Friday, December 21, 2012
CFF #34: Joy in a Cup by Mariam Smith
**Submissions for this contest are now CLOSED. Look for more contests in 2013!**
What might seem like an insignificant act of kindness can sometimes touch hearts more than we know. I hope you'll let Mariam Smith's story inspire you to find a way to bless others, no matter how small the blessing may seem. Read on, leave a comment, and most of all, I wish every one of you a merry Christmas and joyous New Year!
She was nothing more than a scrawny girl in a worn tweed coat with missing buttons. The wear of her clothes reflected a life of loss, and the lackluster shag of her dirt brown hair matched the dull stare of her dark green eyes.
Her face seemed too young to be written over with an expression of such sorrow. Never before had I seen such a heartbreaking sight as the form of this child. Yet, with nobody else had I experienced such a bittersweet moment.
It happened as the holidays were fast approaching, and the bustle of shoppers darting left and right across the shop-lined street created just enough chaos for the extraordinary to go unnoticed.
Normally, I wouldn’t say that I’m one who takes notice of detailed things. But since the day I did, there seems to be a reason to look for the things that go beyond my understanding.
I was sitting on a bench just outside my wife’s bakery, and the trees, arches, and windows all displayed the usual Christmas decorations. Though my coat kept me shielded from the cold, a hot chocolate in my hand during the chilly times wasn’t an unfamiliar sight.
Upon bringing the lid of the cup to my mouth, I happened to peer through the rising steam, and lo and behold, across the street, in an alley, leaning slumped against a building, was the slender figure of Amelia Fawkes. Watching me.
I drew a sharp breath, choking on the drink. I thought I saw a smile dart across her face, fleeting. I remember thinking maybe I’d imagined it. Maybe Amelia Fawkes hadn’t found my choking on hot chocolate amusing at all, and it’d been only a trick of light from the store at her side.
Either way, I found myself walking toward Amelia, like she had me in a trance. As if her sorrowful expression had somehow captivated my heart. Thoughts flickered as I neared her. Thoughts of how she was the daughter of the notorious town banker, infamous for swindling new folks, and feasting like a king in the most expensive restaurants, while his family was never in sight.
Oh, yes. My heart panged when I saw Amelia. All I wanted to do, then, was get this girl to smile.
“Hey there, Amelia!” I said, trying to sound cheerful.
She didn’t respond.
She remained staring at the same spot.
I bit the inside of my cheek, thinking fast. The hot chocolate! Of course, I thought.
“Would you care for some hot chocolate?” I said.
Her eyes flickered to my face, then the cup, then back to the same point.
Encouraged, I knelt to be eye level. “Here,” I said. “You can have it! It’s too chilly out to not have a steaming cup of hot chocolate.”
I smiled. Hesitance glistened in her eyes. “Go on, Amelia. It’s the most delicious hot chocolate you’ll ever try! I would know; I made it, see? Now, don’t go telling my wife that. She thinks she makes the best cup of hot chocolate in the world but,” I dropped my voice, leaning in, “between you and me. . . mine’s better.”
I winked. Her eyes lit up. A little giggle slipped out her mouth and she covered her face with a bare hand. “Here,” I offered again.
She accepted the drink with a tentative grin. Her eyes positively sparkled, then. A lush green against the face that was nearly pale as the previous night’s snow. I had never seen anybody look so delighted by a gift before, even ones that were worth a significant amount more.
“Thank you,” she said, softly.
“You’re very welcome, mademoiselle,” I said warmly, laughing.
She squinted past my shoulder, then. “I think your wife is calling you,” she said.
I turned, and the silhouette of my wife lifted an arm and waved across the street. I waved back, to let her know I’d be there soon. She turned and walked inside.
I looked towards Amelia again. The guilt of leaving weighed on me. I didn’t want this girl to be left again, to stand shivering across the road, while I was grading papers in the cozy backroom of the shop. Then I got an idea. “Say,” I said. “Amelia, would you like to come warm up in my wife’s bakery? It’s awfully warm in there, and I bet I could swipe you a few cookies. What do you say?”
Her smile remained, but with a note of sadness to it.
“You’ve shown me enough kindness, sir. I only hope you continue to be this kind, to not forget your kindness. And, if it’s not too much of a burden, to remember me, and my many thanks to you.”
It was then that I noticed her bell-like voice had a brittle edge. As though, if she were to cough, the voice could shatter, and be lost. She was sick.
“Amelia! You’re not- dying, are you?”
She didn’t answer. Just smiled and said, “Thank you, Mr. Shepherd. Now go, please.”
My heart felt wrenched, but I stood. Turned. And walked back to the bakery. Snowflakes began to flutter from the sky, and the sun was just sinking under the distant buildings.
I turned one final time before walking inside.
The next day, word got around that the death of a child, Amelia Fawkes, had occurred at approximately 11:52 PM. Cause of death: hypothermia. Her coat was found cradling the baby of a mother, living in a shack a few alleys away from her location. No sign of struggle was noted.
Hearing the news left me stunned. I remembered Amelia’s wave goodbye, as I turned to look at her for the final time. The snow, dancing at her palms. The faint light, fanning from her head. The star that appeared directly over her form, beaming down.
Kindness will live because of you. I won’t forget you, Amelia Fawkes, I thought.
And to that day, countless years ago, I haven’t.
Bio: Mariam Smith is a senior at Oldham County High School in Kentucky. She will be attending UofL during the fall of 2013, and hopes to explore the realm of writing and the English language. She attended the Governor's Scholars Program this past summer, and was involved in the focus area of creative writing.