It was 4:56 am on a Sunday under a black sky with grey patches. Snow lay in smudges with grass poking out here and there. Next to the snow is a road winding up into the hills around a dark lake. The sound of water lapping on a shore issues from out of the dimness. A car pulls off the road on the gravel shoulder and crunches to a stop. A woman dressed in a light sweater and thin dress jumps out of the front passenger door and blows on her hands hopping from foot to foot. A girl of about 4 opens the back driver side door and slides down. The woman in the driver seat looks back over the seat as the little girl climbs down. As the girl passes the headlights they illuminate her tight copper curls and pale cheek. She prances giddily about. The woman standing by the car reaches into the car and pulls out plastic shopping bag. She reaches for the child’s hand and says something to her handing her the bag and stuffs a wad of lined paper in the girls coat pocket. The woman points to some stairs up to a house. The child looks worried and squints in the beam of the headlight. The woman points again, kisses her cheek, and gives her a push. The child slouches toward the stairs peering back at the woman. She puts one foot on the stairs. The woman waves and jumps in the car which immediately does a U turn before the door is completely closed. The girl stops with small mouth hanging, darkness, headlights, darkness. She sits on the steps at the bottom of the stairs and shivers bag in hand. Finally after an hour or so she leans her head on the rail post. Her small hand falls from its warm nesting place in her coat pocket, and the bundle of paper drops into a pile of snow at the base of the rail post under the bottom stair.
About an hour later a middleaged woman came to the top of the stairs in grey pre-dawn in sensible walking shoes and light jacket, tan pants and plaid shirt. She looked puzzled at what appeared to be a pile of discarded clothing at the bottom, but as she moved down the girl’s form took on life, and the woman increased her pace, a curious panic that the child might be dead took hold as she neared the bottom. But as she approached and put her hand on the child’s face she could see definite signs of life. The child shivered slightly in her sleep, and the color of her cheek although pale had the slight pink of life.
“Have you been out here all night, honey?” the woman asked with a penetrating gaze on her face.
The child moaned and looked around blearily.
“Can you walk, sweetie?” the woman relaxed a little into a tentative smile.
the girl stretched and shivered looking up shyly nodding her head slightly.
“Well, come with me, and we’ll get you warmed up a little. Then you can tell me what is going on.”
The woman supported the girl with one arm, her other hand on the rail. They climbed the steep steps slowly, the girl swaying into the woman’s hip and hand and back into the arm behind her. The bundle of papers lay soaking in the moisture of the melting snow at the bottom under the step.