This week for Sweet Saturday Samples, I’m sharing a scene from Chapter 1 of my third Russian novel, Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety, my current WIP. On Orthodox Christmas Eve 1933, Lyuba and Ivan went into their barn to give their animals some Christmas treats, and ended up making love in the hay as it was starting to snow heavily. They found themselves snowed in and spent the night in the barn. Now, Christmas morning, they’ve made their way back into their house to celebrate with their six children.
Dyed Moroz, Grandfather Frost, is the Russian version of Santa Claus. Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden, is his assistant.
“I made breakfast,” Tatyana announces proudly. “And I put everyone to bed and helped Górik and Ilyushka get dressed. I told them you and Papa were probably just stuck in the barn because it was snowing too badly and it was too dark to see through the snow.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what happened.” Iván looks over at the table, fully set and with food on every plate. “You really made breakfast all by yourself?”
“We left enough for you and Mátushka. I knew you’d be very hungry when you came back. Fédka helped a little. But I told everyone to save the presents from Dyed Moroz and Snegúrochka till we were all here.” Tatyana motions to the brightly decorated tree, with lots of wrapped presents underneath, and the line of stuffed stockings hanging along the mantle. “You know Dyed Moroz always comes, even if some of the family isn’t there.”
Lyuba represses a smile at the confused look on Iván’s face. “I think she’s old enough to know where the presents really come from,” she whispers. “Normal children don’t believe in Dyed Moroz when they’re almost fourteen. Fédya probably figured out the truth by now too, or he will soon. You can’t keep them little and naïve forever.”
“So you think Tánya found all the presents and put them under the tree and in the stockings?” he whispers back.
“How else do you think they got there? I know you know there is no Dyed Moroz either. We’ve still got plenty of small children who don’t know the truth yet.” And possibly one more on the way, she thinks to herself excitedly.
Tatyana leads them to the table. “I made bacon, toast, hot chocolate, poached eggs, syomga, blinchiki, fruit salad, and French toast with cinnamon batter. I took out the strawberry jam and maple syrup.”
“You’re a talented cook,” Iván says approvingly as he takes a seat. “You must get it from me.”
“She’s had a good teacher,” Lyuba says. “Knowing how to cook well is a skill, not something you’re born knowing.”
Iván wishes the children’s school didn’t teach French, so he’d be able to tell Lyuba that if Tatyana has to believe in one fantasy her whole life, he’d rather it be that he’s her blood father instead of in the existence of Dyed Moroz. “Every child gets something from each parent. Tánya looks so much like you, so her traits from me are more than skin-deep.”
“Perhaps.” Lyuba sneaks a look at her firstborn and is glad that Tatyana takes after her so strongly.
“We wanted to make a fire in the fireplace, but we thought it would be best if we waited for you to come back,” Fédya says. “Making a fire is harder than cooking when you’ve never done it before.”
“I’ll be glad to show you how after breakfast,” Iván promises. “Watch me and learn the tricks. We can even roast some chestnuts and apples by the fire as we’re opening presents.”