There’s nothing a country boy likes any better than a session of good old Horse Trading. Modern Horse Trading involves swapping car parts for hand tools, or buying and selling used pick-up trucks. Every so often, a real horse is involved.
Bobby drove every month at the local Chevette races. If you’re too young to remember the Chevette, it was General Motors answer to the Ford Pinto: four cylinders; hatchback; not a lot of pick up; and they had a tendency to rust, sometimes on the showroom floor. In the South, Chevette races have replaced stock cars (NASCAR having priced the amateur out of the game). Not only did Bobby have a couple of Chevettes in the yard, he also had two four wheelers, three go-karts, two trucks and his wife’s Geo Prism. Once a week or so, the stock of vehicles would change, as he made a trade here, a sale there. Usually, Bobby traded up, but ever so often, someone saw him coming.
One Friday, Bobby was on pit row under his Chevette, when another driver approached him. They made small talk, discussing the car, track conditions, the other drivers, nothing out of the ordinary. Finally, amidst much scratching and toeing the dirt, he got to the point.
‘You got kids, Bobby?’
Bobby wiped his hands on the old diaper he used as a rag and allowed that he had four of them, at last count.
‘Your kids got pets?’
Bobby answered they had a dog and a couple of cats, but he didn’t think they needed any more. It was beginning to dawn on him this man was going to try to sell him a litter of puppies.
‘You still got that four-wheeler you were trying to sell last month?’
Bobby nodded. ‘Why?’
‘Oh, I just thought we could work us a trade. But if you're not interested. . .’ The driver walked off, leaving Bobby standing wondering just what this trade might have been.
Later, after the last race, the driver with the trade appeared again.
‘Good race, man. Why don’t you come over the house tomorrow? I’ve got a case of Bud on ice out in the barn. We’ll celebrate your second place.’
Never one to turn down the chance at free Budweiser, Bobby said he’d be there right after lunch.
At one in the afternoon that Saturday, Bobby loaded his four-wheeler in the back of the truck, just in case, and headed over to discuss things. If things didn’t work out, he could always go hill-climbing, so loading it wouldn’t be a total waste.
He found his prospective trading partner standing beside the barn, beer in hand, leaning on the top rail of a fence holding a black horse with a showy white blaze. Ever so often, the horse would reach out and nibble at the man’s shirt, trying to get his attention. Bobby hailed him as he stepped from the truck. ‘How you doin’, Bubba?’
Bubba allowed that he was just fine as frog’s hair, and wouldn’t Bobby like to have a cold one, before they took care of the horse.
Bobby got his can of Bud from the cooler in the barn and took a position beside Bubba at the fence. He reached up and stroked the horse’s muzzle and asked what he meant by ‘taking care’ of the horse.
Bubba explained that the horse was a stallion, and his wife was convinced the horse would turn mean. That was the trade he had wanted to make. ‘You can see he’s just a sweetie. Shoot, my kids even ride him. But you know women. So I gotta take the deer rifle and put him down.’
Bobby nodded sympathetically. ‘How old is this horse, anyway?’
Bubba said the horse was not quite two years old and was broken to saddle.
Bobby didn’t know much at all about horses, other than the fact that a stallion could be put to stud. Bobby figured he could do worse than trading a off a four-wheeler he got in trade for a cordless drill and a handful of bits. Besides, it seemed wasteful to put a 30.06 round into a horse’s head. So, after an hour of drinking, spitting and scratching, the two men shook hands. Bobby unloaded the four-wheeler, Bubba helped him hitch up the horse trailer and load the stallion, and the deal was done. Bobby was especially pleased when Bubba threw in an electric fence charger and fence wire. All Bobby had to provide were the fence posts and the pasture.
It was getting near suppertime when Bobby pulled up in front of his house hauling Sparkles. That was what Bubba’s kids had named the stallion. Bobby thought it was a sissified name, but then again, what did his name matter, so long as the important parts worked. He had big plans for starting his own stud.
Four children ran out of the house, followed closely by Bobby’s wife. While he unloaded the horse, the children circled around touching here and there. Everything was fine until the children’s dog discovered the horse.
Sparkles was not amused. First he kicked out at the dog, then at Bobby. He snapped at the dog, missing by a fraction of an inch. Bobby had hold of the tether, but was having a hard time containing almost two thousand pounds of irritated horse.
Finally, Mrs. Bobby called the dog off, then addressed her husband. ‘What’s that?’
He sighed. ‘It’s a horse.’
‘I know it’s a horse. What’re you doing with it? And don’t tell me about the deal you got. You need a horse about as much as a fish needs a bicycle.’
As she was walking around the back of the animal, Bobby was trying to explain his plans, but she cut him off. ‘You do know this is a stallion? You know what they do? No, not that. And look at his hooves. They’re all overgrown. The guy tell you the horse had foundered? And did he say he was registered? Looks like he might be a quarter horse, but you’ll never be able to put him to stud without papers.’
