Troika

Katy trudged upwards dragging the sledge behind her. Her brother seemed to weigh more every time she climbed the hill. The snow was mushy now, more like cold porridge than ice crystals. The sledge sank deeper into the ruts from the last few runs until she couldn’t go any higher up the hill.

“Up, Katy, up,” Bobby cried.

“Can’t go no further, Bobs. You’re too heavy.”

He cried in earnest. Shuddering, heart rending sobs that shook his whole body. Katy sighed and sat down on the sledge wrapping her arms around him.

“Hush now. Don’t cry Bobs. Maybe there’ll be more snow tomorrow.”

She hugged him close. He stopped sobbing and squirmed round to look at her.

“Katy, promise? Please?”

“Can’t promise nothing. Depends on the weather gods.”

And Ma, she added under her breath. If Ma decided to play mother for once, then Bobs would be with her and Katy’d be stuck with cleaning the house or washing. Chance of that was slim though.

Ma didn’t like snow. She spent most of winter inside looking out. Maybe if Pa had ever come back, Ma wouldn’t be so wedded to her whiskey bottle.

She stood and lifted Bobby onto her hip, grabbing the tow rope. She stomped through the slush and the sledge, freed of the heavy weight of her brother, skimmed along behind them. At the edge of the field, she climbed the gate and pulled the sledge under the bars. It just fitted through the gap at the bottom.

Katy opened the cottage door. Bobby scampered inside while she put the sledge away. It was quiet when she came in. Ma sprawled motionless in her chair, empty bottle by her side. Bobby tugged at Ma’s hand.

“Ma wake up,” he whined.

Katy grabbed Ma’s hand. It was cold.

***

I dream of how it used to be. Me and Bobby, playing in the snow. Ma cooking dinner for when we got back. Pa at home. And the cottage would be warm.

I trudge upwards dragging the sledge behind me. Bobby weighs more every time I climb the hill. The snow has turned to mush, like cold porridge. The sledge sinks deeper into the ruts we made and I’m too tired to pull any more.

“Up, Katy, up,” Bobby cries.

“Can’t go no further, Bobs. You’re too heavy.”

He cries shuddering, heart rending sobs. I sigh and sit down on the sledge wrapping my arms around him, cuddling him close.

“Hush now. Don’t cry Bobs. Maybe there’ll be more snow tomorrow.”

He stops sobbing and squirms round to look at me.

“Katy, promise? Please?”

“Can’t promise nothing. Depends on the weather.”

And Ma, I add under my breath. If Ma decides to play mother for once, then she’ll decide what we do tomorrow. Chance of that is slim though.

Ma doesn’t like snow. She spends most of winter inside looking out. Maybe if Pa had ever come back, Ma wouldn’t be so wedded to her whiskey bottle.

I stand and lift Bobby onto my hip, grabbing the tow rope. I stomp through the slush and the sledge, free of my brother’s heavy weight, skims along behind us. At the edge of the field, I climb the gate and pull the sledge under the bars. It just fits through the gap at the bottom.

I open the cottage door. Bobby scampers inside while I put the sledge away. It’s quiet when I come in. Ma sprawls motionless in her chair, empty bottle by her side. Bobby tugs at Ma’s hand.

“Ma wake up,” he whines. I grab Ma’s hand. It’s cold.

***

I see you through the warm haze of the whiskey. You run the house as best you can, and look after your brother, and you do it around me. I know I’m in your way, but I can’t summon the energy to move.

You dress Bobby in warm clothes and take him outside. He likes the snow, just like you do. I wonder if you remember your Pa taking you on the sledge. You try to be both Pa and Ma to him.

I imagine you trudging up the hill pulling him along. You must be getting tired now. Bobby is no light weight. At least you won’t be cold with all that hard work. Not like I’m cold inside.

Bobby wouldn’t let you stop too early, but you’ve been gone a long time. I bet he cries when you want to stop. I wish I felt strong enough to be your mother again. It isn’t fair to you to make you do everything. You’re only a child yourself, my Katy.

If only your Pa had come back from his trip east to find work. I think maybe he has another family out east. Maybe they’re less demanding than we are and that’s why he didn’t come back. Or maybe he’s dead in a ditch somewhere. He wouldn’t have expected this late snow.

I drink the last of the whiskey. I’m beginning to float free of my worn out body. You’re on your way home now. I see you coming across the field, stomping through the slush. The sledge floats along behind you bumping your heels. My son rides on your hip. You climb the gate and the sledge just fits through the gap under the bars. When did you get so strong, my daughter? And are you strong enough?

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