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A Cold Hearth


Four a.m., and the farmyard reveille has rallied the children;
it is dark, and Mother insists that lights are used only for necessary tasks.  Finding
slippers must be done by touch, as mats do little to stop the winter seeping into bare feet.  

The kitchen fire shows no glow of coals.  Father, drunk, forgot to bank it 
again.  Little James rakes the cold ash out of the way while Jenny fetches kindling from the box by the door.  
In the copper on the ledge, last night's stew has congealed in rebuke to Mother, 
who did not salt it satisfactorily.  The tea in the kettle has ice on the top.  

The children set the teepee and stuff it with last week's news.  Jenny warms her hands
under her arms -- matches don't grow on trees, says Father, and one mustn't 
waste them with fumbling fingers.  

She leans in, ready to strike, and takes a breath.  The cold hearth smells of inevitability,
accusation and despair.

The match sparks, and it begins anew.

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