After he figured out what ‘foundered’ meant, Bobby began kicking and spitting. He passed up scratching in deference to his wife and daughters. ‘Well, no. He just said. . .’
‘Oh, I can guess what he just said. Tell you what: you load this critter back in the van and take him to the farrier. When he’s been cut, his hooves trimmed and he’s been shod, we’ll talk about whether he stays or not.’
‘But honey. . .’
Mrs. Bobby closed the front door.
So, Bobby unloaded the fencing, loaded Sparkles back up, and headed north to the local farrier. Well, maybe it was for the best anyway. He didn’t know all that much about horses to begin with. His wife was a farmer’s daughter, but all Bobby knew was construction and cars. Either way, he figured the fencing and the charger alone were worth what he had originally given for the four-wheeler. He had the horse and trailer and all the tack for boot, so he was doing okay.
The two weeks Sparkles was at the farrier’s gave Bobby time to get the fence put up. He had to buy fifty or so fence posts, but that was okay, he still had the wire and the charger and the stand-offs. He was still to the good. He went to fetch Sparkles early Saturday morning.
Sparkles was standing quietly in the farrier’s paddock behind the forge. Bobby greeted the horse at the fence and waited for the farrier. He arrived with bad news: the horse was in very poor condition, starved by his previous owner, then fed copious amounts of hay and water to make him appear fat and to hide his protruding ribs. His feet had overgrown because he had foundered early in life, and his owner’s cure had been to deny the horse feed. The farrier assured Bobby that, given time, Sparkles would be a fine child’s horse, but he should never expect much from him. He also cautioned him to treat him gently for the next few months, to allow him to regain his strength, and to feed him carefully, lest he founder again.
Needless to say, Bobby was very depressed. Mrs. Bobby wanted him to give Sparkles to the petting zoo, were he could spend the rest of his life grazing and being cared for. But Bobby still thought he could make a dollar to two out of the horse. That night when he went to feed and water, the horse was down.
When a horse is down, it can be a dangerous thing. Usually it means he has a serious internal disorder that requires immediate treatment. Bobby called a farmer in the neighborhood, who said it sounded as if Sparkles had colic, which can cause a kink in a horse’s intestine, and is oftentimes fatal. The only thing the Bobby could do was keep the horse on his feet, walking him, until they could get a vet.
Sparkles seemed to be improving Saturday evening until they went to bed. Bobby figured the horse needed to sleep too, just like they did, so he made sure there was fresh straw and plenty of water in his stall before he turned in for the night.
Sunday morning, Bobby’s eldest daughter asked if she could go check on the Sparkles. At least the girls seemed to have taken to the name. Her mother gave her explicit directions about how much food to take from the sack of oats, then let her go out the back door.
Within seconds, a little blond girl was running back into the kitchen. ‘Mama, mama. Sparkles is dead.’
Mrs. Bobby sat on the floor next to her daughter, just in case she became upset. ‘Are you sure he’s not just sleeping?’
The child nodded vigorously. ‘Yes’m. He’s dead, Mama. There’s flies all over him and when I touched him he was cold.’
Mrs. Bobby went out and verified that, yes, Sparkles was indeed an extinct equine. Following the advice of the same neighbor who advised Bobby about the dangers of colic, Mrs. Bobby began making phone calls the very next morning. The local animal control had no facilities for carcass disposal, and suggested she contact the abattoir that ran the ‘dead wagon’. Unfortunately, the dead wagon didn’t serve their area. As a last resort, Mrs. Bobby called her mother.
Ever practical, her mother told her to have Bobby dig a hole and bury Sparkles. Mrs. Bobby immediately reminded her mother that it was a horse. Her mother then asked why she didn’t call the dead wagon or animal control, and was told they had been no help. Again, her daughter asked what to do.
Her mother told her yet again: dig a hole and bury him. She protested. Her mother asked, ‘You gonna eat him?’
‘Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! That’s gross. It’s a horse!’
‘So dig a hole and bury it.’
After a good deal of coercion Bobby finally got a shovel and headed out behind the barn.
No one told Bobby that dead things tend to swell up in the heat. No one told him he needed to bury Sparkles under more than six inches of dirt.
About four days after Sparkles’ untimely demise, temperatures soared. There was a peculiar odor in the air. Bobby thought the dog had dragged a dead ‘possum under the porch.
Sparkles had succumbed to the laws of physics. Heat expands. So do dead horses, and there is only so much room inside the leather coat a horse wears.
Sparkles had exploded. Bits of horse were scattered all over the hillside and the back of the barn.
That afternoon, Bobby called his uncle to bring over the bulldozer to give Sparkles a proper burial.
Helen Chapman is a paralegal in Middle Tennessee. She has had stories published in Civil Rights Chronical, Apsaras Review, and more recently, in I Love Cats Magazine (Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady, The Angora Carrot, and Canned Cat).