October 29, 2016

Matches to Heaven, By Shari L. Klase

Her son didn't call this week. That's where her thoughts strayed as she shuffled along the cold, dark street. Tom would be angry at her being out at night but she hated sitting in the house all evening watching the TV.  Nothing but bad news on TV. People shot. Children taken by strangers. She shuddered. Then she spotted her.

A child, pale as first light, leaning against the bricks. She didn't have a hat or coat or even shoes. She just stood there holding out a bundle of matches.

“Matches, my lady?” the little girl sang out.

“What?” She stopped to study the child. She wasn't more than ten. Out at night all alone on a cold December eve. She'd have frost bite. Where were her parents?

“Matches for sale,” the little girl replied to her question.

Matches? Who sold matches? “You're selling matches?”

“Yes, my lady. Matches. Would you like one?”

She held it out so pitifully that the old lady fumbled in her purse for money. How much is a match worth? She held out a dollar to the little girl. The girl looked at it blankly.

“It's only a penny, Ma'am.”

A penny? What could the girl do with a penny? “Oh no, keep the change.” She scrunched the dollar into the child's hand. It was so cold! She took the match and placed it in her purse.

“Where are your parents?”

The child stared vacantly. “I don't know. I haven't been home in so long.”

She's probably a runaway foster child. The child turned her eyes to the old lady. “You look like my grandmother.”

In a split second the woman made a decision. After all, she couldn't stay here. “Would you like to come home with me for the night?”

There was no hesitation. There probably should have been. Instead the little girl reached out her hand and the old woman grasped it with her one free hand and holding the handle to her bag of parcels in the other, they walked home.

“Do you want anything to eat, dear?” she asked the child once inside.

“No, I'm not hungry,” the girl said. The woman was relieved that at least the girl was fed. As the woman put her groceries away, out of the corner of her eye, she could see the girl padding about looking at things in her home. She stopped at the the picture of her son.

“My son,” the old lady said without being asked.

“Yes,” the little girl said. “He doesn't come much.”

“No,” the old woman agreed, turning her head to wipe away a tear. The child picked up another picture of a young girl, pretty rings of brown curls on her head. “What's your name?” the old woman asked because she didn't want to talk about that picture.

“Sara,” the girl said softly.

The old woman gasped. “That's my granddaughter's name.”

The girl nodded. “Yes, she's gone.”

The woman frowned. “How did you know?” But the girl didn't answer. Her granddaughter was the child in the photo; a mere child then but she grew up. Though she was close to Sara once, her grand daughter drifted away somehow and one day OD'd and died. She still cried about it although it was many years ago.

The little girl stole up to her silently and wrapped her arms around her waist. “She is safe, Granny, with the angels.”

The old woman sniffled, then abruptly left the girl, stirring around here and there, nervously gathering bed linens and a pillow. She was both puzzled and worried about the little girl. There must be people concerned about her somewhere. She ventured into the cold without proper garments, but perhaps her people didn't know that, if they had many foster children. Maybe they weren't the kind to care and that worried the old woman even more. She wanted to ask Sara, if that was her name, more questions but the child was so strange.

Was Sara really her name? It was such a coincidence,  her granddaughter sharing the same name. The girl spoke as if she knew things. The old woman shuddered. It was silly. Casting the sudden fear aside, she hummed as she patted down the pillow on the sofa. Funny. She hadn't sung any kind of musical note in a long time. She was always so sad. She didn't feel needed anymore. Her son didn't need her, but this little girl needed her.

She didn't think of Sara much anymore, but now the thought of her brought a new remembrance. She hustled to her bedroom where a chest sat at the end of her bed. She opened it and sorted through the items. Slowly she pulled out an old white night gown all frilly and lacy. It looked to be the child's size. She kept a few of Sara's things from when she was young, but she was never sure why. Now she was glad she did. She didn't want the child going to sleep in those old clothes.

She took it to the girl and directed her to the bathroom to change. It struck her how much she looked like Sara when she reappeared, only the pallor of the skin was different. She tucked her into the little nest on the sofa. The child asked for a story about her Sara and she told her about a perfect day that she once had with her granddaughter. Strangely enough, it didn't make her feel sad at all. At the end of the story she kissed Sara's cheek and said goodnight.

The old woman's eyes fluttered open. She sat up quickly in her bed; her heart pounding. Before her stood Sara, staring at her.

“I made you breakfast like the perfect day.”

On a tray was toast, eggs and orange juice. She didn't even remember buying orange juice, but there it was just the same.

“How long were you here?”

“I watched you sleeping.”

The woman ate her breakfast. It seemed rude not to after the trouble Sara went through.

“Can we go to a matinee and the park like in the story?” The girl's face was lit up like Christmas.

She chuckled. “That park isn't there anymore, and the theater is long since closed.”

Sara's head immediately drooped. Seeing her disappointment, the old woman piped up, “But there's another park close by and we can take a bus to the movies. Would you like that?”

“Yes.” Her eyes were shining.

“But I need to call somebody about you. Perhaps we shouldn't.”

“There's nobody to call, Granny. They're all gone.”

“Well, maybe, later.” Somehow she didn't have the heart for it just now. Sara was so eager to spend the day with her.

Granny bundled Sara up in an over sized sweater after finding a dress from the chest. She planted a crocheted hat on Sara's head, just like her own, and they both laughed because Sara looked just like Granny now. Shoes were a little harder but she finally found some elastic slippers that would make do until she could buy Sara a pair of real shoes.

That day the sun shone brightly and Granny didn't even mind the cold as she and Sara walked through the park. Sara bounced onto a swing and see-sawed back and forth. They explored a little trestle bridge over a pond and watched some ducks that were too lazy to fly away for the winter.

Then hand in hand they walked to the bus stop where the rude bus driver frowned as he sighed, “Yeah, sure, lady, kids are free.”

“Oh,” the ticket lady said absently as she proudly told her she was taking her granddaughter to the movies. They got popcorn and soda. The afternoon was idyllic. It was truly a perfect day.

As they exited the bus and made their way home the air again had a bite to it and the evening became much like the one before when she found Sara. She was glad Sara had shoes now. They found a shop. Despite the happy day, Granny felt her good mood dissipating. She thought how lonely she would be when she returned the child, for return her she must. Sara did not belong to her. When they got home, Granny kept staring at the  phone. She thought of the little girl's words. “There's nobody to call.”

 Finally she spoke to her. “Sara, you must live with someone.”

Sara smiled. “I live with God in Heaven.”

She stared at her in dismay. “Someday you will...”

“Yes, and you will, too, Granny. That is why I'm here.”

Granny sighed. “You are forever talking nonsense, child. What do you mean?”

Sara came over to Granny and sat on her lap. “Don't you know, Granny? I've come to take you home. But I wanted you to have the  perfect day first. Was it a perfect day?”

Granny smiled as tears spilled from her eyes. “Yes, child, it was.”

“Then you are ready to go home. All you need to do is strike the match.”

What match was she speaking of? Then she remembered. Granny fumbled in her purse for the match and struck it against the table nearby. It burst into flame. In the fire, she could see a lovely room with a little girl beckoning to her.

“My Sara,” she whispered.

“Yes, you can go to her now. She is waiting for you.”

Granny smiled and watched the flame spread wider and wider ushering her into a bright new world.

Shari L Klase is a writer who began working her way into the world of publishing a few years ago when a story was accepted in a children’s magazine called, The Kids’ Ark. Since then she has been published in nearly 40 other print magazines and ezines, as well as two children’s story anthologies, and more.

No comments: