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Three Sisters


Vranov nad Topl’ou, Slovakia

June 1929

The three sisters, Cibi, Magda and Livi, sit in a tight circle with their father in the small backyard of their home. The oleander bush their mother has tried so hard to coax back to life droops disconsolately in one corner of the small garden.

Livi, the youngest, at three years old, leaps to her feet: sitting still is not in her nature.

“Livi, please, will you sit down?” Cibi tells her. At seven years old, she is the eldest of the siblings, and it is her responsibility to chastise them when they misbehave. “You know Father wants to talk to us.”

“No,” three-year-old Livi pronounces, and proceeds to skip around the seated figures, giving each a pat on the head as she passes. Magda, the middle sister, and five years old, is using a dry twig from the oleander to draw imaginary figures in the dirt. It is a warm, sunny, summer afternoon. The back door is open, inviting in the heat, while sending the sweet smell of freshly baked bread into the garden. Two windows, one looking into the kitchen, the other into the small bedroom the family shares, have seen better days. Chips of paint litter the ground: winter has taken its toll on the cottage. The garden gate catches a gust of wind and slams. The catch is broken; yet another thing for Father to fix.

“Come here, kitten. Will you sit on my knee?” Father beckons to Livi.

Being told to do something from an older sister is one thing; but being asked, and so sweetly, by her father is quite another. Livi drops into his lap, a flailing arm smacking against the side of his head. She is oblivious to the pain her action has caused.

“Are you all right, Father?” Magda is concerned, catching the grimace on his face as his head jerked back. She brushes her fingers down his stubbly cheek.

“Yes, my darling. I am perfect. I have my girls with me—what more could a father ask for?”

“You said you wanted to talk to us?” Cibi, ever impatient, gets to the point of this little “meeting.”

Menachem Meller looks into the eyes of his pretty daughters. They have not a care in the world, innocent of the harsh realities of life outside their sweet cottage. Harsh realities which Menachem has lived through and still lives with. The bullet that didn’t kill him during the Great War remains lodged in his neck and now, twelve years later, it is threatening to finish the deed.

Fiery Cibi, tough Cibi … Menachem strokes her hair. On the day she was born she announced that the world had better watch out—she had arrived and woe betide anyone who got in her way. Her green eyes have a habit of turning a fiery yellow when her temper gets the better of her.

And Magda, beautiful, gentle Magda, how did she get to be five so fast? He worries her sweet nature will make her vulnerable to being hurt and used by others. Her big blue eyes gaze at him and he feels her love, her understanding of his precarious health. He sees in her a maturity beyond her years, a compassion she has inherited from her mother and grandmother, and a fierce desire to care for others.

Livi stops squirming as Menachem plays with her soft, curly hair. Already he has described her to their mother as the wild one, the one he worries will run with the wolves, and break like a sapling if cornered. Her piercing blue eyes and petite frame remind him of a fawn, easy to startle and ready to bolt.

Tomorrow he will have the surgery to remove the errant bullet from his neck. Why couldn’t it have just stayed where it was? He has prayed endlessly for more time with his girls. He needs to guide them into adulthood, attend their weddings, hold his grandchildren. The operation is a risky one, and if he doesn’t survive, this may be the last day he spends with them. If that is the case, however awful it is to contemplate on this glorious sunny day, then what he needs to ask of his girls, must be said now.

“Well, Father, what do you want to tell us?” Cibi prods.

“Cibi, Magda, do you know what a promise is?” he asks, slowly. He needs them to take this seriously.

Magda shakes her head: “no.”

“I think so,” says Cibi. “It’s when two people keep a secret, isn’t it?”

Menachem smiles. Cibi will always have a go, it’s what he loves most about her. “That’s close, my darling, but a promise can involve more than two people. I want this promise to be shared between the three of you. Livi is not going to understand, so I need you to keep talking to her about it, until she does.”

I don’t understand, Father,” Magda interjects. “You’re being all confusing.”

“It’s very simple, Magda.” Menachem smiles. There is nothing that gives him as much pleasure as talking to his girls. Something catches in his chest; he must remember this moment, this sunny day, the wide eyes of his three daughters. “I want you to make a promise to me and to each other that you will always take care of your sisters. That you will always be there for one another, no matter what. That you will not allow anything to take you away from each other. Do you understand?”

Magda and Cibi nod, and Cibi asks, suddenly serious: “I do, Father, but why would someone want to take us away from each other?”

“I’m not saying anyone will, I just want you to promise me that if anyone tries to separate you, you will remember what we spoke of here today and do everything in your power not to let that happen. The three of you are stronger together, you must never forget that.” Menachem’s voice stumbles, and he clears his throat.

Cibi and Magda exchange a glance. Livi looks from sister to sister to father, knowing that something solemn has been agreed, but with little idea of what it means.

“I promise, Father,” says Magda.

“Cibi?” Menachem asks.

“I promise too, Father. I promise to look after my sisters—I won’t let anyone hurt them, you know that.”

“Yes, I do know that, my darling Cibi. This promise will become a pact between the three of you and no others. Will you tell Livi of this pact when she is old enough to understand?”

Cibi grabs Livi’s face in her hands, turning her head to look into her eyes. “Livi, say ‘promise.’ Say ‘I promise.’”

Livi studies her sister. Cibi is nodding, encouraging her to say the words.

Copyright © 2021 by Heather Morris

Three Sisters
by by Heather Morris

  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 1250809029
  • ISBN-13: 9781250809025