A Ritual by Victoria Kuzmina

It was my fifth year at the orphanage. I stood in complete darkness while my eyes were getting used to the starlight. The spot was at the farthest area of the premise with a decayed wall. It was the only remnant of the original building. What if children stayed there forever? Did their souls fall apart as the house decomposed? They became fleshless guardians of this permanent home. 

This horrifying thought drew me to the place every December. I dreaded to turn into an eternal orphan and therefore I followed the ritual. A child had to come there on the darkest night, five days before Christmas, and spent an hour with no light. Nuns mentioned that a dream would become a reality this way. I did it three winters in a row. Maybe it wasn’t working, because I stayed less time than required. 

A walk from the orphanage to the sacred place was the challenge. Absolute darkness, howling sounds, and menacing silhouettes of trees - inhabitants of a torture kingdom. A heavy snowfall blocking an already difficult view and slowing the pace of tiny feet. I forgot gloves and cold took my hands in its freezing grasp. All monsters from my nightmares crawled behind, ready to devour a skinny body. I made slow progress to my destination - a minuscule figure in light clothes, almost numb from fear. How easy it was to wipe this fragile human being from the records of earth’s memory. And then push it back to an eternal void of nothingness. An unwanted child, an obscure soul - just another brick in the wall of emptiness. 

No one knew my story, no one tried to save me from the grievous orphanage. It was gloomy outside; it was pitch-dark inside of me. I cried quiet tears all the way to the sacred place. So frightened, so cold, but believing in the power of the ritual. The new mother would appear and evacuate me from the cave. Or it was an old mother. Perhaps she would change her mind and come back for me. I didn’t have any recollection of her, no memories. But I wanted to believe that she left me by mistake. Or that she lost me and couldn’t find her petite girl. 

I stood under the starlight, chilled to the bone. I looked up and repeated one word, “mommy.” Tears turned into iced crystals and pricked my skin. I didn’t feel my hands and my feet wallowed in the snow. I couldn’t follow the time, and one hour was a vague period. I assumed it was right before my emaciated body would turn into a minuscule ice figure. Just moments before I’d die from horror. “Mommy!” I cried, and cold seized my throat.

It was spine-chilling to stand there, but it was even more dreadful to walk back. “Mommy,” I repeated, stumbling with each step. The cold was now in complete control of my inner system. I fell, and the snow burned my naked hands. I had a strong desire to stay on the ground, surrounded by gigantic trees, and never get up again. The frozen earth will blend me into her womb, and I will become a part of this horrible forest. There will be no need to return to the orphanage. I won’t be lonely anymore. The earth will embrace me and lullaby me into sleep, like a loving mother. “Mommy,” I whispered, still attempting to move forward in a weak glimmer of survival instinct. 

An adoption happened on my sixth December. The dream blossomed into reality. I was the least probable candidate for getting a forever home, because of my sociophobia. That’s what nuns said. I never heard potential parents whisper “she is so adorable” after looking at me. Nevertheless, a family with a boy and a girl made a choice in my favour. 

I learned the reason soon. My adoption was a calculated step. Three children meant easing of taxation for a household with one working parent. They needed me as a bureaucratic requirement to benefit from the government. I became an unwanted commodity. 

There was little difference between my life at the orphanage and at home. Two people whom I called “mother” and “father” didn’t have any concern for me. They maintained my primary needs out of fear of being charged with child negligence. As long as I breathed and walked, they were fine. Much like nuns, when they pretended to care during bi-monthly checks. 

I regretted that the ritual worked. Life at the orphanage wasn’t too bad, after all. Two children of my current household treated me as a mannequin to practice humiliation and mockery. I couldn’t utter a word in defense. My nightmares never ceased, and I cried every night. I didn’t know a ritual to undo the adoption. Sometimes I thought my mother had finally come for me, but nuns at the orphanage had told her I now had a home. And she abandoned the idea to reclaim me. Heartbroken, but relieved that her girl is now cared for. I never blamed my mysterious mother for what she did. I persuaded myself to believe that it was by accident or by my fault. I wasn’t pretty. 

Many times I wished to get back to the horrible forest and to be devoured by the earth. To be pushed into oblivion. I didn’t see the point in my living. But I had no idea where the orphanage was. Everything changed when I saw Florence playing the piano in the park. An orphan meeting a mother from her dreams. December rituals were always about her and no one else.

At first, I heard the piano. The sound announced spring more emphatically than any other activity in the city. The surrounding nature was breathing in unison with the music. It was as liquid as a chocolate filling. It resonated with me, running very deep through doubts, scares, and nightmarish memories. It touched something I could not identify. A very pleasant and pacifying feeling, almost like a magical remedy. If only I could take it with me and listen to it each time tears gathered in my eyes. Or when children bullied me. Or when I felt so lonely that life at the orphanage seemed a blessing. 

And then I saw the pianist, Florence. My birthday began to make sense - I was born at that very moment. Dreams and hopes awoke in me. An elusive and fragile sentiment evoked by the music and the performer. She looked like the mother I dreamed of and called for in the forest. Florence was in harmony with melody, the only person capable to invoke its healing impact. 

Music wrapped my soul in a delicate cocoon. I couldn’t take away my eyes from Florence’s hands. Handsomely shaped and with long flexible fingers, hands of a mother who caresses her child. They pat the baby's cheeks as gently as a breeze kisses flower petals. As the spring sun touches the skin. No burns, just a whiff of warmth. 

Her face wasn’t visible from where I stood, but I knew it. I saw it in my dreams. Music took full control over me. I visualized sound waves running through my veins. It was a state of blissful trance, all troubles and sufferings just vanished. Love and hope won their place. I glanced at my past through this fresh sensation and felt an enormous pity for a miserable child. Abandoned, painfully shy, and unpretty. The old mother disappeared together with the orphanage. They plunged into the dark void, devoured by it forever. Florence’s hands sealed that horrifying emptiness. 

A small girl who had spent her life under roaring winds and snowfalls, alone in the forest, naked in front of voracious monsters, was now wrapped in a protective shawl. It was woven with piano sounds, guided by Florence’s hands. She emerged from a magical world, a place where suffering, bullying, and loneliness didn’t exist. A home I dreamed about. What should I do to make Florence take me with her? What ritual should I follow? 

Published in Issue #11

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