It was raining.
It had been raining for as long as she could remember, in fact. Each day was the same to her. Wake up, hear the rain on the windows. Cook breakfast for her oaf of a husband. Wash the clothes, clean the floors, hear the rain, be confused.
Oh, if only...
And it was grey rain...it didn't seem to make anything grow.
Myra Barkov hurried down the streets. No-one looked at her, they were all busy. People had looked at her before, a year ago, when she was pretty and her hair was gold. But she wasn't pretty anymore.
She tried to keep the rain off the basket. She'd heard people talking in the streets.
"The old lady's dying..."
"Been gettin' worse for a year now..."
"She don't have no family, does she? Gonna die all on her own..."
Myra was sixteen, she didn't think about people dying. She had never known anyone to die. But she felt sorry for the old lady that the people had spoken of. She had discovered, in the past year, what it felt like to be on your own. Besides, she had to get away from Igor, if only for a few hours. So she'd taken a basket, filled it with some flowers and food, and escaped from the house.
She knew the name of the old lady. Madame Zeroni. But she didn't
know her first name. She didn't know if she even had one.
When she was little she and the other children had shared stories about the old lady. They'd said she was a witch, and would punish anyone who went to her house without permission. Just a few months ago she'd heard some people saying that Madame Zeroni had cursed Elya, and that was why he wasn't here anymore.
Lightening split the sky in two. Myra wished the world was dry.
She went down the road, through piles of mud. Her dress was soaked and dirty. There was the house. It was quite an old house, but didn't seem to have fallen into disrepair.
What if the old lady cursed her?
She considered just leaving the basket and returning home, but at the same time, she didn't want to. She was afraid of both things.
So she approached the door and knocked.
"Enter," said a voice from within. Whoever spoke it didn't sound like they were dying. Myra opened the door. In the corner of the room she could just make out a figure on a rocking-chair.
"Who is it?" the voice asked.
"Myra. Myra Bar...Menke. I brought you some things."
"Myra..." The voice sounded rather surprised. "Come here then, Myra."
Myra came. The room was dark. She opened some curtains to let the light in, and put her basket on a table.
"I wasn't expecting you, Myra." Madame Zeroni said.
Myra just nodded.
"Strange to think it..." the old woman said with a laugh. "You would be the only person to spare a thought for a dying woman. How old are you now?"
"Sixteen..." Madame Zeroni said thoughtfully. "Yes. You would be. You are still young. Young and foolish, as are we all. And you are married now."
"Do you love him?"
"No." And then she added, "Not at all."
"Did you love Elya?"
She was puzzled. Why so many questions? "No. He was strange. Not like the others around here. But at least he was kind, I...I guess."
Madame Zeroni shook her head. She said nothing for a minute. Then she said, in a slow voice...
"Witches of old were not allowed to cast spells to create love where there was none." Then she looked Myra in the eye.
"Myra, I wondered if Elya's fate was your fault."
Myra didn't know what she meant by that. But she was by nature defensive."I haven't done anything wrong!"
"No...perhaps not. Being young and vain is not a crime, after all. Your foolishness has led to greater wrongs, though."
Myra didn't say anything and neither did Madame Zeroni. Myra was worried all of a sudden that she'd died. But she was still breathing.
"I'm not foolish," she said quickly.
"We all are."
Myra wondered if maybe she should leave...she'd delivered the basket so she'd done what she came to do...but it didn't seem quite right. She'd never known anyone to die before, after all.
Madame Zeroni coughed. Myra sought a change of subject.
"What happened to Elya, anyway?"
Madame Zeroni looked at her. Now she looked like a dying person.
"Elya has gone to America."
She wondered why she didn't think of that, it made perfect sense.
"So you never cursed him or made him disappear or anything?"
Madame Zeroni sighed. Outside, the rain was stopping.
"Elya was a child. Now he is an adult. Perhaps that was because of the curse...perhaps not. Elya loved you...now he loves someone who loves him back. Curses are twofold. Great evil can come from good things. And great good can come from evil things."
The rain ceased.
Myra spoke. "You cursed him?"
"Yes, child, I did."
She blinked. "But...don't you feel bad about it?"
Somehow, she felt that was a stupid thing to say. Madame Zeroni closed her eyes.
"I do, child. It was foolish. But it'll work out in the end...if only..."
Myra interrupted her, something she would later regret. "How do you know?"
"You'll never see Elya again," The old woman suddenly leaned forward and gripped her hand tightly. "But if you do...tell him I'm sorry for the misfortunes he will have. May my family be cursed as well!"
And then she just wasn't alive anymore.
Myra stared, not knowing what was going on. Those words had made no sense. And...
...and she'd never seen anyone die before.
She didn't know what to do, so she went outside. She wondered again what Madame Zeroni's first name was. A few people were standing around in the street, going on with their lives.
"The old lady dead, then?" one of them said, noticing her.
"Yeah," she answered.
They wandered off. Myra watched as they left. She wondered how they could treat something as major as a death in such a way.
She wondered what to do now.
Go home. Cook and clean and never change. Her own personal curse.
There were too many curses in the world, too many people getting things wrong. She was one of them, too. And she didn't know why. And she didn't know what'd changed her, and she probably never would.
May my family be cursed as well...
She didn't know how to work on a ship, but maybe she could learn. She didn't know anything about the world, but maybe she'd have to learn.
Before she had a chance to think about it...she was leaving.
She followed Elya...went to America. She married a man called Barlow. They raised a son who would in turn raise a daughter. But every family has its own curses, and none of them lived happily ever after.