Pulling into a dirt lot behind what must have been the penitentiary itself, I feel utterly disoriented. Men move purposefully about, leading horses, hefting western saddles, cleaning corrals, moving bales of hay. Horses whinny and the air is filled with dust from the pens where horses are being worked. I search for a way to distinguish the prisoners from the cowboys around me, figuring I should look for men with shady glances wearing striped prison garb, for guards with rifles. I see neither. It crosses my mind that, being prisoners outside of their cells, some of the men should have manacles on, but I discard that notion as movie-based. How could anyone work a horse with their hands shackled together.
At a loss for what to do, I head past a few scruffy little horses hitched to a rail, to a shabby wood shack with squinty windows and a narrow door standing open. I peer inside.
Dust motes float about the gloomy interior on the few, slender rays of sunlight that have penetrated the scum-covered window panes. I’m not sure if this is where I am supposed to be and, what with felons around, I want my feet safely outside in case I have to run. Still, all the cowboys are emanating from this shed, so it seems like a place where information would exist.
As my eyes adjust, I make out a man sitting behind a desk. “Hi!” I say. “I’m here to check on my horse. He’s being trained by Manuel.”
“Oh yeah, they told me you were coming today,” he says. “Manuel’ll be expecting you. Hey Bobby, go tell Manuel the lady’s here.” People with many tattoos are talking about me in this prison? And Manuel, prisoner, gang member, is expecting ME? The whole thing strikes me as so surreal I start laughing, but the laugh turns to a coughing gulp when I realize no one but me sees the humor.
After all, I am here on horse business. “Is my horse somewhere around where I can see him while I wait?”
“You bet. You walked right past him on your way over. He’s at the hitching rail.”
“You mean those three horses?” I point through the wall. “Nope, can’t be. None of them’s mine. Mine’s about 15 hands high, dappled grey, the size of a normal quarter horse.”
“Well, let’s check that out. Tell me the brand number of your horse.”
“Yup, that’s him, the farthest away from us of the three.”
It doesn’t seem appropriate to start an argument, so I go back outside and approach the horse in question. Unlike the horse I remember, this one is mostly black, and so short the immense western saddle on his back nearly buries him. When I approach he turns his head and I see a big globule of green snot hanging in his nostril. His eyes however, though gooey, are full of curiosity and he stands placidly while I push the thick black mane off his neck to check his brand. Which does indeed end in 6491. With mounting panic I stride back to the shack.
“There must be a mistake. He can’t possibly be my horse,” I tell the desk man. “He’s way too small. And I know I made a point of selecting a big horse. Or at least a horse that’s bigger than that.”
“Did the brand show 6491?”
“Then he’s your horse, ma’am. I know Manuel’s been working real careful with him ‘cause the horse has been a little sick. So he’s not wanting to ask too much of him yet. He’s a bit behind where he should be, but he’ll come ‘round.”
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