A chill radiated from the kitchen window and prickled the hairs on Amber’s arms. Her numb fingers fumbled. She managed to press a tack through the jersey sheet. As she stretched to affix her makeshift drape in the top corner, her pregnant belly bumped to a halt against the icy tile counter. With a groan, she rose on her toes. Scraped her abdomen past the obstacle. Stabbed the wall.
Grunted. Dropped flat to her heels. Huffed.
She rubbed the bruised surface of her underbelly. Swollen with life, her neighbor had said. Others called it a promise of joy. Or hope. Love’s fruit, the postman declared. Things she once believed in. When she was her stupid, former self. A woman she could barely remember.
A few months seemed like a lifetime ago. Her former world existed only in a fairytale. Princes devoted themselves to their princesses, and true love lasted ever after. A story she loved to tell herself before Jack left.
She snatched a tattered coverlet from the counter and waddled to the front door. A sneeze triggered pain throughout her abdomen. After hanging a third layer over the entrance, she surveyed the darkened bungalow. Nodded at each blanket-covered entrance. All the drafty whispers blocked.
A sneeze registered a broader cramp, all the way to her tailbone. Amber rubbed her numb hands together. She pressed at her lower back and shuffled to the hall table. Rifled through the junk drawer. Lifted out a box of matches. After shuffling into the living room, she lit all the candles around her favorite chair. A melange of waxy scents rose with the meager wisps of heat. Vanilla, lilac, some attempt to resemble apple–whatever the dollar store stocked last week.
The bathrobe and throws lay strewn over the ottoman. Where she left them the night before. She donned the robe. Snuggled under the second-hand fleece. Fluffed her pillow. As comfortable as possible without venturing into the unthinkable room.
With a sigh, she leaned back and lifted her library book. A science fiction set in a volcanic planet. Maybe she’d get through chapter one this time. Just long enough to believe the warmth before drifting off to sleep.
Rap-rap-rap. Then the doorbell.
Amber shook her head. Cracked the plastic-wrapped binding, and squinted at her lava paragraph.
Doorbell again. And again.
She flared her stuffy nostrils. Threw off the covers. With a groan, she heaved up from the seat. As she scuffed to the entrance, she tightened her belt.
“Yes, I hear you. Gimme a minute.” After unhooking three layers of blankets from nails above the door, she opened it. “What do you want?”
From layers of knitted scarves and a stocking cap peeked the pale face of a girl. The wool coat added a bit of girth to her narrow frame, but hung off her shoulders a few sizes too big. “I’m Angela.”
Amber scanned the vacant snowdrifts along her walkway, yard, and sidewalk. “What are you doing walking around by yourself at night? You can’t be more than nine years old.”
“Eleven and a half, actually. I’m small for my age.” Angela leaned aside. With a mittened hand, she thumbed toward a wagon behind her. Canned goods nested in the center beneath a dusting of snow. “Collecting donations.”
“You made all that noise to ask me for a can of peas?”
“I don’t believe this.” Amber narrowed the door’s crack, but a sneeze halted her from closing it. Her back seized with a shot of pain. “Ow.”
“Please, just a single can makes a difference to somebody. Think of Christmas.” Angela tilted her head, cracked lips rising into a smile. “Besides, it’ll make you feel good to give to the needy.”
“The needy?” Stiffening, she tightened her grip on the handle. Heat prickled up her neck. “Let me tell you about needy, okay? I have no heat, barely enough groceries for two days, and now I’m standing in the draft catching a cold. Maybe you have it easy and can have yourself a lucky Christmas. I’m all out of cheer to share.”
“I see.” Her fawn-like eyes widened a moment. With a deep breath, she offered a nod. “Guess I know what to do.”
“Try the other neighbors. Bother them, if you want. They’ll probably like it.”
The girl shook her head as she turned toward the wagon. And Amber closed the door, certain she’d seen the last of Angela.
**** TO BE CONTINUED****
“In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4).