• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 01

Never Forget the Milk

I've lost the number of times I've glanced at the door while Stella gets the mug ready. Her softer hands are far more skilled than mine in preparing tea the way he likes it, so her making it this time hadn't been questioned at all. We just couldn't risk it. Besides, I still have the marks from the time I did it. Stella hadn't been around—she'd been fetching some garments—and I got so nervous with all the yelling and the footsteps in the hallway foreboding his nasty face on the door that I forgot to temper the milk properly. He wasn't pleased.

I still wonder if the aftermath of not having his tea at all would have been worse. I'll never know and I don't plan to find out. Stella didn't say much when she returned that day. She'd made mistakes in the past as well, though clearly not as dire. Without looking at me, she got me on my feet, sat me on a stool and cleaned my face, slowly humming to the tune our mother used to share with us. She kissed my cheeks, her lips turning red and bright in the candlelight, absorbing my pain while her cloth grazed my arms, reddening with the warm traces of my unfortunate mistake.

When I asked her if she'd ever suffered the same, she simply said the milk was important. Never forget the milk. Her voice, detached and impersonal, surprised me. She didn't seem like herself but then again, we haven't been ourselves for a long time, if at all. You can't when you're constantly worrying about getting the tea right and avoiding the stench of alcohol near your own breath, inwardly jumping at any touch of his fingers. We never mentioned the incident again, just as we never mentioned others. Until last night, when Stella took a small vial out of her pocket and placed it in my hands. She'd been out somewhere while I'd been washing the sheets. Tomorrow, she said. And here we are.


Never Forget the Milk

My hands shiver inside my pockets as I see her empty the water-like content, followed by the milk, carefully stirred and warmed, the tenderness of each movement clocking inside my head like the seconds preceding his coming. He won't notice, she said. Which is good because I don't want him to notice anything until we're far away from here, silently slipping through the night, our cloaks trailing after us in the same fearful waves of shock after watching him fall, choking in the purplish shades of his chins, unable to resist the joint hands of our defiance. I grab my sister's arm. Do you think it'll work? She grabs the mug and heads for the door.