Her mother, Olga, bent over a fire and old before her time. She had been pretty once, not beautiful but pretty enough to catch the eye of Viktor Novitch and make her his wife. Her life had been a difficult one, more so since the death of her husband and two young sons. She looked up. “What did you get Natasha?”
“Potatoes Mama and bread and…” Natasha thought for a mo ment, “…and two carrots!” she said with triumph.
Olga nodded her head. It wasn’t much, it never was but it would have to do. It would go well with the course beets she was boiling.
“Did you see anybody?” her mother asked.
“I saw a dog,” said the little girl, wiping her nose with the ba ck of her hand, and then wiping the wet snot on her sleeve. Her mother put the potatoes and carrots in the pot and her brother broke the half loaf of stale bread into three pieces.
That stray mongrel around the village?” asked Fedor. There were many strays but his younger sister knew which one he spoke of.
Natasha eagerly nodded her head, “Yes, Fedor, he’s a good dog really. He can do tricks he’s really a good dog!”
“Da,” said her brother, “good at bothering people.”
“Oh Fedor he just wants a friend.”
“Da, a friend with food,” said her older brother, who went on with a sigh, “but I suppose that dog isn’t so different from us. Anyone with food to share is a friend when you think about it.”
Olga glanced at Fedor and frowned. She did not like it when her son spoke in such a way, with shadows of despair, though it wasn’t difficult to understand why. If she could only do something for the boy to make his life more tolerable, to enjoy it more, instead he seemed to crawl deeper into the bottle, a prison many fell into and few escaped from.
When Olga thought the meager meal ready, she scooped it into rough wooden bowls with a broken cup. Not a banquet to be sure but it would be something in their stomachs, something to keep them going for another day at least. That’s the way they lived, from one day to the next, hoping the next day might bring in a little extra and accepting it when it didn’t.
” This is good Mama,” said Natasha, manners forgotten scoop ing the food into her mouth, to young to savor what little taste it offered, only wanting to hold off the pangs of hunger a little while longer. Olga smiled at her daughter. The girl would never venture any other comment. The food was always good. “Slow down and chew your food daughter,” said Olga, “you should always chew your food.”
Fedor spoke very little during the meal but that was not unusual. Though there were things that interested him, he did not feel the need to communicate his ideas or thoughts to those around him. Who could possibly understand? Olga felt herself somewhat responsible for her son’s silence. When he was youn ger, she told him stories of Moscow and St. Petersburg, mostly things she had made up or heard from other people with the hope of adding some color to his drab existence. As time went on, his dreams of these places, the stories she had told him, failed to diminish and his depression increased with the knowledge that he would probably never leave this place. He felt doomed and unappreciated. At a very young age, Fedor knew he was living at the bottom of a well and there was little chance of climbing out. Though many wouldn’t think so, the simple truth was, his imagi nation was his curse.