As Papa and I traveled into the woods, the wind picked up and the weather turned. Soon, the trees covered us in canopy of white. It was beautiful, like driving through a house made of snow. As the only doctor in the area, he had no choice but to go out on these wintery nights. I volunteered to join him, feeling noble for sacrificing my comfort, even though I fully expected to return to the warmth of my hearth within a few hours.
The snow intensified as we huddled under the blankets on the sled. Finally, we came to a dilapidated cottage and went inside. The one room shack had a rutted clay floor and smelled of dirty straw. A bench and table cluttered with dishes stood in the center of the room. Four children dressed in tatters stared at us from beds covered in bags stuffed with straw.
I knew this was a poor family, but I was appalled that any mother would allow her children to live in such filth. I crinkled my nose at the smell.
A man in a dark coat squatted by the fire, staring at the flames. A woman lay on one of the beds, as pale as death. A baby swaddled in cloth lay next to her. It was so still and quiet, I thought it must be sleeping.
“Help her, please,” the man said, standing.
Papa went to the woman and put his hand on her forehead. She grabbed his arm. “Take care of my baby,” she cried. Her eyes glowed like embers. Papa picked up the child and handed it to the father, shaking his head. The man cradled the child in his arms as if it were the most precious thing in the world. He took it outside.
Papa examined the mother; I cleared the table and unpacked the food I had brought. The children didn’t move from their beds, so I opened a bag of candy and gave each a piece. Finally, one of them smiled, and they all rushed to the table, grabbing the bread and sausage, stuffing it into their mouths.
As the man came back inside, snow flew into the kitchen. He wiped a tear from his cheek with the back of his hand. “You should stay until the storm passes.”
I touched Papa’s arm. “What if someone else needs us tonight?”
“We’ll find our way home,” said Papa, donning his coat.
I put on my warm fur and glanced at the woman. She seemed unaware her baby was gone. Soon she would feel a loss like no other. I knew, for I felt it too, as keenly as that day three years ago when they had taken my baby away. I had never even seen its face. They had told me it was a girl.
The woman’s husband must have left the child outside in the dilapidated shed as the ground was too hard to dig a grave. I envied her the chance to hold her baby again before it went into the earth.
I took off my coat and exchanged it for a tattered one hanging on the peg. It seemed like so little for someone who had lost so much.