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  • What Liesel Thinks of Horses
  • Emily Ruskovich (bio)

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What does Liesel think of horses? Does she like them?

Liesel has no time for questions, especially her own. She is sitting on the floor in her room, holding on her lap a heavy wooden box.

There are elk carved along the sides of the box. Liesel doesn’t like elk. She doesn’t like the word “elk.” She doesn’t like how elk look. She basically thinks that elk are creeps.

But the box is the only thing that her dad has ever given her, so she pretends the elk are caribou. The box is locked. Between the plastic shoulder blades of her doll there is a tiny compartment where Liesel keeps the key. The compartment is where the batteries would go if the key weren’t there instead. The batteries are in a drawer in the laundry room, so the doll never cries like it’s supposed to. Liesel could give its voice back any day but she chooses not to.

She unlocks the box only for her spelling books and pencils. She is late for her lesson with Pig Iron.

Katie, who has been sent here by Liesel’s mother to watch Liesel, is sleeping on the couch in the living room. Liesel’s mother is at work at the hotel, one eye on the security screens at all times. Katie is fourteen. Her dark hair falls over the side of the couch. Liesel gets very close to Katie’s face, so close she can taste the shampoo in Katie’s hair. She is making sure that Katie is asleep. “If Ellis ever hurts you,” whispers Liesel, so close to Katie’s face it is almost a kiss, so softly it is barely a whisper, “I will eat him alive.” Ellis is her enemy, the way the question is her enemy. Only Ellis is an old [End Page 167] man who lives somewhere on the Back Roads, and the question is just a question that lives in Liesel’s mind.

Katie knows nothing of either Ellis or the question. Liesel studies her ignorant face. Katie has in fact experienced very little in her life. But when Liesel’s father was Katie’s age, he ran away with a girl in the back of a peach truck from his home in California. As Liesel remembers the story, her father’s finger was hooked in the girl’s and they rode in silence under the piles of peaches, lying flat in the truck bed so they wouldn’t be caught. The fruit was heavy on their bodies and faces. Sometimes Liesel pictures them opening their mouths and taking juicy bites.

But that didn’t happen because the girl died; her heart gave out and she was dead; she might have been dead for hours. Liesel’s father pulled her up from the peaches then held her in his lap, her body smudged and sweet. The truck driver kept driving and her father cried and the girl’s eyelashes were stuck to her face from all the juice.

The dead girl in Liesel’s mind looks exactly like Katie. So much that Liesel sometimes thinks it is Katie. But no, how can that be? But Liesel can’t picture the dead girl any other way, and she can’t look at Katie without thinking of the dead girl. Even when Katie is right there on the couch, very much herself, her spray-on tan shining like dried juice all up her legs, Liesel looks at the soft blond hairs above her lip and imagines her father’s lips there.

Really, though, the dead girl was Liesel’s aunt, Liesel’s mother’s sister. Liesel’s mother and father met at the dead girl’s funeral. They lived together a while, had Liesel, and then he met a teacher and went and had a family with her instead. He sent Liesel the box two years ago, when she was five. Liesel thought this was the start of something. On a piece of paper, she wrote her father’s name and her mother’s...


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pp. 167-175
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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