chapter  8
16 Pages

The Fawn

Once upon a time, beyond the beyond, beyond the seven seas and beyond the glass mountains, there was a poor man and a woman. They had as many children as there are holes in a sieve, and one more. They were as poor as church mice. The poor man worked as a day-laborer. He earned his daily bread with his two hands.One day he said to his wife: “Wife, I don’t even remember when I ate meat the last time. Tonight I’ll bring some home from work, and you’ll cook it for me. Let me at least once eat my fill of meat, for I cannot bear the work of threshing with such measly food. I cannot get a decent meal since we have so many children. All we ever have is cheap dishes.”“Bring some,” she said, “I’ll cook it for you, gladly. I wouldn’t mind having some myself.”So the poor man went to work. The woman waited for him in the evening and, sure enough, he brought back eight pounds of meat.“Well, there should be enough,” he said, “make it in a stew-that will stretch it.” “All right,” she said.They woke the next morning and right away the woman began cooking the meat. During the day they ate whatever they found. Toward evening there was work to do outside; they had a few hens laying eggs. She went out to give them feed and water and look after them. She did what was needed in the yard. She said to her daughter, the oldest one-who was thirteen (then came a boy who was nine years old):“Well, my girl, I am going to take care of the work outside; meanwhile you watch over the meat, add some salt to it and let it simmer. It should be ready by the time your father comes home.”“All right, dear mother.”The woman went outside to attend to her work, and there were all the hungry children. The girl stirred the pot to make sure the meat wouldn’t burn, then cut off a piece and tasted it to see if it was done. When the other children saw this, they all rushed over to the pot and each took a slice or two of the meat. They didn’t leave a

single piece. Not one piece of meat was left in the pot when they were finished.Then the poor woman came back in. She ran to stir the pot and found that there was not even a morsel of meat in it.“God in Heaven, where did the meat go? What did you do?” she said.“I only took one slice, dear Mother, to taste whether it had to go on cooking.” “And where is the rest?”“Well, each one of my brothers and sisters took a piece,” she said. “I told them not to touch it, but it was no use, and now it is all gone.”Oh dear, the woman became very upset. She was alarmed. What would she serve her husband when he comes home? The poor man was expecting to eat some meat. And now there wasn’t any, what to do? What could she do when there was none? Well, she went into the pantry and cut off the four pounds of meat, two pounds from each leg. Then she went and rinsed it, washed it well, chopped it up and put it on the stove to cook. She had bandaged her legs with something, stopped the bleeding with vinegar, and went on cooking the meat. Evening came and her husband arrived home: “Well, wife, is dinner ready? I am very hungry.”“I think it’s ready by now I’ll serve it to you right away so you can eat.”She went and served the meal. The children were still crying for she had given them a thorough thrashing. One was under the bed, another by the oven, still another under the table, and one was in the crib. There were enough of them to spread around; they were in two or three places.“Why are the children crying?”“I beat them because they were bad.”But she didn’t dare say what they had done. She served the meal and they sat down to eat. She gave the children their food separately. When the man ate his fill, all the children went to bed. The two older ones slept on the porch. There was also an oven and. some slept on top of it. Not having room for everyone in the house, she let the older ones sleep outside. The woman and the man were chatting inside.Said the woman to her husband: “How did you like the dinner?”“The meat had such a fine, sweet flavor. I haven’t eaten such good, sweet-tasting meat for a long time.”“Do you know what kind of meat you ate?”“Well I know what meat I bought,” he said.“It wasn’t the meat you bought.”“What happened to it?”“The children ate it. That’s why I beat them so hard that they are still crying. I went out to attend to my work and by the time I came back in, they had finished it all.” “Then where did you get this meat?” he said.“Look here. My leg is bandaged. I took the soft meat from my leg, from both of them,” she said, “and I cooked it.”“Oh, my! Is human flesh this good? I didn’t know, I have never eaten any. And

