December 23, 1970
Upstate New York
The woman went to the letterbox and extracted the mail, her brow furrowing
as she saw that one of the letters had been returned. Tucking it into
the pocket of her apron, she flipped through the rest of the letters
as she turned and began to walk toward the house, brushing back a strand
of blond hair as the wind blew it into her eyes, pulling her coat more
warmly around her.
Passing the barn, she waved a hand, seeing the curtain move almost
imperceptibly, hearing the faint sound of a baby crying, before going
into the house. In the kitchen, she shrugged out of her coat, reached
behind the clock and pulled out a slip of paper, taking the envelope
out of her pocket and closely comparing the two addresses. There was
no error and she could only assume that the recipient had moved. There
was nothing she could do about it.
Returning the slip to its place behind the clock, she placed the letter
there also, making a mental note to contact her friend and find out
what had happened. Getting a tray out of a cupboard, she got a jug of
milk out of the refrigerator and took out a loaf of bread from a breadbox
on the bench, adding a small treat for the baby, before slipping back
into the coat and carrying the tray out of the house and across the
small yard to the barn, crunching on new-fallen snow on the well-worn
Entering, she could hear the wind whistling through the cracks in the
walls and wondered how they managed to stay in such an awful place for
so long. The faint glow from the gas lamp barely filtered through to
the lower level and was all but invisible to anyone outside the building.
Resting the tray on her knee, she wiped the snow off the barn's lock,
so that it wouldn't freeze, as it had the previous week, before looking
around with a slight shudder. Places like this weren't meant for human
habitation, especially not with a small baby, except for those who had
no choice. Leaving the tray on a hay bale at the foot of the steps,
she was about to leave when she heard a step behind her, turning to
see a man halfway down the stairs.
The man held a model plane in his hand, offering it. "Would you
give this to your caretaker for his son?"
"A Christmas present?" she smiled, accepting it.
"Yes." He nodded, stepping back and turning to pick up the
tray. She watched him ascend the stairs before turning to go back to