Frost

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The fireplace is empty. Frost is creeping up the glass of the windows. It’s dark now, so dark that I can’t see the garden fence outside the kitchen window, but they’re still not home.

They should have been home hours ago. Before supper, Mother told me when she climbed into the wagon. Certainly in enough time to light the fires before it grew too cold.

I breathe onto the window pane, melting the frost, and peer outside. I can’t see the road, not anymore, but they would have a lantern on the wagon. I look for the glow among the trees, but there is nothing. Only darkness, and the frost already crawling up the panes again.

“They’ll come, child. Don’t worry so,” Amma tells me. I climb down from the counter and pad across the cold kitchen to sit at her feet. I fetched her shawl for her an hour since, tucking it neatly around her thin shoulders, and her knitted blanket covers her knees. Her hands are cold. She strokes my cheek, my hair, and I feel her trembling. She can’t get up from her chair, not anymore, and I’ve never lit a fire alone. I brought her the lamp to light, but the fire’s too much for either of us. We’ll have to wait.

She tells me stories while the lamp burns low. The frost creeps higher, painting cold pictures on the window glass until I can’t see outside any longer. My hands are stiff with cold when the door finally blows open with a gust of wind, and Mother sweeps into the room, her cheeks red with cold and a thousand apologies for each of us as she kisses our cheeks and lays a fire. She’ll leave again tomorrow, for her work, but maybe she’ll teach me to lay a fire before she goes.

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