He carried me when I could no longer carry myself. Barely able to stand on his skeletal frame when Dusty first hauled him home, the old paint gelding was now fat and shiny from spring hay and grain.
Dusty, always to the rescue. I’d never have made my way out of the bottle if it wasn’t for him. God knows before him, I had no reason.
“We’ll call him Lucky,” Dusty said.
“Damn right,” I replied. And we both laughed.
There were days when he’d climb on Lucky with nothing but a rope draped around the horse’s neck and they’d be off in the hills for hours. I never asked where they went or what thoughts he shared with that old horse that he didn’t share with me.
On nights when Dusty would cry out, shake and soak the bed sheets with sweat and tears, I’d cradle him like a child, stroke the scar that stretched across his abdomen where enemy fire had ripped straight through.
We’d fought the night before they found his truck overturned in the flood basin. Who knows why he thought he could cross there. The early rains had left near 30 inches in three days and there was no letup in sight. No one right in the mind was out on those roads. That’s what I’d told him, too, but downstream the Carter home was being washed away and Dusty had served in Iraq with their father.
Lucky nuzzles my pockets for carrots as I toss the rope around his neck. Around my own a leather pouch holds Dusty near the cavity that once held my heart. I climb onto the old gelding’s back and let him lead the way into the hills.
The thing is, I already knew Dusty was dead before the sheriff showed up at our door. I’d seen him at the end of our bed before dawn, young, smiling, and standing tall in his dress uniform. He held out his arms and I went into his embrace.
“You feel so thin,” I said. And then he was gone.
Jayne Martin is a 2017 Pushcart nominee, 2016 winner of Vestal Review’s VERA award, and a 2018 Best Small Fictions nominee. Her work has appeared in Literary Orphans, Spelk, Crack the Spine, Midwestern Gothic, MoonPark Review, Blink-Ink, Blue Fifth Review, Hippocampus and Connotation Press, among others. She lives in California where she drinks copious amounts of fine wine and rides horses, though not at the same time. Find her on Twitter @Jayne_Martin.