Selma was freezing. As she rubbed her frozen fingers together, she stomped her booted feet on the floor and started humming a lively tune she used to sing to the boys when they were babies. Ach! It wasn’t helping. Dang ice storm, falling tree branches, and downed power lines!
“Mom, I’ve got to get to work. You know…keep the pipes from freezing and the food from thawing.”
Selma waved her son away with a nod. “You’re a one in a million, boy.”
Her son laughed as he headed out the door. “You know my motto—Take no excuses, give no excuses.” He glanced back with an impish grin. “Sides, Bradley is already there, and he’ll give me hell if I don’t show up.”
The light was fading and her hurricane lamps were just about out of juice. There wasn’t a chance in the Kingdom that she’d be able to get more light or heat before tomorrow. She fed the dogs the last of their Alpo—as yet unfrozen—and wandered around the lonely, dark house. Icy branches swayed from the gleaming trees and powdery snow blew ghost-like swirls along the ground.
Once back in the kitchen, she filled her icy mug with the dregs of her cold coffee and peered at a large bag of old newspapers in the corner. “Wish we had a fireplace, I’d make the biggest bon—” She blinked.
In the backyard, the brick-lined fire pit staunchly faced the bitter winds without concern. Selma bit her lip. She could barely feel her fingers or her toes. Ice was crusting around the edge of her cup.
Without further thought, she dragged on her heavy coat, snatched a bottle of kerosene and a pack of matches from the cabinet, and lugged the bag of old papers out the back door to the fire pit. She dumped the sack in the center, squeezed the remaining Kerosene on top, and managed to light one match, which she flicked into the dark mess.
She raced back into the house, got her mug, and practically danced around the fire, turning around and around so as to warm her outsides and her insides and thaw her coffee in an orderly manner.
Selma froze, her cup held out to the licking fingers of the flames like a devotee making an oblation to a fire god. She glanced aside and forced a grin.
Her neighbor, Jason, a respectable man in his forties, stood facing her—his eyebrows up, his legs jiggling, and his hands tucked into his armpits. “You don’t usually have a cookout this time of the year.” He stuck out one finger. “What you trying to do?”
Selma straightened and held out her mug. “Thaw out my coffee.”
The man blinked and peered into Selma’s backyard. “That your power line laying on the ground?”
“Sure is. The tree decided to shed a few limbs before summer and the line got in the way.” She started turning again. “So I gotta do, what I gotta do to get a decent cuppa before I settle in to freeze for the night.”
Jason trotted forward and threw a wave in Sema’s direction. “You’re coming home with me for a decent cuppa. Joyce and the girls are playing Monopoly and killing their old man. I could use a good excuse to get out of jail.”
Shyness tugged at Selma’s composure. “I don’t want to interrupt…I know how you value your family time.”
“Oh, hell, family time includes freezing neighbors, doesn’t it?”
As she entered the brightly lit and gloriously warm kitchen, Selma noted the clean counters, the colorful row of assorted coats hanging on wall pegs by the door, a sterling sink unencumbered by dirty dishes, and an empty coffee pot sitting by its lonesome on the edge of the counter.
Guilt washed over her. “You probably have everything set for tomorrow. I hate to—”
Like a cat batting a ball of string, Jason swiped the air. “Forget it. We’re a social family, as you know. Not a Friday goes by that we don’t have people over.”
“But this is Sunday.”
Jason nodded to the living room. “So? Jeanne picked Friday for our socials. I pick Sunday to rescue neighbors.” He shrugged. “Seems fair to me.”
Selma perched on the edge of a stool and peered into the living room. When Jeanne glanced up, Jason bellowed. “Her power’s out. I’m making a cup of coffee to thaw her hands so she doesn’t have to set the neighborhood on fire.”
Jeanne called back. “Sounds good. You’re still in jail as far as we’re concerned.”
Jason snorted. “Every man’s dream wife.”
Selma’s throat tightened as she watched Jason prepare the pot.
Clicking on the red button with a little flourish, he grinned. “Takes two minutes.” He pulled up a stool and leaned across the counter. “Your boys at work?”
Selma nodded, unable to speak.
Jason sighed. “They’re good kids. Hardworking as all get-out. I like that. Don’t see that in most kids these days.” He swept his hand toward the living room. “Care to give any parting advice? My girls are a little…shall we say…”
With a quick glance over her shoulder and a rush of embarrassment burning her face, Selma cleared her throat. “Can’t give any real advice. My boys work hard cause they have to. Their dad cut out years ago, and I only work part-time. So if they want to eat and live in a decent place…” She shrugged.
“Where’s he now?”
“Dead. Suicide. A troubled man. Still, I loved him…once. He was the boys’ father.” She peered into her clasped, chilled hands. “Never made any sense to me.”
Jason returned to the coffee maker and tapped the pot as if he could make it work quicker. “Sorry. Shouldn’t have asked. I just wondered…”
“Nothing to be sorry about. Just…” The exhaustion of battling the cold and darkness swept over Selma. “You know, experience is a great teacher, but it doesn’t give a lot of answers. The thing with raising kids is that they got to see a connection between themselves and the world around ’em. You give them love and support, but they gotta know that they aren’t in control all the time. But still, they have to be responsible for their part.”
The rich aroma of coffee filled the room as the black liquid poured into the empty pot. A cheer rose from the living room and one of the girls giggled.
Jason’s smile wavered as he glanced from the living room back to Selma. “You want to spend the night here? We’ve got a perfectly good couch.” He poured a cup of steaming coffee and handed it to Selma.
Selma shook her head. “Naw. This is great. Thanks. But I’ve got to keep the water running to keep the pipes from freezing and check on the dogs and…you know. I want to be home when the boys get back.”
Jason nodded and poured himself a cup.
As Selma heard the boys bumble through the front door, down the cold hallway, and into their frozen beds late that night, she pictured the warm house next door. The clean kitchen. The kids playing with their mom. Jason and his gentle kindness.
Though the coffee had only warmed her for a bit, she knew as she settled into bed wearing five sweaters and two pairs of sweatpants that she would sleep well tonight. The bonfire had burned out quickly. The power company had promised to be their first stop in the morning, and her boys were safe and sound.
For the first time in months, she felt warm all over.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
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