Here is the second installment to Novel November. If you missed the first part, you can read it here.
Mary Mae, the goat, was tied to the front of the house, chewing on an old scrap of leather. I was also responsible for her well-being, because without the goat, my sister would have died long ago. She survived on the rich milk, and was starting to fill out as well. At first, I had had no idea how to get her to ingest the milk, but had finally discovered that a bit of cloth dipped in the liquid transferred the milk from the bowl to her mouth.
Even before opening the door, I could hear her hoarse cries. I had come back just in time to feed her. I picked up a bowl covered with cloth that I had buried in the snow to keep from Smythe, and found an icy layer. Once inside, finding Smythe absent, Mother sleeping, and my sister red-faced from crying, I put the bowl down near the fire and put another chunk of wood atop the dying flames.
The small wooden cradle was near the fire to keep the infant warm, and when I picked her small body up, I noticed the chill. Her bottom was damp, and she quieted when I held her against my body. She whimpered a bit when I lay her down to change her diaper, but her dark eyes showed her trust of me. After she was changed and wrapped back up, I settled down near the hearth, holding her in one arm, and the rag in the other hand. The milk was now warm and unfrozen, and I dipped the rag from the bowl to her open mouth. Her eyes wide, she sucked the rag until it was dry. I repeated the same process until the bowl was empty, and her belly was round and bulging. Her dark eyes drooped, and when she stopped resisting sleep, her lashes lay on her plump cheeks.
The room was dark, and I studied her by firelight. Her skin was milky white, her hair dark and glossy. Her tiny lips formed a dark pink rosebud and twitched with her dreams. Her arms were up on her chest, and her tiny fingers curled at her neck. Her little round knees were bent and pulled up, and her long toes were curled like her fingers.
The day had been long, and the warmth was seeping into my bones, causing a heavy lethargy to come over me. I reached for the threadbare blanket that I used every night, and the small bundle I rested my head on. I laid my sister on the bundle, watching a frown wrinkle her forehead for an instant. I laid three more larger pieces of wood on the fire, and spread my cloak on the hard floor, as close as I dared to get to the hearth.
Picking the baby back up, I lay down on my cloak, covered myself with the blanket and placed my head on the bundle. I used to share the large bed with Mother, but Smythe had taken my place. I didn’t expect him to return tonight; he had probably already bedded down with one of the painted women from the tavern.
But the large bed no long tempted me. It smelled strongly of Mother’s sickness and of Smythe’s dirty body. I felt the baby squirm nearer to my chest, and pulled her close. She sighed, a small, soft sound, and my eyes began to feel gritty with sleep. I closed them to relieve the feeling, and not soon after, drifted to sleep.