"Names of Horses"
On her birthday, a girl meets a horse for the first time.
“Names of Horses”
Copyright ©William Auten
“Now I won’t,” she stutters through tears, shrugging off her backpack and slamming her door shut. She flings the book from the shelf to her bed and finds the pages her parents helped her clothes-pin—adults and children spreading their fingers across horses, their thumbs and pinkies measuring, from noses to ears, hooves to shoulders, over manes draping backs, above Hands high and Hands wide, the caption’s bite lasting after she read it then and returns to it now. She kicks the book off her bed and tells the toy horses lining her walls she won’t be able to now. “I will never…” Her voice breaks into a mutter. “I can’t now.”
Her mom knocks and sets the backpack on the desk. “Persi, are you OK?”
“I’m not going.” She buries her head in pillows; tightens into a small, thin S floating between the bedcover’s green hills and ponies and the ceiling sparkling with horseshoes and stars.
Her mother sifts through the backpack, pulling the short wood spindle attached to the zipper, and checks the lunch bag, homework, and a stack of cards and drawings. “But this is so nice of your class and Mrs. Cremmins.” She covers her mouth when she reaches the last drawing. “Oh God, no. Oh, I am sorry. How did Mrs. Cremmins not catch this?”
The door from kitchen to garage opens and closes.
Her mother throws the drawing on the desk and, in the hallway, halfway to the bedroom, meets a shadow who embraces her as she leans on its shoulder.
Persi cringes at the drawing splayed open to its stick figure saying she could not touch a horse unless she asked for doll hands for her birthday.
Her father nudges the drawing toward him, his face falling briefly sad, before smiling at her. He loosens his tie and sits next to her. “You should go. The horses want to see you. They’ve been waiting all day for you. I just know it.” He smooths her hair as he looks down at the book cracked on its spine.
“How do you know?” she asks, sliding her wrists under her shirt.
“You’ll have to find out when you’re there.”
The road jars her in the back of the car—the stables closer, no longer a dusky square floating on the horizon and filled with horses she named without knowing their names, seeing their colors and markings on the website she told her parents about, asking to go, hoping. She told her classmates she was going for her birthday before leaving for a long vacation when the other website had enough donations for her surgery. The boy she liked said he would get robot hands, maybe like hers, and they could hold hands while swinging or sharing snacks, and with his metallic superhero hands, he could take down the moon, draw it complete for her—front and the sides no one on Earth sees—and set it back before anyone missed it.
“Pull over, Dad, please.” Persi opens the door, before her father stops by the roadside, and rushes for grass and wildflowers raised by spring. Her feet squishing the ground, and among mud and yellow bulbs surrounding her shins, she hunches, covering her stomach, and dry-heaves. She looks up and into a long-limbed forest where, as in her dreams in bed or at her desk, a horse could emerge from fog hiding its legs beneath its knees and stagger toward her palms sometimes there and sometimes, at the end of her wrists, only air.
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