My mother feared my baby sister. I could tell by the way she bit her lip whenever Khotorn shrieked in hunger, by the way she wiped tears from her eyes when she looked at the dark haired babe's starving body, by the way she shoved Khotorn into my father's arms when she could no longer take her squalling.
My aunt thought it was the mark of a tired, frail mother watching her child starve to death in the harsh winter of Russia. But I, Feodora, knew my mother better. I knew how she acted when she was frightened. I suspected that something had happened the day that Khotorn was born - something that had scared my mother to the point that she could not bare to be near the child for longer than an hour.
'Twas a good thing that Khotorn was nothing but a skinny, blubbering baby, and that she could not understand the panic that flashed in my mother's eyes whenever she stared at her. It was up to me, now, to take care of my little sister. Me, a girl of fourteen years, the oldest out of a brood of three boys and three girls.
It was up to me to make sure that Mama and Papa would not do something that they would regret when the Winter was over. But somehow I knew that I wouldn't be able to protect the four month old child that slept on a wool pillow on the floor.
I watched through the small crack underneath the door of our sitting room. The dirt floor was packed tightly, and covered in frost. It burned my feet to walk on it, and burned my cheek even more to lie down near the door to listen to Mama and Papa's scared voices, but I knew that whenever they locked us in our bedroom, something was wrong.
"We have to give one up," my father murmured. I could find no trace of joy in his tone of voice. I peered under the crack, but my gaze was only met by the dim light of a candle. I cursed, listening closer. What did he mean by 'give one up'?
"Khotorn," Mama said. "We will give up her."
"No, Anya!" Papa said. He seemed to be struggling to keep his voice controlled and calm. "She is just a babe. She will die if we leave her for more than a few minutes. One of the older children; they will understand!" Mama wanted to give away Khotorn? I looked over my shoulder. Khotorn had been born on December third, on my mother's thin straw mattress. We'd thought she was dead, because she didn't cry.
But Papa wasn't willing to give up on her. She finally wailed, when my oldest brother, Aleksei, had burst through the door and knocked down one of my mother's glass plates.
Please, Papa, I thought. You didn't give up on Khotorn when she first came into this world. Don't give in to Mama now. Don't let her give her away.
I could hear Mama snort. "No. They have not caused me the grief that that child has. They have not aroused the devils in this house!"
"You are nothing but a superstitious old woman! Khotorn is a baby - not the Demon's servant." I heard the bed behind me shift. I turned around to see Megara, my other sister, join me at my side.
"What's going on?" Meg was only seven years old, and was a mostly care-free child. She often would block out Mama's screams, Khotorn's wails, and Papa's hopeless cries in the middle of the night. Sometimes, she'd run out into the streets, hiding in alleyways and playing make believe with the cats that resided there. She never really asked about the troubles of our life. I was startled that she'd even woken up at this point.
I brushed her dark hair behind her ear, pulling my other finger to my lips in a silent gesture for her to be quiet. She nodded, and laid next to me, listening.
"I have told you many times before, Peter," Mama was saying, "if you look into her eyes- if you look closely! You can see it in her. You can see it!"
"I've seen Khotorn's eyes," Meg whispered, pointing to her own pale gray eyes. "She has pretty eyes. Beautiful." Meg was right. Khotorn had gorgeous, black rimmed-blue eyes. I did not see anything that could indicate an evil in her - they were the exact same as my father's. So if Khotorn had a devilish presence in her, would Papa not have the same glint?
I did not understand. Nodding my head to Meg, I murmured, "Go wake up Aleksei. He might understand what is going on."
Meg padded over to the small cot on the right side of the room, and shook Aleksei's shoulders. He raised his head, eyes wide and his brown hair wild. He looked down at the two boys who slept beside him - our younger brothers, Misha and Luka. Misha was two, Luka four. Both were small for their age, and fit snugly next to Aleksei. But any movement from their older brother could wake them.
I knew it was dangerous to have Aleksei get up. Misha was scared of the dark, and we always had to put him to bed early. If he woke up in the middle of the night, he would surely scream, and we would be discovered. But Aleksei, being the oldest, would understand our mother's rambling. He was close to Mama.
He stumbled out of bed, still in his work clothes, and glared at me. "Feodora-" he began in a loud voice. I waved my hands in the air, my gesture to calm him down. He crinkled his eyebrows, before taking Meg's place on the floor. Meg crawled on top of him, and we continued to listen.
"We will not give away Misha, we will not give away Luka!" I heard Mama thunder around the sitting room, and then the distinct sound of her slamming a pot onto the table. The smell of spoiled carrots that Meg had found on the ground of the marketplace mixed into water flavored with herbs wafted under the door. My stomach growled. I hadn't gotten as much supper as I needed tonight. Rubbing my belly, I tried to stifle the sound of my stomach, pressing my thin form closer to the ground. My mother continued, "We will not give away Meg or Feodora!"
I flinched at the sound of my name.
"And Aleksei is the only one who supports this family, you old bat!" I heard my father grunt at my mother's insult.
"The only one who has no place in this family is Khotorn," Mama screeched. Meg got up, carefully grabbed Khotorn from her pillow, and cradled her in her arms. We no longer had to lie on the floor to hear. I got up, taking Khotorn from Meg. The baby whimpered, and I resisted the urge to slap my hand over her quivering lip.
"But she is a-"
"I don't want her, Peter! I never wanted her. Get Feodora up. Write a letter to the orphanage. Khotorn goes first thing in the morning, and you cannot talk me out of it!" I heard my mother's footsteps nearing the door. Aleksei crawled into the cot, I set Khotorn down, and grabbed Meg up into my arms. Running to our bed, I got us settled in the blankets just as Mama opened the door.
"I give you one last word of warning, Peter," Mama deadpanned. "That child will bring this family down. She is not one of the Living, no. She is one of the Wicked."
* According to Google translate, "Hawthorne" in Russian is "Khotorn". If you have a better translation, tell me about it! There also is a few plotholes in this... I'm too lazy to fix them right now.