Near the end of the semester I had to rewrite the first scene of the Miska story for class, but somehow I never shared it with you. Here it is, with a little bit extra tacked on at the end. I suspect I’ll have more of this for you over the next while. Enjoy!
Dinners at home had become a somber affair. Everything still smelled like smoke, and it felt empty, skeletal somehow when Miska thought about it. The charred remains of the sail loft and the worker’s quarters stood on the other side of the kitchen wall. That wall was the only stable thing between the last standing fragment of their house and the rest of what had been their building. It didn’t do a good job of keeping out the winter wind. They’d stuffed rags underneath the door that had lead out to the workers’ quarters, and they’d tried bundling charred canvas over the new outside wall to cut down on the draft, but it just made everything smell even smokier. The huge trestle table, where they’d always eaten with all her mother’s journeymen and apprentices, was mostly bare. Just Miska, her sisters Leonora and Mirabelle, and their parents. Nobody wanted to talk about it.
The food wasn’t very good either. Luis, the journeyman whose aunt had always brought home spices from her voyages abroad, had left. He no longer laughed in the huge kitchen after hours of sewing, teaching them how to sauté or measuring out a tiny pinch of powder that would set your mouth on fire. Instead, it was just her family. And the less said about her sisters’ cooking the better.
“It tastes like ash.” Leonora’s eyes were glued to the rice and sausage stew in her bowl. She spooned another bite into her mouth, and Miska could watch her sister mush the stew around with her tongue, her disappointment obvious. It had been her turn to cook.
Miska dutifully forced more into her mouth, working to swallow. Even if the food tasted like smoke and ash, she was still ravenous. She could see her father doing the same. They’d only gotten home from their stevedoring down on the waterfront shortly before dinner was done. Her mother hadn’t yet touched her bowl. She looked lost in thought.
“Natalia,” Miska’s father spoke around the food in his mouth, “have you been able to find anyone who’ll take you up on the smaller alterations?”
Miska’s mother shook her head, finally spooning herself a bite from her stew.
Mirabelle looked back and forth between her parents. “But you were gone all day Mom. Aren’t you going to tell us what you found?”
Natalia swallowed, grimaced. “It’s something. It may be something. An opportunity to rebuild, maybe.”
Leonora and Mirabelle leaned forward in their seats, watching their mother. Miska continued to shovel food into her mouth, chewing and swallowing mechanically. Whatever it was, she still knew what her role would be going forward. She wouldn’t be working in the sail loft again any time soon, even if they did rebuild it. She knew she should feel ashamed, but there was a certain relief to knowing that she’d be carrying things down by the docks instead of pinching a needle.
Natalia continued, “I’ve found someone who’s willing to loan us the money we need to rebuild. Mistress Mariselle.”
The people sitting around the smoky and dimly lit trestle table went very still. Mistress Mariselle had a reputation, and not necessarily a good one. She was known as one of the wealthiest residents of Marseille, but she was a Parisian at heart. There were rumors that she had bought more than one person’s servitude even though most people also said she dealt fairly.
Miska took a breath and started chewing again. It wasn’t for her to worry about. She thought that was clear enough; if she had noticed the fire even a few moments earlier, maybe their house would still be noisy and full of life. Whatever her mother did to raise their home from the ruin it had become, that was up to her. The best thing that Miska could do was bring in a little more income from the things she was actually good at. Everyone had agreed on that point.