How to Stay Warm on a Winter Day

“No school today. Do you want to build a snowman?” Her mom knew just what to say.

 “Yes!” she cried.

 “Then go bundle up! Do you remember where your mittens are?”

 She ran off, serpentine down the hallway to her room, practicing her ski moves back and forth. Left hand left wall, right hand right wall, then swing around the door jamb into her room! She knew exactly where her mittens were on the floor. Or at least, where one of them was. Hm, its friend must be, yes! Here it was. On top of Flufferton the rabbit. She was not a snow rabbit because she was brown, so Delilah had put her mitten on her head. She popped it off the stuffed animal and joined it to its pair.

“Mom, help me!” Delilah couldn’t keep her balance getting into her snowsuit with purple and blue dots on it. Her mom held it up, and then she grabbed her shoulders to do one foot then the second foot through the holes and ready for boots. Delilah liked boots. She could put them on herself and they didn’t have laces like other shoes.

Her mom got ready next, putting on the biggest coat, all blue. She got masks, hats and scarves out of the closet next to the door. Delilah hated the masks and frowned as her mom Velcroed it around her face and neck.

 “Ready?”

 “All bundled up and ready to go make snowmans!”

“Snowmen,” her mom corrected.

They went outside. It was cloudy today. It meant the new snow wasn’t a hard crust yet. They tromped with high knees through the snow making a kurst-kurst sound with each step. They were headed for the sledding hill, the only one in the city on this side. Delilah loved the sledding hill!

They didn’t have a sled, but that was okay. It meant they didn’t have to carry it there and back. And it meant they could share with the other kids. Her mom said she was a good girl for sharing.

At the sledding hill, there were already a few other kids and their parents going up and down the hill. On one side there were older kids that had built a ramp that would launch you up into the air. Delilah wanted to try it today! She was feeling brave!

She sorted through the pile of flat cardboard pieces at the top of the hill for the right one. Then she tested it out, one foot on and one foot off. Yes, it was good. She took it over and closed one eye to line it up with the jump. And before her mom could shout at her to not do it because it was dangerous or something, she pushed off with one leg.

Quick! Knee down, push again, butt down, leg down, and cross the legs. Woosh and bump. The snow was too icy in places and she skidded on the top of it like a fairy. Hold on tight! She told herself. Bum-bum-bum-bump, woosh, zoom off the jump and for a second Delilah was a bird, hovering in the air. Then UGH, she crashed hard back down on her butt and her heels bruising her halves as she bounced down and finished whooshing down the hill. At the bottom, the sled slowed and leveled out and the snow made a whisper against the hard surface of the cardboard.

“Woohoo!” she shouted, standing up triumphantly, arms in the air. She teetered off balance from the crazy ride, but her smile seemed to reach from one outstretched hand to the other. Turning she saw her mom at the top of the hill, arms crossed. Probably mad.

Well, I’ll go back up then, she thought, picking up the cardboard and starting the journey to the top. She huffed hot breath into her mask as she started walking. But, she glinted, then I’ll go back down again too!

***

Jake was hungry. He had been hungry for a couple of days, but it was too cold to be hungry. He pulled the tattered pile of flannel and fleece blankets around his body and tried to will himself to ignore the pang. Growl, his stomach started to churn the empty fluids around, not complying with his wishes.

Without moving, he thought about what the quickest way to a free meal was. Everything was far away except the trashcans and everything there would be frozen stiff and not worth sorting through the muck. He was is a basement garage, away from the elements of snow, but not away from the cold. The concrete structure and metal cars around him sucked the heat away like a wasp using its stinger time and time again.

The fresh snow had kept everyone inside, so it was quiet at least for now. Slowly, Jake started moving his fingers, pulling at the dirty and worn blankets and tumbling them into a roll. When his ankles felt the exposed air, he tensed and decided to sit up. With a fury he bundled the blankets around his arms and got ready to move into the daylight. He would not be leaving his things behind.

