Hope

She sits in the middle of the field on her small stool, endlessly milking. The rain streams down her face and over her head scarf. It’s always her job, at least in the winter. Her hands are chapped from exposure to the harsh winds. She knows if she turns around her brother will be standing in the window of the cottage, laughing.

She wonders what her life would have been like if she were born more ordinary. She is, in fact, exceptionally beautiful. No one could deny it. But beauty is isolating, and not just for her. Her father is adament that she could not be his, so different is she from the rest of the brood. At the end of every heavy vodka session he curses (and sometimes beats) his wife for her apparent infidelity. Apparently this is her fault, for her mother in turn curses her and gives her the heaviest burdens to carry and the toughest jobs to do.

She is quick too. Her father pulled her out of the village school once he realised she could read and write. Thank goodness for her teacher, who gives her lessons in secret and passes on what she learns from the newspapers. Of course, being so far out it takes a few days for news to travel from the city but the information is still valid and it is clear what is coming. Her father refuses to listen to the whispers and rumours that come in from the travelling tradesmen, but she knows.

War. It’s in the air, and the ripples are already felt from Czechoslovakia. Her teacher is nervous, talking about moving further east, but she is exhilarated. This, she knows, will be her opportunity. It isn’t just the landscape round here that is barren. The community is stagnant. Nothing ever happens, and without a violent change she will be married off to some peasant nearby, and there she will be nothing more than a particularly attractive carthorse. At least her beauty will be an asset then. But with the War… She imagines a devilishly handsome soldier, perhaps Russian, coming through on a white charger, catching her up and taking her as his wife back to the cosmopolitan city. Glamour, balls, literature and leisure awaits.

The final cow finished, she stands and makes her way back to the cottage. The smirk of her brother is still visible, but she ignores him. Just you wait, she thinks. You’ll be sorry.

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