The Phantom of Choice

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It had been a long time since I had been wearing clothes like this. During the past years the only clothes in my wardrobe, were purely military. Sole colour and perfectly tailored on my size. This dress didn’t feel the same. They were bit loose – my sister-in-law was bigger than me – and the bright yellow colour was taking so much attention. Not like the dark military colours that were furtive. If I was to wear these for longer I would certainly need to sew them a bit. But I was so little when mom was showing me how to do it – and I didn’t pay much attention – I would probably just ask my sister-in-law to do it for me. I didn’t dare to do it myself. But after all, I will be wearing these for only few days until I have to leave again. Who knows when will be the next time I will be able to see my family. Maybe just several months, after all, I will be having my own ship and I will be able to give orders to go anywhere I will want, but I am pretty sure, it will raise some level of suspiciousness. I need to be careful, at least from the beginning. However, I am sure most of the crew members will want to see their families too. I think they will be happy if – from time to time – we go home.

Thinking of which, I didn’t even have time to read their personal files. Maybe they don’t even have family. People going for this kind of mission, forced or not, must be a bit crazy to accept. Bit more crazy. I need to read those files when I will have time. Although, I am sure, all of them are extremely skilled and highly qualified for their professions, it won’t harm to read some facts about them too.

And now, I should stop thinking about all this and go down to help with preparing the breakfast. I will be spending next few days home; I need to prove myself useful not to get into their way. I was never very good at house works, but maybe the military training had awoken within me certain woman skills. I doubted that, but who knows, it never hurts trying.

I cracked my neck a bit before I opened the door. It felt odd to sleep in my own child bed. It was a bit small for me now and it was not made with the same good materials as the military had, but I slept. I was sleeping in much worse conditions and I am still here. And after all, in this place I was sleeping for almost twenty years. This place was my home.

“Good morning, everyone,” I said as I stepped down the stairs. But there was nobody. Are they still sleeping or so busy they had to leave home?

I checked around the kitchen, there was no food ready yet, nor even any dirty dishes. The axe, my brother was using, was still outside in the wood shad, so he didn’t leave yet. Silently, I walked back upstairs and put my ear on their bedroom door. Yes, they were definitely sleeping. That was strange; they were usually awake by this time. After all, my brother should have gone to the forest now, if they are not already working somewhere else. But even so, they should have gotten up by now, normally men left the houses shortly after dawn. And the sun was already high.

Wondering what is happening, I went down the stairs to kitchen. It surely is not okay they sleep this much. Even the little girl was sleeping tight.

My stomach made sound so loud I was worried it’s going to wake them up. This interrupted my thoughts. I need to eat. And soon, when they wake up, they will need that too. But I don’t know how to make many meals.

Okay, this needs a plan. I was taught, when I want to do something, I need to have a plan. So first of all, let’s see, what we have here and what can be used to make breakfast.

I started to open every cupboard in kitchen. Some of them had cutlery and kitchen wear in them, others some table cloths, dish towels and napkins in them. The food was only in two. This was weird, why do you need so many napkins and stuff but barely buy food? Is this how they are using the money I am sending them? I definitely need to ask about that later.

There was not much of food. A piece of bread and some butter, flour, sugar, salt and some porridge flour. I found a bottle of milk in the darker place of the cupboard. The only thing I can make is the porridge, so it seem. And I really hope, they were not eating only that during the time I was not here.

It didn’t seem like they are going to wake up any time soon, so I took a small bowl and run to forest. Finding some berries was the easiest thing. Luckily, they were still growing there and didn’t destroy while chopping the forest. It was happening a lot around here. Some people even took the plants after they got picked out of the soil and planted them near their own houses. Most of the times, the plant was too damaged to survive, but some people managed to grown them nicely. Now they were selling them on markets.

Even I tried to plant such berry bush and from the beginning it looked okay, however I didn’t see it anywhere near house, so it probably died out.

While picking up the berries, I even ate some of them and that filled me up until I finish the breakfast. I hope, they were not awake yet and were not eating while I was gathering the food for them.

When I returned home they were, luckily, still asleep. Okay, the next step was to get water and wash the berries a bit. I know, I shouldn’t be eating them without washing, but I was very hungry, and so far, it had never hurt me. I went out of home and got some water from the well and brought it inside. I washed the berries and spread them out on one of the dish towels so they would dry out faster.

Next I needed to remember how that porridge is made. What was my mom always doing when she was making it? Warm up the milk and sugar it. Into a saucepan I took out, I poured some milk. I looked on it again, evaluating it, and poured a bit more because it didn’t look like enough for all of us. And then again and again, until I used the whole bottle. I made fire under it and waited. When the milk started to boil, the fire got too hot. There was some strange foam appearing on the top and not even stirring helped with reducing it. I tried to move the saucepan away from the heat, but it was too hot it burnt my hand. After few more seconds it over flow and the milk spilled all over the stove top. The smell was so horrible. I risked it again and pushed the saucepan from heat, my hand was damaged anyways.

The milk finally calmed down so using my good hand, I put some porridge into it. I put there a lot and after a while it got so thick I couldn’t even stir it. I had to use my both hands to do so. Damn! Sugar! I quickly put some sugar into the mass. And the berries right after. I didn’t want to damage them too much so I just stopped mixing after a while.

“What on earth are you doing here?!” my sister-in-law shouted from the top of stairs.

“I was just trying to make something to eat, before you wake up.”

“No, you just made an incredible mess. What is this?” she pointed on the saucepan.

“Porridge with some berries I picked in forest this morning.”

“You call this a porridge?! This is a rock! It is so thick it cannot be even cut with knife! Oh my, why did you even come here? You are just running the way we were used to live our lives! Go back the army where you belong!” she said. Then she took the saucepan and threw everything away.

“Well, excuse me, but this is my house and my home. I was born in this place and you only came here after wedding.”

“And you left! I was here while you were gone. I was the one working here in this place while you were lazily strolling god knows where. Go back to that place, where you belong.”

“And how about you go? You don’t belong here. Since you came nothing was good here.”

“What? How can you even say such thing? I, who did everything to make this place a better home for us, I, who took care of this house, and I didn’t do anything? Look at yourself! Gone for so long. What did you do?!”

“And who is giving you all the money for the place? It was all my money, everything I decided to share with you, to support you and you say I didn’t care?!”

“That little nothing you call a care? Support? That is not even enough for a food. Look, what we have here, nothing! And you call that support?”

“And you can throw away food just like that when you have nothing?”

“That was food? That was far away from anything edible! You should go, you shouldn’t stay here, you are only making things worse.”

“Okay that is enough, Verya is not going anywhere, she belongs to this house, and you have no right to say anything about it,” my brother must have heard our argument and came down here.

“As you say, husband,” said my sister-in-law and started to make breakfast – porridge – all over again.

“I think we need to talk,” I said to my brother.

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