Dead Horse

by Mark Hahn


A beat up Reliant K car rolled down the dirt road pulling a homemade flatbed trailer. It kicked up a giant cloud of bad smelling dust. The car slowed down as it passed. The ex-con driving it stopped to look at me standing in the desert with my camera and tripod.

He put his head out the window and tried to ask me something. F-16 fighter jets ripped through the air overhead. I couldn’t hear a word he said. I looked at all the prison tats on his emaciated tweaker body. The velour car seats were black with sweat and grease.

We were looking for the backside of a gravel quarry. We thought it would be beautiful in the twilight. The sun was just setting. We took a dirt road that was marked “No Trespassing, Permit Required.” The gate was open. We’ve been down this road before.

I couldn’t help feeling vulnerable standing in the middle of the desert next to this ex-con. If he threatened me with a pistol or knife, he could easily have robbed me of my camera and wallet. Maybe worse. Under these circumstances, you can’t show your fear.

I pointed to the aircraft and made signs that I couldn’t hear what he was saying. His girlfriend didn’t look at me. I wondered how she had ended up with this ex-con. They were both young.

There was standing water in the wash, left over from the recent rains. People use the wash as an illegal dumping ground. The ex-con’s trailer was filled with broken down furniture. I didn’t know if they were here to dump it or whether they were carrying it to start a new life somewhere. There were pockets of double-wides and trailer homes in the distance.

When the fighters jets had passed, the ex-con asked, “You taking photos for the newspaper?”

“No,” I said, pointing to my girlfriend, “we just like drivin’ around taking pictures of stuff.”

“Oh,” he said.

We gave each other the nod, signifying that it was all cool.

The pair navigated their K car through the mud and trash and drove off into the sunset. Just like in the movies. I hoped the two would get that new start wherever they were headed.

A few steps away, we were hit by the smell of death. What I saw was the rotting leg and hoof of a horse. Nearby the ribs laid in a tumble. I didn’t get too close. The smell was terrible. It wasn’t a complete body. I wondered if someone had butchered the beast and only dumped parts of it here or if it had been dropped intact and wild animals pulled off pieces from the carcass and dragged them away to eat in seclusion.

What struck me most was how inconsequential the end of this life had been. No ceremony, just dumping the body at the side of the road. I imagined my own remains left to rot and disintegrate like this. I was alright with the idea.

On a geological time frame, nothing matters. Everything we do and everything we are will return to the earth without a trace. Life is now. The young couple driving their junk furniture through the desert had all that really mattered — a connection to each other. Experiencing life together. Sharing what we see and what we have with someone else is everything. Being alone is nothing.