By Nina Semczuk
There was a woman who had two sons and a daughter. The younger of the two sons asked her to speak to his father, her husband, for an early inheritance. It was not the first time he had asked. “No,” she told him. “You have not yet borne the burdens of life; you must first earn our trust.” “What does that mean?” asked the youngest child, the daughter. The older brother, who sat repairing a harness and who had overheard the conversation, answered. “Mother is saying he’ll spend the money on drink and women, and will make a fool of himself.” The woman nodded. Her eldest son could always translate her wishes to her willful younger son. “I’m asking Father,” said the younger son. “Help me finish this work first,” said the older son. He held the half-mended harness aloft. The younger son shook his head, aimed a rude gesture at his brother, and walked out of the room.
Later, after he had left with the money his father had granted him, the woman and the man walked the fields.
“Why did you give him the rope to create his own noose?” the woman asked. She turned to look at her husband. He kept his head facing forward and looked at the fields.
“He had the boldness to ask,” replied the man. “He will prove himself wherever he travels.”
The woman suspected otherwise, but she had learned to withhold her opinions about her youngest son. She still had two of her children to fight for. The younger son did indeed wander to a far country and spent his inheritance on women and drink. He stayed far away, for a long time, gambling with whatever money he could gather.
When famine visited the land, the family’s wealth diminished little by little, and then almost all at once. The storehouses emptied, the animals were killed and eaten, and soon there was just one calf left. The woman prayed for her missing child, as she held her other two close, but heard no word. Each day, the eldest son and youngest daughter watered the remaining crops, and fed the last calf. The eldest son hired himself out to his father’s neighbors and worked past sunrise and sunset of each day. The father shut himself up in a room and spent his days pacing, fearing the worst for his family.
One day the younger son appeared, gaunt and with eyes downcast. The woman embraced him, as did his brother and sister. The father heard the commotion and could not believe his eyes.
“Son, you live! We must rejoice,” he said. He walked to the barn to kill the last animal. “But father, we still have grain for gruel, and some bread to break,” said the daughter. The wife saw that her husband did not care, and would not be stopped. The father served the remaining meal to his family and cried many happy tears. His wife was silent.
Afterward, he walked the field, slowly, with his wife. She turned to him. “You realize we will all now starve,” she said. “We could have rejoiced without being foolish.”
The man replied. “Wife, I’d rather die with my youngest son, who is most like me in spirit and in action, than to slowly eke out an existence with those who are not versions of me, made with my own blood.”
The woman saw that he had made up his mind. The next morning, she departed their home, taking her eldest son and her daughter.
Nina Semczuk is an MFA student at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn. Previously, she served five years in the Army. Her work (and forthcoming work) can be found in The Line Literary Review, The War Horse, and around the web.