rise up and disappear again as they ran, almost like deer bounding. She may have been able to hear their hard breath or perhaps her mind just added it. Then there was a terrible sound. It was a yelp and a croak at once. It seemed to be followed by a huge silence, streaming moonlight that lit up nothing but barren land.