look what I discovered now!” he said.They thought the children were all asleep, in bed.“Look,” he said, “I have been thinking. Tomorrow we could slaughter the girl and the day after tomorrow the boy, the older one. They are a little fatter than the others. We could slaughter them, cure their meat in salt, and while it lasts we needn’t worry about having enough food to eat.”Well, the woman agreed, she thought it was a good idea. But the boy heard it, he was not quite asleep on top of the oven; he had listened to what his father and mother were saying. The others had dozed off.“It’ll be all right,” said the man, “as long as no one gets to know about it. We live next to the highway and if they scream, it can be heard outside.”“Oh,” said the woman, “I can make sure that there will not even be an ‘ouch’! They should both be going to school, but tomorrow I won’t let them. I’ll say that I have to give a bath to the girl, wash and comb her hair, and the boy must sweep the court­yard and tidy up outside, so they cannot go to school. And then I’ll wash the girl’s hair-but I’ll sharpen the knife ahead of time and hide it away. And when she sits down on the chair and I’ll start combing her hair, I’ll cut her throat so fast she won’t have time to scream,” she said. “All will be well. We’ll salt the meat in a basin and there will be enough for us to eat tomorrow and even the day after.”The boy listened to all this. And when they had finished planning how it would all come about, they went to bed and fell asleep. As soon as the boy heard them snore, he shook his sister, the older girl:“Dear sister, wake up and come out with m e”“Why do you want to go out?”“Let’s go out to pee!”“How many times have you been out on your own-why do you disturb me now? Go by yourself!”“I won’t go, I am afraid,” he said, “come with me.”“And other times you were not afraid? What is wrong with you?”“Come, don’t let me beg you so much. Come out with me, I have to go.”Well, the girl wasn’t pleased but she got up and they went out:“So go and pee!”“No,” he said, “let’s go back to the corner of the house.”The girl followed him, very annoyed that he didn’t let her be, that she’d bewide-awake and not able to fall asleep again.He said: “My dear sister, I didn’t ask you to come out because I am afraid. I amnot afraid-I have been out before and would have gone again. But listen to what I have heard from our father and mother. You were asleep but I wasn’t. Listen to what they have planned to do.”“What?”“They said that we didn’t know what kind of meat mother had cooked the

second time, that she had cut a soft piece out of her leg and served it to us for dinner. And when they thought that we were asleep, she began asking my father whether it was good, whether he liked the meat, and he answered: ‘It was very good, I haven’t had such sweet-tasting meat before.’ And she said: ‘Do you know what that meat was?’ ‘Sure I know, I bought it. It was beef.’ She said: ‘No, it wasn’t. I took a piece of tender meat from my leg and cooked it. What you had bought was eaten up by your children. It wasn’t even done yet and they ate it. And I was expecting you, my husband, to come home. There was nothing else I could do, so I cut the meat off my leg.’ ‘Does human flesh taste this good?’ he asked. ‘We’ll do something different. There are enough of them anyway, tomorrow we’ll slaughter the girl, she is bigger and fatter, and the day after the boy. This way we’ll have enough to eat while the meat lasts. But how should we do it so no one hears about it? We live near the highway, if they scream, someone may come in.’ ‘No,’ she said, ‘I won’t let them go to school tomorrow and I’ll say that I have to wash and groom the girl’s hair, and the boy must sweep the yard, chop wood, and attend to his work. So I’ll keep them at home. I’ll send the boy out to sweep, I’ll wash the girl’s hair, and when I start combing it, the sharpened knife will be ready and all I have to do is draw it across her throat and it will be done.’ ‘All right,’ he said. He agreed.“Now tell me, dear sister, what should we do so we don’t die? Do we need to die this young? My heart breaks at the thought of it. What could we do? Let’s you and I agree-no one can hear us now.”The girl said: “Do you know what? I’ll wait until tomorrow. I won’t go anywhere at night for I am afraid. But tomorrow, after mother washes my hair and I am winding the ribbon around my finger, you rush in the door, grab it from my hand and shout: ‘I need this for a whip.’ Then I’ll burst into tears and cry that you mustn’t take my ribbon, you shouldn’t take it; you’ll jump up and start running, and I’ll run after you, shouting and screaming that you can’t take it, that you can’t take my ribbon away! This way she won’t notice anything and you keep running as fast as your legs will carry you. We’ll reach the fields-where we don’t have to worry that someone will see us-and make our way through the tall wheat. We’ll run wherever our eyes will lead us. We won’t let them kill us!”And so it happened. Morning came and both were trembling for they knew what was awaiting them. The woman started grumbling-her husband had gone to work, and she began shouting at them:“You two,” she said, “you don’t have time to go to school today. I must wash and groom your hair, Juliska, and you’d better go out to chop some wood for tomorrow, Sunday, and tidy up the yard. Both of you will have work to do at home.”“All right, dear mother,” he said, “I’ll chop wood and do what needs to bedone.” The boy went out and set to work. Inside the woman untied the girl’s hair, washed it and handed her the ribbon:“Smooth it out with your fingers, so it won’t be so wrinkled.”