The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnThe Phantom Horsern”What does ‘AQHA 1990 gelding, bredrnActual Spark’ mean?”rn”It means someone has a neutered tenyear-rnold American quarterhorse, sired byrnActual Spark, for sale. Why?”rnRhonda looked up from the CasperrnStar-Tribune she held spread in her lap.rn”I want to buy a horse.”rn”What sense does that make? You’rernmoving back to California in less thanrntwo months.”rn”I’ll take him with me. Horses aren’trnjust for Wyoming rednecks, you know.”rn”Well, if you’re going to buy a horse,rnfor God’s sake don’t get a quarterhorse.”rn”I’d rather have an Arab, like Star andrnLarki.”rn”Good luck finding an A-rab for sale inrnWyoming.”rn”Why is that?”rn”Because they’re as tough to sell asrnsurfboards here. That’s why.”rn”I don’t get what you’re telling me,rndude.”rn”A lot of Arabs are too small to rope arncow from, let alone a bull. And even ifrnthey weren’t, they look funny. In additionrnto being A-rabs, of course.”rn”People in Wyoming are so dumb.”rnI removed the cylinder pin from thern.41 magnum revolver I was cleaning andrnran a copper brush dipped in solventrnthrough the barrel.rn”Here’s an Arabian for sale.” Shernturned the paper halfway round so Irncould read the ad. “It says she’s a six-yearoldrnmare, experienced as a cutting horse.rnWhat’s a cutting horse?”rn”Means she’s trained to cut a singlerncow out of a herd. Wliat are they askingrnfor her?”rn”Thirteen hundred dollars.”rn”That sounds like a good price to me.rnBetter than you’d find in California,rnprobably. Even with gas prices at tworndollars a gallon, you’d come out aheadrntowing her all the way to Sonorna orrnwherever it is you’re going.”rn”I’his horse’s name is Sassy,” Rhondarnsaid.rn”Sounds like a match-up to me. Let’srnhave the number and I’ll call over to Torringtonrnriglit now.”rnWe started for Torrington, 120 milesrnto the northeast across the LaramiernMountains, at ten o’clock Saturdayrnmorning. I wanted to bring Babe thernAustralian sheepdog along in the back ofrnthe truck, but Rhonda was afraid hernmight bite someone or run the horses, sornwe left him at home instead. She sat onrnthe end of the bench seat by the window,rnMicaela seven years old behveen us withrnher journal and a blue crayon to writernwith. It was a splendid morning in mid-rnApril, the sky a shiny blue overhead, therngreening plain spreading west to the bluernmountains outlined by shining snowfields.rnNot least lovely were Micaela inrnher blue jeans, bandana handkerchief,rnand red cowboy boots from Corral West,rnRhonda with her blonde hair streaked inrnmahogany undertones, tawny skin, andrnintent brown eyes.rn”You look especially lovely today, myrnladies.”rn”Thank you!”rnIt’s hard to make a compliment soundrnconvincing to a woman who alreadyrnknows she deserves it,rnRhonda dozed down through SybillrnCanyon, her right temple against thernsunwarmed window glass, while Micaelarnrehearsed her Andrea Marcovicci repertoirern(“little green garden / little whiterngate / where a girl loves to wait / watchingrnand yearning for someone’s returning”),rnincluding every imagined facial expression,rnin a well-meant attempt at distractingrnmy attention from the monotony ofrnthe two-lane road precariously tracing therncutbank above the sharply windingrncreek. We stopped at the Game and FishrnWildlife Center to observe a yearlingrnmoose, a flock of wild turkeys, andrnschools of brown trout flicking upstreamrnaway from our towering shadows and thernmassive tramp of our footfalls on the undercutrnbank.rn”I’ve never seen a moose in the wildrnbefore,” Rhonda marveled.rn”Hideous to behold, aren’t they? Likerna horse designed by the U.S. Post Office.”rnThe highway, after descending amongrnlava domes and turrets, broke finally intorngolden lowlands dominated by ruggedrnhills and the pouring wind breakingrnthrough from the Laramie Plains, 3,000rnfeet above beyond the western slope ofrnthe mountains. The canyon widened,rnand cattle dotted the broad yellow bottomsrnon either side of the meanderingrnriver lined by webby gray cottonwoodrntrees.rn”If this horse is ugly I’m going to bernreally bummed,” Rhonda remarked,rnwaking again. “Micaela, don’t interruptrnus when we’re talking!”rn”I’m expecting to find she’s a very goodrnhorse,” I said.rn’You’re such a freak, Micaela. Whatrnare you writing? ‘Mom is cool.’ Oh, howrnsweet. I really want her to be nice, yournknow?”rnNear Wheatland I got us lost briefly,rntrying to get to Lingle by the back roads.rnBacktracking to Interstate 25, we continuedrnsouth a few miles to Chugwater,rnthen east again to Hawk Springs. Thisrnwas extreme southeastern Wyoming,rnpushing against the Nebraska border:rnwheatfields broken in places by erodingrnclay bluffs and mesas and dominated byrnthe dark triangular form of Laramie Peakrnstanding in the west, eastward an oceanicrnhorizon shading away against the palernblue of the afternoon sky. The time wasrn12:15. We were a quarter of an hour laternalready, and 36 miles from Lingle still.rn”You brought your cell phone along,rndidn’t von? Thank God for Californiansrnwith their newfangled gadgets when yournneed them. Call Dawn and tell her we’llrnbe at her place in under 40 minutes,rnwould you please?”rnRhonda took the phone from the doorrnpocket, dialed the number, and handedrnthe thing across Micaela, now in the middlernof an Eddie Murphy routine, to me.rn”You tell her, dude. You’re the onernthat’s talked with her before.”rnAt Lingle, a town of a fev’ hundred orrnso people 18 miles from the NebraskarnJULY 2000/49rnrnrn