• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 01


Elsa and Gretl waited in the kitchen, just as Mother had asked them to. The tea they’d prepared for supper had boiled dry; an unpleasant smell lingered in the air because of it. The bread and cheese that should’ve gone with it lay forgotten on the table. When a rat had jumped up to snatch whatever he could, they’d been too absentminded to notice. Despite all that they’d been told they should do when the time came, they couldn’t. They stared at the door to the bedroom, hypnotised by the muffled screams and soothing whispers that came from the other side of it.

“What do you think?” blonde Gretl whispered to her chestnut-haired older sister. “Will this one live?”

Elsa didn’t know what to say. Seventeen babies had been carried and birthed by Mother. Of those only two had managed to breathe on their own: herself and Gretl. Elsa wanted to have hope, to say that there was a chance. But unlike Gretl, Elsa was pragmatic and logical. She had ceased to hope for the little brother they all needed to secure the family name, a long time ago. All she fervently prayed, as she had prayed for the last five births, was that the child wouldn’t take Mother with it to Heaven.

Gretl, Elsa’s junior by two years, wasn’t stupid. She knew what the heavy silence meant. Still, she pretended that she didn’t. She sat by the table, knitting away on an almost ready baby cap. The socks were already finished and lay folded in the blanket they had prepared for the newborn, next to a clean linen dress. “It’s a bother that he’s early,” she said, “I hope I’ll finish before he’s out.”

You will, thought Elsa to herself. Just as you have the other times, you’ll finish on time, sweet sister. The burial clothes will be ready.



She refused to speak the words out loud. Speaking them out loud didn’t say anything not already known. All they could do was wait, and pray that the midwife knew what she was doing. She was young; God knew how much real-life experience she’d had.

A soft “miew” interrupted her thoughts.

She looked down over the table. An orange tabby-cat watched her intently. It must’ve snuck in through the door when they’d opened it earlier. It sat there, sunset-coloured eyes moving between the sisters. She set a hand to Gretl’s shoulder, coaxed her to look. Gretl looked at the kitty, her knitting sticks thrumming against each other without stopping for even one second.

“Auntie Eva says it’s lucky to see a cat.”

“It’s unlucky, silly.”

“Uh-uh. Only black cats.” Gretl was adamant. “A cat on your doorstep brings good luck to those that treat it well.”

Elsa said nothing. Pish-posh, no doubt, and yet…

She walked over to the cupboard, took a bowl, filled it with milk and put it down on the floor. The cat came to drink, she strokes its back. It purred.

It couldn’t hurt to try.