Rewind, several years ago, on another hot summer day….
I get home from work and trudge out to the barn to visit the Wonder Horse. Heat is pouring down like scalding rain and splashing off the pavement and sand. A roadrunner sits on a fence pole, beak open, panting like a dog. Nothing else is moving, even the little gray lizards have gone to ground in the midday sun.
The Wonder Horse, tough Arabian horse of the desert, is under his shady porch. I hear the clomp of hooves on rubber stall mats as he stamps at flies. Seeing me, he whickers, leaves the shade and comes to the gate to greet me.
It’s too hot to do anything that expends more than a thimble-full of calories, so I grab the halter and a brush. Lovely, occasionally obedient, equine that he is, the Wonder Horse stuffs his nose in the halter’s nose piece and I buckle it on his head. He doesn’t need the halter; he follows me everywhere like a big red dog. I put it on him from time to time to remind him that he’s a horse. Also, because if I don’t, he gets suspicious of it and starts to associate it with bad stuff like worming and the veterinarian.
We wander back to the shade of the porch and I give him the My Little Pony treatment, brushing his sleek coat and combing the knots out of his black mane. Finished, we go back to the gate. I remove the halter and start to leave the paddock.
Something catches my eye.
An eye to be precise, dead, fishlike and staring blindly up from inside the water trough.
“Ugh!” It’s a dead rabbit, soggy and floating in the water. I’m not girly and have no aversion to things that go creep, like spiders and snakes. But I hate dead things and I must remove the deceased from the horse’s water supply. No way am I touching that thing, because “death cooties.” The end solution is the apple picker, a pitchfork-like tool that’s normally used to scoop horse apples (poo). With a bit of awkward maneuvering and loads of “Ew, ew, ew, ew, EW!” I get the drowning victim out of the trough and buried under the tree.
Alas, dead rabbit, we knew ye not.
That evening I tell my husband the sad tale. “I bet he killed that rabbit,” says my spouse.
“He who? My horse?”
“Yep.” The water trough is three feet tall and made of galvanized steel. Precisely how the rabbit ended up in the trough is, admittedly, a mystery. “I think he got tired of the rabbit eating his hay, picked it up and drowned it in the trough.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I protest. “Horses don’t do stuff like that.”
“He’s a murderer,” says my husband, pleased with himself.
Fast forward a year later. Another hot day, this time the weekend. Trudge, trudge, trudge, I go out to the barn. Repeat of nearly everything in first installment of this morbid tale. Except this time, the victim is a squirrel. And, my husband is home, so he gets charged with floater removal. Because, again, dead thing, “EW!”
“He murdered that one too!” says my husband, triumphantly. We stand in the shade of our one tree. The Wonder Horse is under his porch, eating lunch. “He’s a killer.”
“Nuh-uh. It’s a squirrel. It climbed in the trough.”
“Up slippery galvanized sides?” He sneers. “Your horse is a murderer.”
“No way, not my angel.” Under the porch, the horse peers at us, ears pricked. A hot breeze snakes across the hot desert, toying with the sagebrush and lifting the horse’s mane prettily. He blinks his liquid brown eyes, the picture of innocence, but for the briefest moment there’s a glint of something sinister in his expression. Then it passes.
“A mother knows her baby and he didn’t kill that squirrel.” I lift my chin, let out an indignant sniff and march back to the house. Denial is so much more than a river in Egypt.