“Fuck. This isn’t good.” Her father walked over to the girl and handed her Buck’s reins. “I’ll be right back.” He didn’t wait for her to answer.
The girl’s hands began shaking hard. She hooked her reins over the horn and slid off Ruby’s left side, practically right into Buck’s head. She held both horses by the reins, while they sniffed the ground, sought out a piece of grass. Her father and Path had disappeared. She realized that her eyes had been focused solely in the distance, on the houses, five hundred yards away. Now she looked in the near distance right before them. The development was landscaped all the way out to the trail they walked at the crest’s edge. There was new grass and young trees in dirt circles evenly spaced on the incline. And as her eyes grew accustomed to the moonlit landscape, she saw that there were three-foot tall sprinkler heads every twenty feet or so.
The sound they heard was still sharp and clear in her ears, only two minutes had passed. A yelp and a croak, and now the girl realized she’d heard a crunch too. She began crying.
“I’m over here. Dammit! I just found her.” His voice was choked with distress.
“I’m coming! Where are you?” She began walking, pulling the two horses behind her. She had an image of placing the hurt dog over Buck’s saddle, gently walking her home.
“Don’t come over here!”
The girl stopped, waited for more. She heard her father crying. “Oh, fuck,” he cried, “I’m sorry sweet baby.”
“Dad? Is she dead?”
“Aw. Fuck.” He straightened up now, and she could see her father clearly in the moonlight, fifty feet away from her. Path ran one full circle around her father and presumably Tara’s body, then stood by his master. The girl could see that they were both facing away from her and the horses, looking at the houses again.
“I can’t get her body off the sprinkler. I’m gonna have to walk to those houses and get help and call Janet to come pick her up.” He was facing away as he said this, but she had no trouble making out his sad, quiet words.
Her father had never been a hesitant man. He began walking off toward the houses before she could answer him.
She leaned on Ruby and stroked her mane and neck, wishing she could remove the saddle and lean over her back and cry. She looked at the stars and the big, round moon. She pictured the doorbell, a tiny illuminated moon her father would have to ring. And then say to these enemy invaders, “May I use your phone? I’ve had an accident, my dog just died.” She could picture everything. Him standing in someone’s new kitchen, using their wall phone, the beige phone ringing in their own adobe house, Janet answering. Her father asking the gentleman for the names of the streets, the route to take from Canon Road and Topanga Canyon Road. The girl knew how curt and uncompassionate Janet would be. How angry.
In what seemed an unnaturally short amount of time, she heard her father’s voice and then saw two men approaching. Her father was leading the other man to the spot. She heard their voices.
“Jesus. What a mess. This is awful.” Her father never said ‘Jesus,’ he said ‘Shit’ and ‘Fuck.’ Jesus was the other guy. Then they were crouching and grunting, and the girl could only imagine how they lifted the dog off the pole, how the sprinkler slid out from between her long ribs.
When they’d laid the dog down in the dirt and stood, letting their dirty hands dangle at their sides, the man looked out across the landscape right at her, holding the two horses, and the great wilderness behind her, that he would never walk or ride.
“It’s dark out here.” He said to them, a recrimination.
She had never once felt it was dangerously dark on their full moon rides.
Then the silver Ford truck came slowly along the brand new paved road of the development. The girl watched its large square headlights take the bend and creep to a stop in front of what must have been this man’s house.
Janet stepped down from the cab and slammed the door and then just leaned there, against the truck. The girl’s father would come to her, her posture said.
She leaned against the truck there with her arms folded, too far away for the girl to see her expression, but the girl knew well the purse of her lips, her raging eyes. The girl suddenly knew that her father was over his head in this. The house, the woman, even the horses and dogs and the full moon rides. In the light of the moon, the girl knew her father’s vulnerabilities like she never had before. He was trying to figure his life it out while it was all pushing him toward something. She wished he didn’t have to walk over there and deal with his angry friend.
“We’re over here.” Her father called. But he began walking toward Janet, and the girl knew he’d make it all the way there. When he reached Janet, she walked to the back of the truck and lowered the gate. She removed a large plaid blanket and followed her father. The girl could tell they didn’t exchange any words.
It would have been Janet who would have thought to bring a blanket to wrap the dead dog in. She was raised on a farm in Montana, whereas the girl and her father had both been raised in cities. Janet was the native to this lifestyle, they were the newcomers to horses, to night rides, to canyons, to retrieving dead dogs.
The two men carried Tara to the truck and Janet walked back with them, the blanket still folded in her thick arms, her chin tucked in. She had every right to be furious, and sad. This was her puppy above theirs. Before they could lay the body is the truck, Janet said, “Wait.” The word carried to the girl, who was done crying, but still shaking from the whole experience. Janet spread the blanket on the truck bottom with care. When they lay the dog down, Janet must have folded her into the blanket, wrapped her. The girl saw all this from quite a distance and in profile, and it looked for all the world like a stage set beneath the bright lamppost of the driveway, a place where only moonlight had been just a short time before.
Janet murmured something else, and her father opened the passenger door of the cab and ordered Path to jump in. Path hesitated, but obeyed. Then Janet got in and without goodbyes drove the two dogs home.
Her father reached her minutes later.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” But her voice broke into tears. Holding one set of reins in each hand, she wrapped her arms around her dad’s waist. He hugged her around the shoulders and he began crying too.
“I’m so sorry, Dad.”
She wished she could protect her father from what she’d first seen here in the moonlight. That he wasn’t in perfect control of everything he touched. That the world he lived in was only partially lit, and with many trails that led off into darkness.