"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
"They say they need teachers in the South," Ellen said
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
"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
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.
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