"Think what we could do with this money," James had said their last night in the house. They had sold their wedding bed and were lying on a pallet of blankets with the children. "We could take a trip. To Florida maybe. No snow; they say it's cheap to live. We could get jobs"
"They say they need teachers in the South," Ellen said eagerly.
James looked at her and laughed. "You sound like you're serious," he said.
James stopped laughing. "Of course I'm not serious," he said. "What could you possibly be thinking of?"
She parts the curtains and cups her hand to the window, trying to replace the snowy pines with palm trees and hibiscus. She cannot imagine the neighbor's Santa glowing in the warm, moist Florida night, the children growing up with tanned skin and soft southern drawls. Saint Michael's chimes ten o'clock; she smooths the curtains closed and goes down the hall to make sure the children are sleeping. Inside their room, the air is sour. Herbert is curled up in Amy's bed. When he hears Ellen, he sits bolt upright and turns on the small lamp beside the bed.
"I thought you were dead," he says. His eyes are wide and terrible.
"I told you she wasn't," Amy says. Her face is in her pillow; she doesn't move.
Ellen picks Herbert up and carries him to his own bed. "What made you think I was dead?" she says.
"You went out in the dark."
"There's nothing in the dark that isn't there in the light. There's nothing to be afraid of." She kisses him, tucks the blankets around his shoulders. "See?" She points to the lamp shade, which is decorated with angels. "Your guardian angel is watching over you, just like my guardian angel watches over me. Your guardian angel will follow you into your dreams and make them beautiful." Her voice is low and soft, a lullaby. Already his eyes are closing,
"What is he so afraid of?" she whispers to Amy. Amy still hasn't moved; now she rolls over and stares at Ellen angrily. This child is no toy.
"I'm not afraid," Amy says.
"Of what?" Ellen says. "How can I know if you won't tell me?"
Amy closes her eyes and does not say anything. She puffs away when Ellen kisses her good night. It is probably nothing. It is probably everything. It has been a difficult year for them all. Ellen watches her as she pretends to sleep, clutching her long braid in her fists.
Copyright 1998 by A. Manette Ansay. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Avon Books.
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