Not sure what is colder, this winter morning air or my step mother’s heart. But it’s too late to question if there’s any love for me in my family, because I fear that it all vanished long ago with the passing of my father. His death left me in the cold and with no inheritance, not even some wool so that I could knit myself a pair of mittens. It might not sound like it, but something so simple is very important when an overnight's snow blizzard comes to swallow my small village. The mountains and forest all around never do much to shield away the storms.
Just thinking about how rotten my luck has turned makes me want to cry, but I refuse to allow my sadness turn into shards of ice that would prick my irritated cheeks. My bare hands are already hurting me enough and Jack Frost keeps on nipping at my cracked knuckles, encouraging me even more to hurry up to the village’s well and fill the buckets with water. My step mother and my two step sisters are not very patient with me either. It would be better to pick up the pace and have the water heated for their morning bath. The roosters will crow soon to wake everyone up.
The fresh snowflakes snapping under my worn-out boots sounds like I’m keep stepping on firecracker duds, but no neighbor’s dog would dare to abandon their warm straw to bark at me across the fence, not in this cold. At last, I make it to my home and with a shaky push of my pale hand the door opens.
Quietly, the full buckets are lowered to the floor and I hurry to shut out the nosy snowflakes. The log cottage is still and only the inviting fire is stirring, but not for long. The roosters are crowing. As I busy myself to warm the water on the stove, my step mother steps into the kitchen to holler at me, but unlike the dogs, she’s plenty warm to come out of her bed to do the job for them.
“Hurry up!” she barks.
“Yes, step mother,” with a nod, I submit to her.
“Don’t screw this up! Don’t burn their toast and make sure the milk is still fresh for the tea,” with her feet cozy in slippers, she paces the floor. Before I even start to put on the bacon on the cast iron, she begins to feast on her fingernails.
“Don’t worry, step mother. I’ll make sure everything is perfect for your daughters’ big day,” in monotone, I play the supportive servant.
“You better! Every detail matters. I want the Matchmaker to see how wonderful and beautiful my girls are. I want only the best bachelors picked out for them,” her finger shakes at my face.
“Of course, step mother,” keeping my attention on the food, I avoid any eye contact.
With breakfast trays ready, I head down the west hall of the house to make the deliveries to my step sisters’ separate rooms.
“Good morning, Irina,” I greet my eldest and a bit surprised to see her out of bed. In her sleeping gown and wrapped in a floral shawl, she admires the lace and jewelry laid out specially for this day.
“Put my food on the nightstand and get out,” without looking at my direction, she flicks her hand.
I leave without another word that could disturb her honeymoon daydreams.
My youngest is much less calm at the thought of becoming engaged. All the drawers, big and small are pulled open.
“Good morning, Oksana. Can I help you look for something?” with a straight face, I hide my inner laugh at how flustered and all worked up she got herself.
“No, I don’t want you touching my stuff. Put my eggs down and get out,” her arms fly into the air.
“Of course,” I do as I'm told.
Truth to be told, I have no sincere desire to help her and glad to be going back to the kitchen. I have nothing better to do, but take the boiling pots of water off the stove and go fill the tubs. Besides, trying to get the temperature right will keep my mind off the fact that I will not be included into this special day. But, it’s no use. My heart and mind can’t help but hurt and wish that I too had a nice dress and beads and hot breakfast and even a hotter bath waiting for me.
How I wish that the Matchmaker would expect me too, but not because of my hopes for love with a handsome face. Getting matched to a rich and young bachelor could be my escape out of this house. Getting matched would mean that my future husband is rich enough to marry into my family and I won’t be eating leftover scraps in place of a proper meal any longer.
“Victoria!!” my name echoes across the house. Step mother’s calling.
“Yes, step mother?”
“Get some more wood and get those fires burning stronger in my daughter’s rooms. Can’t risk a chance of them catching pneumonia after their bath,” with a cup of herbal tea on her lap to ease her nerves, she rocks herself in a rocking chair.
“Yes, step mother,” I leave the lounge room.
My boots are still wet and I will never be able to get used to their damp chill, no matter how often she sends me outside to do a chore. Oh, no! Is that another hole in my coat!? I must remember to patch that up as soon as I can so that it won’t rip any larger.
The village is slowly waking up and hear someone shout at someone across the snow packed road, but can’t make up the words. The winter's windy voice that lives in a nearby forest is much louder. However, I do hear a labored panting behind me loud and clear. A neighbor’s dog must have gotten loose and smelled the splattered grease on my apron.
“Go home, boy!” a vapor cloud escapes my chapped lips as I load wood into my arms.
The canine whimpers in response.
“Go! I don’t have any food for you!”
But I can still feel its presence lingering behind me.
"I hardly get enough food for myself," my confession comes in a whisper.
Usually, I would keep ignoring the animal and hurry back inside, but there’s no way I can get past this grey beast. My hands turn weak and my heart begins to race. Gasping at the size of the animal, my back crashes against the wood stack. Frozen, but this time out of fear, I stare into its yellow eyes.
The wolf stares back. It has no owner to return to. And the breakfast it’s whimpering about is me. With only some dropped firewood between us, there’s nothing else to get in the way of this hunter. But there’s already something in the grasp of its jaws, something small, red, and fussy. The wolf drops it in front of me and takes off the second it touches the white ground.
I don’t believe this. The wolf didn’t come here to take something away. It came here to give. Not understanding a single moment of it, I blink like a dumbfounded toad and frown at what's before me – mittens. A beautiful pair of wool mittens.
Hello there and thank you for reading this story's first chapter.
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