Coldness seeped through every fiber of the apartment complex. Here, every door was battered and busted. Most windows were broken and heat was a winter necessity folk wished for.
Marie rolled out of bed, taking care to smooth her sheets and plump her pillow. The wind from the hallway was colder than the bedroom. But there was no heat today. Marie shuffled toward the kitchen, fumbling with the fabric belt of her ragged bathroom, a faded peony pink. Her fingers shook as she tried and failed, twice, to properly tie the knot. Her toes curled in the battered bedroom slippers, making it a little harder to shuffle.
A long, low sigh echoed through the tiny apartment as she hovered in the doorway of the kitchen. The icy wind blew through the patched hole in the window, accompanied by a few stray leaves and snowflakes. “Pesky leaves.” She murmured, wrinkling her nose at them.
Tiny snowdrifts were visible around the kitchen sink. Marie tugged her robe tighter around her shoulders as she inched towards the junk drawer. It was mostly filled with scraps of paper, wire-ties, tiny pencils and bent nails. She rummaged through the mess, shivering. Her fingers closed around the almost-finished roll of duck tape, she drew it out, heading for the sink.
There, she found a knife and cut a few strips to patch the torn plastic. The loud flapping was a tad distracting, but it would have to do. The old kitchen towel was used to brush the unwanted snowflakes into the sink. When finished, Marie felt in the pocket of her bathrobe, fishing out a box of matches. She lit the stove burners after three tries and stood, warming her fingers over the glow.
A smile touched her lips, it was Christmas Eve. “Some holiday baking ought to warm the soul.” She mumbled, stepping out by the sofa to plug in the old string of Christmas lights. The colorful spots of light added a cheerful atmosphere to the room as she turned back to the kitchen.
Her joints seemed to creak in synchronization as she bent to retrieve mixing bowls, a spatula and bent measuring cups. From her half-empty cupboards, the ingredients for Christmas cookies were found and arranged in a neat row. The last egg in the refrigerator was put in a pot with water to boil for breakfast, as she began her holiday baking preparations.
Careful hands wiped down the tiny counter, trembling in the chilly air. Hints of warmth slowly curled through the air, her hands steadied as she began to hum a Christmas carol. She worked in rhythm, forming the dough then rolling it out for the cookie cutters.
The oven temperature was set and the baking pans were greased. The humming grew louder as she cut out the shapes and pressed a heart stamp on every cookie. Gentle, expert fingers transferred the cookies to the baking sheets and filled the heart-shaped indents with a bit of homemade jam.
She cleaned the kitchen as the cookies baked and ate her solitary boiled egg. When the timer rang, she set the pans of cookies on the counter, smiling at her handiwork. When they’d cooled for a half-minute, she counted them into little paper bags. Two bags, she left on the counter, the rest she gathered in her arms.
In her old pink bathrobe and matching bedroom slippers, she crept out the front door and into the hallway. With a schoolgirl giggle of delight, she tip-toed to each apartment door, pausing to leave a sack of cookies behind. A tear spilled down one cheek as she whispered a blessing over each one. “Merry Christmas. God bless.”
When this task was done, she silently returned to her own home. By the dimming string of Christmas lights, Marie curled up on her rickety sofa and cradled the two sacks of cookies in her hands.
“This one’s for you Mark.” She told the empty apartment. “So nice of you to come visit your old mum. And this one’s for you, Stacy. You ought to come visit your mum more often. She misses you. Merry Christmas and God bless.”
More tears streamed down her face, her eyes squeezed shut. In the silence of Christmas Eve, the small string of colored lights flickered out. A breath of winter blew past, ruffling the plastic patches on the windows. A heavy stillness hung over the room, deepening as her breath slowed to a whisper.
And then she died.
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