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The next early morning, like all mornings, Batyushka woke up before Ilyusha. She checked her boy’s crib before proceeding with her morning chores. First, she made baby food – a mixture of wheat and goat milk to make porridge for Bok, and put it in the pantry of their little fireplace. They didn’t have electricity like the city, but Ilyusha cut enough firewood to last them at least two years of winter, if not more.

венок на воду … Venok na vodu…” she hummed to herself, loud enough for her two loved ones to wake up to a song if they wanted to in the one-room cottage. But they didn’t, only getting Ilyusha’s snore as a response, so once she prepared everyone’s breakfast and put it inside the pan of the fireplace, she dressed in her thickest, warmest clothes, kissed both foreheads, and walked outside.

The first thing she did was take two iron buckets and went to their small barn. They had a few chickens, a rooster, three goats, and another was soon to come.

“Morning, Baschka. How are you feeling?” She giggled when the mother goat bleated. “Yes, you’re tired with that extra weight. I was too. But you will see soon, it’s all worth it…” she patted her stomach and went to the other goat.

“You’re not pregnant yet, so I’m milking you.” Batyushka laughed because she was sure the goat glared at her.

The male goat was lying in the wheat, eating it as lazily as always.

“You make sure to impregnate Ludimila as well. Otherwise we’ll have to send you to Damyan’s farm.” He tossed his head aside, sparing Batyushka little mind.

She put the buckets aside, opened the barn door and let the goats and chickens outside to the yard. She picked up the eggs and put them in a wooden box before following the animals outside. Batyushka struggled to keep the yard clean from snow for at least a little grass to grow for the goats, so every morning, afternoon and evening she’d shovel it and put it in the water bin.

She shovelled around the house as well, so the snow didn’t sink into the wood too much. After that, she put the goats back in the barn and closed it before returning to the house.

“Morning Ilyusha.” Batyushka was amused each time she saw Ilyusha’s usually serious disposition slacked and drooled.

“Hn… Eggs.”

“Yes, eggs. Come darling.” She went to wake up Bok before joining her husband at the table. It all came so natural, to care and feed her babe and baby.

Their morning was a reoccurring ritual. Ilyusha then left to deliver the cut firewood to Alinka, while Batyushka played with Bok and taught him to speak. He loved it when they went to the barn and he could point at and play with the goats.

“коза… goat!”

“Da da, goat!” Nothing made her happier than seeing her baby boy grow.

When Ilyusha returned, he brought gifts from Alinka and his grandmother.

“Babushka wants us to visit soon.”

“We will darling, after the storm.”

The storm lasted longer than they expected. Bok whimpered when the windows shook, and cried whenever a particularly bad current banged against the door.

“There there, darling…” Her voice eventually calmed Bok enough for him to fall asleep.

“This winter will be worse than the previous. I can feel it.” Ilyusha grumbled, cutting at a wooden piece with a small carving knife. On the right was a shelf filled with his figurines, and one was displayed in the centre, a figurine of Batyushka holding little Bok. It was his favourite.

“We will survive.” Batyushka could have said ‘we have each other’, but things never were like that in the Soviet winter. Last year, Ilyusha’s cousin Ivanko died from a fever, leaving behind his wife and daughters. Batyushka realises that could have easily been her role. “We will only go out when we really need to.”

“No going to Vladivostok, then.” He lay on the bed and patted his side. “Get over here.”

“Alright.” She lay Bok next to Ilyusha, and the husband raised his eyebrows. Batyushka laughed. “If you think I’m leaving our boy alone in his crib in the middle of a storm, you don’t know this momma bear.”

That night, Bok slept soundly between his two guardians. Circled in his parents’ arms, a barrier like nothing could get between them.

If only Batyushka hadn’t kept all of her attention on her boy. If only she’d gone to the barn an hour later. Because in the dim light of their fire, she would have spotted a pair of red eyes staring at her loves through the thick glass window.