I stopped so she could photograph the house built peculiarly close to the edge of the road that connects Danville to North Danville, Vermont. We’d driven past this house a thousand times in the nine years we’d been together. Every time I’d have more questions.
There’s a barn in the foreground that sheltered some horses. The snow had buckled the roof, and when I asked about the horses, my wife said that the worst part of it was the hoof rot, that the horses were left to walk in a tight, penned-in area, the surface so muddy their hooves would cake in the muck. The neighbors, which meant anyone in a 20-mile radius, worried about the horses, reported it several times to the appropriate authorities, whoever they were.
Usually, I’d complain too, and have a little disdain for people like these, but my wife told me the man who owned the house, a husband and father of three adult children, had terminal cancer. It’s easy for me to make assumptions about people I don’t know, or people I haven’t seen in a while:
He has not e-mailed back for a week; he must hate me.
No one has praised my work all year; I’m going to be fired.
That house is a dump, a blue tarp covers a yawning hole on its side, and a school bus is parked out back; I must be better than they are.
You’d think I’d know better, growing up the way I did, with the food stamps and the pea soup and the blocks of government cheese. I’d ride with my father in the rust-eaten mail truck past nice houses on Long Island to set up our booth at the flea market, and he’d tell me that it’s not about the houses but about who’s inside, goddamnit.
My wife scampered up the hill across the road from the house to snap these photos years ago. There was a moment during her reconnaissance mission when I thought he might be standing at the window, stricken with cancer, resigned that she was another neighbor gathering evidence against him.
I heard his three grown kids are doing well, holding down jobs, making regular money.
I imagine him on his deathbed, set up next to that window so he can see his horses.
That brown one is looking right at my wife as she takes the picture, and if you look at the other photo, the horse has turned the other way to look right at her. He knows.
The horses aren’t there today. The weeds are overgrown where their hooves used to sink in the muck. I imagine the family got rid of the horses like people get rid of boxes of clothes of those who went and died on them.
But maybe they kept the horses for a while to spite the neighbors. Perhaps with all the complaining, some of the proper authorities paid them a visit, inspected the horses, and found that they were happy. v