The Big Sister

I wasn’t sorry when Evi left home. I mean I was ,but I wasn’t going to let her know it. I don’t remember Mama; she went away with baby Ferenc after the spring rains. But Evi left school to care for Papa and me. She was a little mother. Papa was angry at first. He was angry at the whole world for takng his baby boy. He used to shout and throw things. When his blood was up, Papa would take the strap to us. I am his favorite. I made him laugh with my funny songs and dances, but Evi only made Papa angry. Evi would make that face, all sad and teary, and it would upset Papa so much. I told her to be nice and to not make a fuss. But she wouldn’t make happy and Papa couldn’t help himself.
When the troubles came, Papa started planning Evi’s marriage. I remember when Papa told Evi her husband was Bela Bussink, the old clockmaker. We were at the dining table with good mutton stew and appelkuchen for dessert. Cinnamon, warm and sweet, was heavy in the air and I pleaded with Evi with my eyes to be nice. I saw her eyes grow wide and I held my breath. All she said was, “Thank you, Papa.” Her voice was a pebble in a shoe. Then she smiled. I was so happy the night wouldn’t be spoiled.
I was cross the next day when I realized I would have to take over the cooking, washing, and mending. I would have to be the little mother while Evi got to live with old Bela. He was no prize sure. At school, we threw rotten apples at his door and called him Old Mandrake because he was so gnarled. But old man Bela had a bigger house than ours and all of his children were grown and gone except for his youngest son, Erik. But Erik was a few years older than Evi and would be married off soon enough. Stupid Evi, I thought, she gets everything first.
I didn’t see much of Evi after her wedding. I had to wear hard shoes that day and a silly dress Evi made for me. When I did see her it was the same old Evi, more pale maybe and that same awful teary face. I had to cook and clean for Papa and had worries of my own. One day Evi came back home to help with the canning. She was different. I can’t explain it she was just different. Eating her pickled beets a few nights later, I thought about my big sister. I knew she had a secret, a secret from me. Papa would be cross if Evi was keeping secrets.
Next day, quick as a flash I slipped from school and followed Evi. I was an undercover agent like in the comics. I laid in the shadows of the bush watching her house. Finally Evi came out with a large willow basket. I could tell she was only pretending to shop. Soon Evi meandered to Zsusana’s back door, the midwife’s back door.
Everyone even Papa feared the midwife. Maybe it was her loud voice. Or the bold way she had about her. The menfolk would whisper about Zsusana and grow silent when she was around. Church or no, midwives can bring babies into the world or stop them.
I knew Evi was going to have a baby. I pressed my head to that door. The two talked of angels makers. The two talked of freedom. Through the thick wood I could not make out many words. Some I couldn’t understand. But I knew evil when I heard it.
I followed her back to Bela’s house. I lost her in Little Wolf woods then she came up behind me. Something stone hard flickered across her face and then she was my sister again.
“Evi, I heard everything. Don’t do the bad thing. Don’t kill,” I implored my sister.
“Oh ZuZu, such big ears you have,” Evi said. She kissed my forehead to quiet my racing heart. Wrapping her arm round my shoulder, Evi pulled me close. “You have things all mixed up. Come home with me. I am making gruel for my husband. He’s under the weather. Let us talk over hot chocolate like when Mama was alive.”
I don’t remember Mama. Sweet, velvety chocolate, the thought of the steamy mug filled my head as we walked through the forest.

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