The Small Gift

By Mary Kjendal

Cassidy shivered as the biting wind that blew around the corner cut through her thin clothes and sparse coat as if they weren’t there at all. Her teeth chattered and she sat on her hands to keep them out of the cold as best she could. She drew them out from beneath herself just long enough to check for signs of frostbite. Her knuckles were blue, but she could still feel the coarseness of the hem of her dress as she rubbed it between her fingers. People bustled by her as she sat in an empty doorway. Though she looked at all their faces, not one even glanced at her. Most of their faces were screwed up in expressions of misery and dreariness. Cassidy shook her head and sighed. Look how easy it is to be unhappy when you have everything, she thought. And how hard it is to be happy when you have nothing.

She looked across the busy street that clattered with the sound of horse hooves and rattling carriage wheels and creaking bicycles, and she gazed longingly into the glowing windows of the bakery that sat on the other side of the rushing road. Even though the smells of the city were overpowering, Cassidy still caught a whiff of freshly baked bread and pastries as the door jingled and a customer stepped out. 

The customer was dressed in a velvet dress that would have swept the ground if she hadn’t been holding it up to keep it out of the puddles that lay everywhere. She had a fur cape around her shoulders, and her hands were nestled in a white muff. Her black hair cascaded out from under a large hat that had a red rose tucked into its brim. 

Cassidy drew in a breath at the sight of the lady. “She’s an angel,” she whispered, in awe. She reached out a dirty hand and imagined feeling the soft velvet touch her fingers. She closed her eyes and sat, forgetting for just a moment how cold the stone doorstep that she sat on was and how wet the softly falling snow was making her. Her nose was running and she sniffed. She smiled as she imagined  that she smelt a hint of flowers and a trace of vanilla. She opened her eyes to see with surprise the lady that had come out of the bakery a minute before. 

The lady drew a smooth, ivory-white hand out of her muff and reached into her reticule. She held out a delicate lace handkerchief that sparkled along the edges and had the letters VHS embroidered beautifully on it. Cassidy blinked and shook her head. “I can’t take it, miss. It’s too lovely.” Her voice came out hoarse and she coughed as soon as she was done speaking. She looked down at her grubby hands and sniffed again from the cold. 

The lady said nothing but let go of the handkerchief and Cassidy watched in fascination as it danced and glittered on its path to the dirty sidewalk. Just before it could touch the ground, however, Cassidy reached out her hand and caught it with her numb fingers. “Thank you, miss,” she breathed. She wiped her dirty face with the clean handkerchief and smiled up at the lady. 

The lady looked down at Cassidy and frowned. “That won’t do, girl. Stand up.” She reached for her handkerchief that was crumpled in Cassidy’s fist but wrinkled her nose at the sight of it. She dug into her reticule for another one, and with this she scrubbed Cassidy’s face until it tingled. “I suppose it’s a bit better. I ’ll be on my way now, or else I’ll be even more awfully late. Your name?”

“Cassidy, if it pleases you, miss.” 

“It’s Cassidy whether or not it pleases me. I go by Victoria.” As she turned to walk away, her velvet dress rustled and the heels of her shoes clicked evenly on the sidewalk. 

Cassidy gave a small cry and called out, “Miss! If you please!” Victoria turned around and looked back at her. “Please, miss,” Cassidy began shyly, “Could I just feel your skirt? It looks so soft and lovely and…” Cassidy trailed off as she looked down at her own coarse clothing. Victoria looked pityingly at the small figure huddling on the doorstep and drew her hands once more out of her muff. 

“Here, child,” she said, handing Cassidy her muff. “Lord knows you need it more than I do.”

Cassidy was speechless as her rough fingers caressed the soft inside of the muff and stroked the white fur on the outside of it. Her tired eyes glistened with joy as she touched with awe the only Christmas gift she’d ever gotten. 

Victoria’s heart warmed ever so slightly when she saw the upturned face looking at her with such love and adoration. She tried to shake the feeling, though, and as she turned away she thought to herself, I’m turning soft-hearted now, am I? I don’t know what made me give her my muff, but my hands are freezing now and I’ll catch cold. But as she looked back at the penniless girl, her lip quivered ever so slightly and she knew she had never been as cold and uncomfortable as that girl was now. As she briskly walked away, she couldn’t forget the girl’s face of wonder when the handkerchief was fluttering to the ground. 

 

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