Amongst the heaps of refuse and the acrid stench of despair, a figure hid in the shadows, curled up between two crooked dumpsters. Beyond the odor and the muck and the biting cold, the dumpsters provided a minor reprieve from the bone stinging wind. But that’s all they provided.
Grace use to wonder how this had become her fate. How hiding out in dark alleys and under noisy bridges became her normal way of life. It wasn’t always like this. She used to be somebody; she had a warm home and a loving husband. Her two daughters made her macaroni cards every mother’s day and they relished the nights she would read to them at bedtime. This was Grace’s old normal. A life she was so accustomed to that she had taken it for granted. Until the night it was all taken away.
Gerald, her husband of eight years, went out one snowy December evening—at Grace’s request—to buy the girls one more Christmas gift. It was a gift she had forgotten to buy and insisted that the girls needed. Some unimportant hunk of plastic that they most likely would’ve played with for a few days then discarded in the toy chest, never to be played with again. Gerald never came home.
That was three years ago. Since then, her old life had fallen apart. Now, her days consisted of begging strangers for change and nights of drinking bottom-shelf vodka. Regrettably, this cold night she’s sans vodka.
“Please. It’s just one more thing. It’ll only take ten minutes.”
Grace’s mutterings were nearly inaudible. The white plumes of breath rising above the shadows were the only real signs that she was speaking out loud.
“I’d go but I have to keep an eye on the turkey. Unless you want to cook dinner for once.”
The only answer she received was from a cold snap of wind that pushed its way through a crack behind the dumpsters. Her face was numb and she buried it deep into her folded arms. This did little to keep her body temperature from dropping.
“Why can’t you ever do anything without complaining? It’s not like I ask you to do much around here. The least you can do is buy a damn Christmas toy for your children.”
Her words grew fainter as it became more difficult to move her cold lips. Still, she didn’t budge from her position behind the dumpsters. No matter how cold, no matter the damage it might cause to her petite body, she felt deep down that this was her punishment for sending Gerald out that night.
The wind swirled in a new direction and the updraft flipped one of the dumpster lids open, only for it to slam back down with a loud smack. While the noise startled Grace, it wasn’t the sound of the dumpster lid she was envisioning. To her, it was the sound of her husband slamming the door behind him as he left their home in anger. Only, this time Grace wasn’t annoyed by the sound. Instead, it felt as if an iron ball had dropped in her stomach.
“Where’s daddy going?”
“He had to go to the store real quick. Don’t worry, he’ll be right back, honey.”
The memory—that particular scene—played over and over in Grace’s head throughout the night. An endless loop of her lying to her youngest daughter. “Don’t worry, he’ll be right back.” The words stung her heart with the burning pain of a snake bite.
The pain never subsided. Not even when the world grew dark and a permeating warmth hugged her still body.
The wind slowed its assault while the sparkle of tiny diamonds filled the air. Slow and steady, the snow began to pile upon Grace’s prone figure. Her heartbeat had grown still and her skin had taken on a bluish hue.
The memory of that December night would no longer haunt the poor woman.