While watching the bargaining, Hank chewed on the sweet stem of the galleta grass leaf he had carefully pulled from the clump bravely growing around the corner post of the weather-beaten corral. It tasted like the end of summer, and he had poked the blade into the corner of his mouth out of habit, not stopping to ponder that it was his granddad who had taught him that secret, too. His was a young mind, always watching and absorbing and mimicking without thinking—always aware of this man who never failed to make him feel seen, important, treasured. Hank loved his granddad, and it was as natural to him as breathing. It was as if there was some secret unspoken between the two of them. They just were. Together. Being together was love, and they didn’t have to think about it or say it or even consciously declare affection. Moments were. Love was. Wisdom was. Trust was. Granddad was. Hank was, and so was summer, and so was that afternoon went they went together to look at a horse.
“How old did you say he is?” Granddad asked as he patted the haunches of the sorrel gelding, running his hand down the horse’s back leg and leaning in to test the horse’s willingness to offer the leg, himself, before being forced to pick it up for inspection. The gelding shifted his weight to the other leg and complied with Granddad’s request.
“Well, you know, Reason, I ain’t really sure. I got him off of Jose Archuleta who got him off the Reservation. I reckon he’s still got some years left in him, though. He’s slick and healthy, and my kids have been riding the heck out of him,” came the reply of the wiry man whose name Hank couldn’t remember.
“Have you checked his mouth?” Granddad asked, releasing the gelding’s foot and straightening to move smoothly back to the horse’s front end, keeping his hand in contact with the horse as if the two of them, man and horse, were now somehow strangely connected.
“Well, uh, naw, I got him cheap, Reason. I needed a horse, and he was cheap.”
Granddad patted the horse’s neck and smoothed its bushy forelock into a single and neater swathe down the middle of his square forehead. “Well, let’s take a look.” And Granddad’s hands were then raising the horse’s muzzle and opening his mouth with quick and clever movements of thumb and finger. The looking was over before Hank could see what his granddad was looking for. Never taking his hands or eyes off the horse, Granddad spoke, “I can’t give you what you’re asking, Ben. This here is a pretty fine horse, and I’d venture to say that he’s spent many years of his long life working hard for someone and being treated pretty well somewhere along the line, but I can’t give you what you’re asking. If you want me to take him off your hands before you have to feed him this winter, you’re going to have to make me a better deal.”
Later, when it was just the two of them in the cab of the old truck, Hank laughed, “He tried to fool you, didn’t he, Granddad?”
“Yeah, he did, Hank.”
“But it didn’t work. You’re smarter than that,” Hank smiled.
“Son, I just know that to get to the truth of some things you’ve got to go straight to the horse’s mouth. There’s some things a slick coat and some extra pounds can’t hide on a horse.”
“Will you teach me? Will you teach me what to look for?”
“You bet. As soon as we get him back to the house, I’ll show you his mouth.”
Hank looked through the rear window and the slats of the wooden side panels that safely enclosed the sorrel gelding in the bed of the truck and smiled. “Good. I hope I’m as smart as you some day, Granddad.”
“I don’t know if I’m as smart as you think I am, Hank, I just spent good money on an old horse who probably doesn’t have many years left.”
Hank twisted his face into a frown and glanced sidelong at his Granddad who sighed and shook his head.
“Why’d you buy him, Granddad?”
“I know horses, Hank, and he’s a good one. I couldn’t stand the thought of Ben selling him to somebody who wouldn’t treat him right. Now, you just have to help me convince Grandma.”
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