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"I did it! Mom, I did it!" Orrali ran into the house, test scores clutched in her hand. "I did it! I did it!"Author's Notes
Karanaan looked up, startled, then saw the paper in Orrali's hand. "You got your test scores, then? I'm happy you're pleased."
Orrali danced around the kitchen, clutching the papers to her bosom. Her long, brown curls belled out as she twirled, lifting more dramatically than her farmgirl's skirt.
Karanaan smiled fondly, then went back to spooning mashed carrots into the new baby's mouth. In the background, she heard her two remaining sons arguing about whether a shovel or pitchfork was a better tool, and in the other room, two sewing machines hummed busily as her girls worked on sea monster costumes for a school play of some sort. She looked back up at Orrali. "Have you decided if you're going to apprentice with your father on the farm or with someone in town?"
Orrali stopped spinning. She stood there, mouth open, staring at her mother. "Mom, didn't you hear me?" She stepped forward, taking the spoon from her mother, and feeding the baby so she would actually have her mother's attention. "I did it! I didn't just score high enough to stay in school -- I scored higher than anybody, ever. My teacher said I scored high enough to go study anywhere I want! I can go study sea monsters at Affafilalo or Tifijimi!"
Orrali expected a reaction, but didn't expect to see tears running down her mother's face. Mom, are you all right?"
Karanaan turned away and grabbed a dish cloth, swiping at her face. "I -- I'm sorry. It's just, you look so much like him. And you're so smart like him. But I don't want to lose you too."
"Lose me -- wait -- who are you talking about?"
"Your older brother, Oranaan." Karanaan's hazel eyes were still shiny with tears.
"What do you mean? I'm the oldest!"
Karanaan pulled out a chair and sat down heavily. "We've let you think that, but it's not true."
Orrali sat down too. "I had a big brother?" The words didn't feel real. "What happened to him?"
Karanaan gave her a wan smile. "You have a big brother. I -- we -- just haven't seen him since he was very small."
"I don't remember any big brother."
"You were just a baby then. He tested so high, some big city scientist came and offered him the chance to study in Affamarg. It -- it was a great honor for him, and we were just starting out. It meant one less mouth to feed, and the Empire gave us a larger farm, on richer land." Tears started to fall. "I was so happy for him, but -- "
Orrali tried to imagine what it would be like if one of her siblings left, and was never heard from again. It felt -- broken. She stood and went around the table to hug her mother. "Oh, Mom. That's -- that's just awful. He -- he never wrote?"
"There were a few post cards, but he was so little. He sounded so sad at first, but then he got excited about new friends and his classes. When he stopped writing, I -- we -- stopped too. We didn't want to make him sad again."
"I won't stop writing." Orrali squeezed her mother's shoulders hard. "I promise. And I'll come to visit, no matter how many justification forms I have to fill out to get here."
Karanaan smiled sadly at her daughter through her tears. "I know you will, baby. I know you will."
Written for the May 2015 Muse Fusion.