A Storyby Mermer Blakeslee
Everyone else was asleep when Leenie heard the trot, a grand trot, coming up their road, winter shoes hitting the stones. The neighbor’s stud snorted outside the barn, and Leenie sat up, poked Frances next to her, and dragged her out of bed. They put on both their pairs of leggings, and Leenie grabbed her Daddy’s sweater from the clothes pole. He had gone off logging for the winter, leaving what he called his house of girls, Mama and their five daughters, and declaring Leenie, the oldest, “fortunate enough” to head up most the work. Frances, two years younger, kept squinting through the dark at her sister as they dressed. Frances didn’t know what Leenie was thinking and didn’t dare whisper. Leenie mouthed, “Just come on.” Everyone was still sleep-breathing—Janey and Mary in the other bed and Ma with little Emma across the hall. Leenie and Frances stepped down the stairs, skipping the noisy ones, crossed over Lazy, their dog, in the kitchen, and went out the back door. There was just enough moon not to bother with a lantern.
They saw the stud canter around the barn, a chestnut, his tailbone straight up like a post. In one stride, he leapt onto the hay ramp and off again, over the grass where the scythe missed. The ground smelled cold, smelled frozen, but it was still soft enough to give—he was leaving hoofprints in the dirt. He circled closer, facing in, crossing his hind legs so he could keep an eye on them. Leenie could feel the blood rush into her face. It really was Charlie Allen’s prize—full of sweat, but not a cut on him.
“Frances! Halter up Lady. Put the chain over her nose.”
“Leenie, you ain’t thinking . . .”
“I certainly am thinking.”
“Well, what about Ma? Why ain’t she out here? She ain’t even been asked.”
“Frances,” Leenie said, her voice turning real quiet, “Frances.” She felt the name wrap around her sister. Ever since she could remember, she had used it as her lasso. “Frances,” she repeated again, and her sister turned, pulled back the door, and though the moonlight didn’t reach into the barn, Frances knew where the lead chain hung.