Lady, are you rich?

They huddled inside the storm door—two children in ragged outgrown coats.

“Any old papers, lady?” I was busy. I wanted to say no—until I looked down at their feet. Thin little sandals, sopped with sleet.

“Come in and I’ll make you a cup of hot cocoa.” There was no conversation. Their soggy sandals left marks upon the hearthstone. I served them cocoa and toast with jam to fortify against the chill outside. Then I went back to the kitchen and started again on my household budget. . . .

The silence in the front room struck through to me. I looked in. The girl held the empty cup in her hands, looking at it. The boy asked in a flat voice, “Lady . . . are you rich?” “Am I rich? Mercy, no!” I looked at my shabby slip covers.

The girl put her cup back in its saucer—carefully. “Your cups match your saucers.” Her voice was old, with a hunger that was not of the stomach. They left then, holding their bundles of papers against the wind. They hadn’t said thank you. They didn’t need to. They had done more than that.

Plain blue pottery cups and saucers. But they matched. I tested the potatoes and stirred the gravy. Potatoes and brown gravy, a roof over our heads, my man with a good steady job—these things matched, too.

I moved the chairs back from the fire and tidied the living room. The muddy prints of small sandals were still wet upon my hearth. I let them be. I want them there in case I ever forget again how very rich I am.

M. D.

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