FLAR Volume 5, Issue 2 Fall/Winter 2017

Page 246

When the Sun is High and the

Snow Half-Melted Lena Ziegler

From the time she was a little girl, Ruthie knew she was different. For one, she had hair like liquid smoke, the color of a shadow. For another, she had a Cyclops eye. Not the medical term of course, but the term nonetheless to describe a person, a child, who only cried from one eye, and in Ruthie’s case her left. Of course in television and movies one-eyed tears are a sign of intensity. A single lone tear rolled down her cheek, but she did not waiver as the men burned her village and family. But Ruthie’s tears were not stoic. They were not proud. Her tears came like any other young girl’s, in floods of rain and salt, dispensing from her eye, violently, swelling her lid, coloring her cornea with scribbles of red and blood. Her nose only ran from one side too, long strings of mucus from the left nostril, so during sad stories and poems and when her pet squirrel died, Ruthie’s round face, grew rosy pink as one side distorted into grief and the other stayed as calm and pretty as anything you’ve ever seen. Mother never told Ruthie that this wasn’t normal and since Mother never cried, Ruthie had no reason not to believe her. After all, Ruthie had only ever known Mother and Fred/Stephen, the man with the horses, and from what she could tell, he never had any reason to cry (he had horses, after all). On Sundays if the sun was high and the snow half-melted, Mother would take Ruthie’s hand and walk with her through puddled and muddied road to the ranch belonging to the man with the horses. She heard her mother call him Fred, despite shouting another name, Stephen, from behind his cabin door, in what sounded like a kind of sweet pain Ruthie couldn’t understand, while Ruthie fed the horses old carrots and apples. She didn’t know what to call him, so she called him Fred/Stephen.

* Mother said over 400,000 people live this way, in the ice and the cold, under the perpetual weight of snow. But Ruthie had a hard time believing it. From what she could tell it was only herself, Mother, and Fred/Stephen. From what she could tell, she never had a father. The old work boots in the back of mother’s closet, two times too large for her to wear herself, seemed to have grown from the floor boards. “I don’t know why you have such a fascination with those old boots,” Mother would say, when Ruthie would slip them on her feet, wiggling her toes in the empty space a man’s foot would fill. “They are dirty, grimy old things.” Ruthie didn’t care. She had read in a book once that shoes like this were made from cow and moose. She didn’t understand how hair and skin could be removed from an animal, stretched and pressed and stitched into shape, form fitting to a foot it had never met before.

*

“You know, starvation is rarely the cause of death,” Fred/ Stephen, the man with the horses, said to Ruthie on Sunday morning, patting the back of the brown and white speckled mare Ruthie named Mermaid.