Winter’s breath needled through Amber’s worn soles to bite at her toes. She trudged the walkway, burdens slipping and swinging at her sides. She clamped a stack of mail in her hand, while her arms fought to balance purse, diaper bag, and twenty pounds of wriggling flesh.
Angela stretched her demand into extra syllables. “Down!”
The pom-pom on Babygirl’s knitted cap batted the smell of snow-dampened yarn at Amber’s nose.
“In a minute.” She huffed, stuffing the mail into the diaper bag.
A wail drilled into her ear.
She fumbled the key into her lock. “Hush!”
Once inside the foyer, Amber kicked the door shut behind them. Angela’s cry intensified as she leaned away from her momma’s torso.
Bag and purse slid from her shoulders in the struggle. Everything but doughy child-flesh tumbled in an avalanche around her feet. Mail spilled across the floor.
“Angela Hope!” Amber tightened her grip on the babe and stepped over the disaster area. She marched into the living room and planted her tot inside the playpen. Shaking her finger at the beet-faced howler, she scowled. “That. Is. Enough.”
Bawling louder, Angela slapped the padded railing of her play pen.
“Ugh!” Growls churned in her gut as she fetched a sippy cup from the kitchen. Babygirl’s sob-chopped breaths settled into shuddering sighs as she reached for the milk. Amber secured the handle in her tot’s fingers, then headed to the mess in the foyer. “I’ll get your dinner in a few minutes.”
After scooping up her things, she seated her bags in the cushion of unpaid bills obscuring the cafe table. A quick shuffle sorted the mail over her rusty trash bin. Catalogue, loan offer, training ad. Swish-thunk, swish, swish. Bills flew to join the white flock nesting on the unused table. She studied the final piece–a red envelope with no return address. Probably a card from the insurance agent or bank.
Amber bit at her frown as she untucked the back flap. The envelope hadn’t been worth sealing. Maybe the card could decorate her fridge, anyway. She drew out a lightweight stock card bearing a cartoonish evergreen. Above its googly eyes, a yellow star flopped askew. She opened it and a ten dollar bill slid to the floor. The familiar scrawl burned into her eyes. If only this impersonal card had been from the bank.
I expect you and the baby will have a nice holiday. I’m doing well and plan to have a great one. I won’t be in touch after this, since there’s no sense fighting when we can go on with our lives instead. This will be my last letter. If you love me, you’ll be happy for me. If not, you’re free and can move on now.
P.S. Get the kid something for me, for old times sake.
The words blurred. Jaws grinding, she crumpled the weak stock into her fist. Then a roar surged from her core. She ripped and screamed. Spiked the shreds into the can. Like a winter storm, she drove a blizzard of red paper and pale-backed script. Her ruddy, hot hands emptied in seconds. Energy buzzed through the taut muscles in her trembling limbs.
“It’s not fair!” She kicked dents into the trash can, screaming herself hoarse. “Why do you get to live your life?” Pain shocked through the ice-numbed layers on her toes as she bashed the rusty canister across the kitchen, but she pummeled it harder. “And we’re left here! How are we supposed to move on?” Amber spat a string of expletives. When she’d called her ex every name she could summon, the rising cry of her baby crashed in to drown her croaking sobs.
Amber wiped her face with the back of her sleeve. Shuffled to the pantry. Plucked out a can of saucy o’s and set it beside the high chair. The doorbell punctuated the baby’s wailing.
“Co–” She lifted the child and cleared her throat. “Coming.”
Babygirl sniffled back her tears and nuzzled against Amber’s chest. She rubbed circles on the babe’s back, pausing to open the front door.
“Hey, is this a bad time?” Chuck pursed his lips aside and adjusted a messenger bag on his shoulder.
“Well, it’s been a day.” With a head tilt, her cheek brushed Babygirl’s silky, milk-scented hair. The sensations triggered the bloom of a faint smile. “But, I’d still like to hear what brings you over here.”
“The other neighbors have finished making their luminaries. We’re ready to set them up Friday.” He raised a palm, shifting his feet. “Just wanted to let you know. Though, I’m not sure if that’s something you need to do, what with all you got going on here.”
Angela raised her head and poked at her momma’s chin. “Ya.”
Raising a brow, she regarded her infant a moment. Turned back to face Chuck with a deep inhale. Her baby’s tender smell flooded her senses. “Yes, I’m sure that’s something I need to do. We’ll see you Friday.”
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” – Romans 8:35