The snow was deep and not shoveled around the apartment parking complex. With a shudder and a hiss-thump, his boots cracked the surface as he shifted his weight with each step. Jake could see his breath, hanging in the air with its misty particles that turned to ice and fell before they could evaporate. It made him feel colder. He went around the side first, to find a compacted cardboard box. He found one and used the sharp corner of the dumpster to poke two crude holes in one side. He laced a shoestring through each one and tested it. It held. He now had a makeshift sled for his belongings so he could search for food without leaving anything.

There was a 7 ELEVEN with a nice lady about ten blocks away. She sometimes would offer him expired treats. He didn’t think she would come out today in this mess though. The homeless shelter would be packed, and he didn’t want to make friends or feel sorry for himself more than he did already. So, Jake would go to the grocery store. It was closer anyways, only three blocks, but near the school. He hoped there was no school today. Decision made, he trudged off, pulling the cardboard sled.

“You can’t come inside, Jake. Sorry,” the store clerk said. Jake nodded but didn’t stop staring at him, his arms hunched close to his body and his hat exposed his earlobes. The man sighed, “okay, let me see what kind of luck I have for you.”

The man disappeared. The heavy exit door slammed behind him stopping the light and warm from escaping and tempting Jake’s freezing body. When he returned, he was holding a can of green beans in one hand and a can of water chestnuts in the other. “This is all I’ve got,” he said showing Jake who gladly accepted them with fists, his fingers stuffed into the gloves with his palms. He tried not to drop them as he turned to go. When the man had sighed and left, Jake put the cans on his sled, and pulled it around the alley.

It wasn’t enough. He would have to try another place. Next door there was a Mexican restaurant on the ground floor that had green chili. He didn’t like it because it was too spicy, but it would be warm. He tried knocking on the door, but no one came out. The greasy steam from the kitchen rolled out from the wall and Jake slid against the wall and sat on the snowy ground. He waited for someone to open the door.

***

When they got home, Nadia scolded Delilah for her disregard for playing safely. Her friend Katrine’s daughter broke a leg playing on a trampoline last year. Watching her own daughter go careening off a ski jump without thinking had made her hold her fear in her throat until they returned home. She knew little girls didn’t think about the potential consequences for landing wrong on your tailbone, but didn’t little girls remember anything between boo-boos?

 She had to go to work now. Whether there was school or not, she didn’t get any extra days off. When you own a restaurant, nothing gives you a day off. She went to see her oldest son, John, who was playing video games in the other room.

“Watch Delilah, will you? I’ve got to go to the restaurant. We’ll be short staffed with this snow, so I’ll probably be home late.” He didn’t pay attention, so she walked in front of the TV. “John?” He looked at her annoyed. “Watch Delilah.”

“Sure, Mom.”

“And can you play one of those less violent games with her around? No school for you means no school for her, too.”

“Sure.” He didn’t move and kept clicking away on the controller. “Sure!” He said again.

Nadia went to outside and rubbed her hands together. She never warmed up when it was this cold. The skyscrapers looked like gates parting the seas, the white, snowy streets were filled only with footprints.

She walked to her restaurant and it was packed. Or maybe it looked packed because next to every patron the open seat was piled with a tower of coats, hats, and scarves. The room was warm, and people were smiling, happy to be out of the cold like her.

Nadia did her rounds, checking the grease trays, the liquor cabinets, the cash registers, and the bussers. She checked on the burritos and the sopapilla mix. She checked the dishwasher and the trash.

 “Jake! How long have you been here?” she asked incredulously, finding a man hunched against the alley wall. She crouched next to him and felt for his pulse. He opened his eyelids and stared at her. “Oh, Mother Mary! Jake, you need to do something about staying somewhere warm! Come inside.” She helped him up and propped him just inside the door.

She bustled off to ladle green chili into a bowl. What an awful city we live in that can’t provide shelter for those less fortunate, she thought. She came back and he was shaking away the shivers. Handing him the bowl, he took it gently and cupped it in both hands to try and keep it from spilling. “Warm up your hands and your insides with this,” she said. He smiled at her, thanking her wordlessly. It warmed her heart to see her kindness appreciated. Finally, she felt warm on this snowy day!

Written for January 2020 Prompt at Reedsy.com

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