Today’s writing prompt and my response.
The wind howled through the trees while inside the old woman’s fire was nearly out
The pile of wood which once pressed against the eaves was reduced to scraps of kindling, wet with snow. The old woman tightened the blanket around her shoulders and shifted her stool closer to the greying ashes. Her mind went to the man who had come by – how many days, weeks ago? When the leaves were golden.
‘Mother,’ he had said, gently embracing her thin shoulders.
She had squinted into his bearded face, wondering if this truly could be the son who had left two decades ago. She daren’t ask outright, in case she learned the truth, but smiled her toothless smile and invited him in to share the soup simmering over the glowing fire.
He had promised to chop and haul wood for her, repair the cabin’s wooden roof, stop up the gaps in the window and around the door. All this before winter took hold. But he needed the right materials, proper tools. He would go to the town and purchase them, bring food for the cold months too.
She had nodded, kept smiling, knowing even then by the dark glint in his eye, his promises would not be fulfilled. But still a tiny spark of optimism lit inside her. After all, he claimed to be her son, repentant, loving. And as if her trust would make it all come right, she gladly gave him the coins she had hoarded over the years and which she kept in the chest under the window.
What a fool she was.
She twisted on the stool. Which pieces of furniture could be sacrificed to keep the fire going? Barely anything remained. Her bed had gone into the flames, the legs hacked off with the axe, slowly, splinters flying. She found it difficult to lift herself from the straw pallet on the floor each morning, stiff with cold. She was grateful to at least have a mattress, for now.
The wind’s howling increased. And now heavy rain pounded on the roof, sluicing through the snow, sending rivulets of icy water down the walls. She laughed. She could drink, if not eat … although there was still half a bag of oats on the pantry shelf. Porridge then, cooked on the remains of the fire, and after that she could eat raw oatmeal. The birds did, why couldn’t she?
But now her thoughts took to wandering in a different direction, away from survival to that other extreme. What if what if she just lay down on the mattress one last time. Stopped worrying about the fire, stop worrying about how hard it was to bring herself upright again.
These dire thoughts were interrupted by a loud rapping on the door. Her heart thumped. Had he returned after all? Had she been wrong about that look in his eyes?
She stood, dizzy, and stumbled to the door, tugged it open.
A child stood in the snow, shivering, drenched, white-faced. A boy.
‘Who are you?’ she quavered.
‘I’m Jamie,’ said the child. ‘I’m lost.’
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