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Aug 1, 2007



Aug 1, 2007

Good Night 1000 words

Her new bedroom was awfully small, Katya decided, staring at the low ceiling that made the narrow room feel like a cave. Nothing about this house was as good as their old home, not even the bedtime stories. “The doll told Vasilissa she must walk through the forest until she met each rider in turn: the white, the red, and the black. Once she met the black rider she would see the house of Baba Yaga. Then-” Katya perked up for the first time since her mother had begun the tale.

“Mama. Are they soldiers?”

“Who?” Her mother looked puzzled.

“The riders. They are white, red, and black like the armies.” Katya tried to sound respectful, but all the time she and her mother spent together now had made the little girl increasingly dissatisfied and impatient. Mama was easier to love as a delicate and distant treasure, when she was always busy shopping, entertaining, and visiting friends. Here there were no friends and no money, or so Katya had overheard.

“No, Katerina. They are dawn, dusk, and night. Did Olga never tell you the story of Vasilissa the Beautiful?” It was Mama’s turn to look frustrated and annoyed, which pinched at features usually smooth as a doll’s.

“Olga told it another way.” Katya’s nurse had always rushed to the good parts, not wasting time on the boring stepmother. Olga used a cackling witch voice for Baba Yaga that was deliciously terrifying, too.

“Ah. I see.” Her mother saw nothing important. Katya smoothed the creases from her unfamiliar blanket and imagined Olga’s black eyes lit with zeal while the round-faced maid embellished her description of Baba Yaga’s house in gory layers of detail. Her mother droned on about the little doll’s instructions, her interest devoted to the clothes characters wore or the furnishings the heroine was to clean. The bones of Baba Yaga’s house were crusted with gobbets of flesh in Olga’s version. Mama would never think to describe in the confidential tones of a witness how Baba Yaga would use the grease rendered from her lovely victims to fuel her lamps.

Katya wondered for the hundredth time why Olga could not come with them (probably there was no space for her, not like their old house with all its rooms full of things too precious to touch) when Mama’s tale was interrupted. The little girl sat up, anticipating against logic her old nurse had somehow met them in this new city. Alas, no. It was only her aunt.

Katya did not like Mama’s sister, Maria. She was too sweet to Mama and Papa but never sweet to Katya when they were alone together. “Sister, you look so tired from having to care for this girl by yourself,” Aunt Maria chided. Katya tried not to scowl at the exaggerated concern for Mama’s health or the pointed remarks about how detrimental lack of sleep is to one’s appearance. Her vanity prodded, Mama would be off to her mirror and her bed in moments.

“Go to sleep, Katerina,” Aunt Maria ordered curtly as soon as Mama had done sighing and allowed herself to be swept from the room like a cobweb.

“But, Mama was in the middle of a story,” Katya protested, knowing the little rebellion would be anticipated though futile.

Aunt Maria’s face had been cast from the same flawless mold as her mother’s but in ice rather than porcelain. “You are old enough to read yourself to sleep if you insist on a bedtime story.” She sneered down delicately at her niece. Katya knew better than to argue further. She rolled over and sulked, waiting for her aunt to go away.

Katya lost that battle, sliding into a dream instead where she was Vasilissa and her aunt the two-faced stepmother. There was no doll in her dream to be fed in exchange for housework. Instead Katya/Vasilissa found herself trying to keep the house clean or else it would shrink around them. But the house shrank no matter how hard she scrubbed, and her aunt/stepmother gloated over how upset Papa would be when he came home to them.

“I am so glad you are home, Jules,” Aunt Maria simpered. Katya’s Papa still wore his coat. He took her aunt in his arms and kissed her like she had never seen him kiss Mama.

Katya blinked the last sleep from her eyes, feeling sick at the turn her dream had taken only to find that she no longer dreamed. Her heart began to patter like racing feet. She wished she could run, but she feared revealing herself. Katya shut her eyes, hoping they had not seen her wake. Where would she run? Not to Olga’s room to escape the nightmare. Here she had no refuge from the whispers and the rustle of fabric and the muffled noises of whatever was happening in the gloom a scant distance from her hard, narrow bed.

“Run away with me,” Maria demanded, stealing the idea of escape as though she plucked Katya’s thought from the air.

She wanted to hear Papa’s answer but was terrified to learn it. She balled her small hands into fists. Papa would not leave his only child, but Maria would never want to take her. Katya could not think what would be more terrible.

Katya could not stand to wait and hear what he would say. She sat up and croaked, “Papa?” In the dim light she saw the pair spring apart. She rubbed her eyes hard, as if she were still clinging to dreams rather than erasing what she had seen. “You came to say good night, Papa.”

“Of course I did, my little Katya.” He cleared his throat roughly, bending to kiss his daughter on the forehead. “Sleep well, my love.” His whiskers tickled. Katya let him hug her while Maria slipped from the room. She clung to him then, returning his embrace as tightly as her short arms would allow.

“I will, Papa,” she lied.

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