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Four Hundred Horses
Despite what you might think, it’s not actually that hard to tie a four-year-old to a chair. I only need one hand to pinion her to her seat, despite her struggles and snarls. Her teeth are bared in a vicious grin, her eyes maniacal, shining as if demon-possessed. With one final tug, I secure the jump rope that winds around her legs, arms, and stomach. Instantly she squeaks and goes limp.
“OK! I captured you, wild beast! Now let’s turn you into a princess!” Annie’s fingers twitch slightly beneath their bonds. The grimace slips from her face as easily as silk. My sister sits tied to a blue plastic preschool chair, in the middle of our playroom, a space cluttered with fake food, ratty dolls, and a sizeable herd of plush horses. Her hair floats in a lazy halo of curls around her face.
“Wait—” Her pale brows draw down, and I can see the cogs turning slowly behind her freckled forehead. There is an ominous set to her chin.
“I don’t want to be the princess!”
“What? You don’t want to be the princess?” She shakes her head vehemently, causing my heart to sink in my stomach. Annie has never complained about her role before, and there is no way you could get me to sit in that chair.
“Are you sure?” I wheedle, waltzing over to our rack of dress-up clothes, whisking out a pink ball gown veiled in a frothy cascade of lace. I swish it merrily in front her of eyes. “You could wear this pretty dress! I’d build you a castle, too!”
“Oh…” She breathes, her eyes melting into the limpid gaze of a doe. “OK.”
“Well, I guess.” I sigh with a woeful look. “I’ll start building your castle. Sit tight for a while – I’ll be done soon." I slide over to the heap of pillows piled on the guest bed and rummage through them, searching for the sturdiest and most color-coordinated specimens. Spotted, striped and rainbow cushions fly over my head as I reject them one by one.
“Will you untie me?” Her voice is muffled by the polka-dot pouf currently obscuring her face.
“Untie you?” I scoff, sending a fuzzy blue pillow crashing into a window. “You’re too wild to let go right now. I’m sorry, but you will have to stay in that chair for the afternoon.”
“If you say so…” She plasters the appropriately menacing scowl on her face, even though she’s all trussed up like a Christmas turkey. The purple sparkly rope contrasts nicely with the leopard scarf that serves as her dress.
An hour later, a formidable castle comprising two squishy chairs, woolen quilts, numerous pillows, and flowing jewel-toned fabric rises out of the playroom floor. I stand back, hands on hips, to survey my work. An admiring voice pipes up from the corner.
“You should build castles when you grow up.”
“Thanks, Annie,” I say graciously, sauntering over to loosen her bonds, “but there aren’t that many castles to build anymore. I don’t think it would pay very well, anyway. I’d rather be an author.”
“You know what I want to be?” She asks thoughtfully.
“What?” Apparently I was better at tying knots than I thought. The rope cinches tightly against the back of the chair, resistant to my efforts.
“I want to be a farmer. I’m going to have goats and chickens and hair down to my feet, and lots of kids and also four hundred horses.”
I chuckle to myself at her naiveté. Even I know that that many animals would be impossible. I’m going to limit myself to two or three Arabians when I get older.
“Don’t you think that’s kind of a lot? You can’t really take care of four hundred horses.”
“I can’t?” She awkwardly twists her head so she stares down at me like an owl. Her eyes glow in the late-afternoon light.
I shake my head ruefully.
“That’s too many. You can share mine though.”
“Oh. Thank you! That’s nice!” Her teeth are small and pearly white. Nobody has told her about the tooth fairy, and she still believes in Santa Claus.
“I’m going to go get some scissors. I’ll be back in a second.”
I glance over my shoulder at my little sister, roped to a chair at the foot of a castle. Her hair hangs in wispy curls past her ears, her bare toes curl in the carpet, and the knots around her wrists are as iron firm as a sailor’s.