It was Christmas morning and the snow piled slow and unrelenting upon the small house where Izzy shivered under her thin blanket; she was covered but for her porcelain-pale face. Her lone mattress rested flat on the cold tile floor, pressed into the corner furthest from the leaky window on the opposite wall. She wondered what her acquaintances from work were doing right now; were they surrounded by children and cousins and brightly colored paper, with turkey dinners and candied yams cooking in the kitchen? Were they talking on telephones to loved ones who couldn’t make it but called anyway to express their love? She peered around the soulless room and wondered how she had come to be in this empty place, where she knew the telephone would never ring and the door would know not a knock. She knew the answer, but somehow the past seemed almost imaginary.
A green paper cutout of a Christmas tree was taped delicately to the wall above a tiny mouse hole. There were no gifts beneath, but Izzy felt that if the mouse would make an appearance today, that would be gift enough. She had watched the hole on many nights since coming here, and for a time she had even made friends with the mouse inside. But like everyone else in her life she had not seen him for quite some time. She closed her eyes and slowly mouthed “I hope, I hope, I hope” in silent repetition, and made a promise to God or fate or mother nature or whoever would listen that if her little friend would only appear for awhile she would burn her sole log to warm him and share what food she had to make him feel full and appreciated.
When she opened her eyes, there he was, peeking out of his hole, whiskers twitching. Her heart leapt and a smile stretched across her face as a single tear slid down her cheek. Careful not to startle him, she pulled back the covers and stepped onto the freezing floor with only her old purple socks to shield her against its chill. Her battered nightgown fluttered as she tip-toed across the floor to meet her friend, her breath hovering in the air with every exhale. Quietly she leaned down and whispered “Hello, my little friend” as she cupped her hands to collect him. But a worry came upon her as she noticed he was rather thinner than she had last seen him. With a great effort the mouse climbed into Izzy’s hand and curled up as she closed her fingers around him. She gently blew the warmest breath she could onto his matted fur in the hopes that he would be warmed a little while she built the fire.
With the little mouse in hand, Izzy opened her solitary cupboard and pulled the log from inside. She stepped to the old pot-belly stove in the corner by the window, put the log inside and fumbled for a match. Careful not to squeeze her friend, Izzy set the log ablaze with surprising ease. As the flames engulfed the wood she felt warmth begin inside her. Excited, she grabbed the rope handle on her mattress and tugged it across the floor to be close to the stove. She stepped back to the cabinet and withdrew a little box of crackers and some cheese. It wasn’t much, but she would share what she had.
Izzy settled onto the mattress and propped her pillow against the wall as a cushion. She pulled the blanket over her head and carefully wrapped it around her legs to hold in the heat for herself and her little friend. Slowly she opened her fingers and looked in on the little mouse snuggled into her palm. With a single finger she stroked him from head to back until he awoke and looked at her with tired eyes and what she was sure was a smile. “Hello, there” she whispered, and slowly he sat up and reached toward her with his tiny paws. Izzy offered a finger to the mouse, who rested both his paws on her and with an affection that brought tears to her eyes he slowly began to caress her finger with his soft head.
In a faint voice the little mouse squeaked and looked with curiosity at Izzy’s face. She smiled and thought he was probably hungry, for her own tummy had just begun to growl in the slowly warming air. She reached down and cut a small piece of cheese, married it to half a cracker and presented it to the mouse. “Merry Christmas” she said as her heart filled with cheer while her friend accepted the food with apparent eagerness. Izzy prepared her own crackers and cheese as she watched her friend slowly eat, taking turns between his cracker and his cheese. As she ate her own food she watched the little mouse struggle to finish the feast she had given him, and in a short time he again curled up in her palm. She smiled and admired her sweet little friend for a time, but eventually sleep fell heavy upon her eyes and she knew it was time to rest.
Not wanting the little mouse to be out in the cold, Izzy stepped quietly to the cabinet and withdrew a small plastic container and a clean washing cloth. As carefully as she could, she folded the cloth into a comfy little mattress and folded back a leaf of it to use as a blanket. She slowly placed her little friend upon the cloth and covered him up, then lay the container down just within range of the stove’s warmth. The little mouse snuggled into the improvised covers while Izzy wrapped herself in the blanket and watched her little friend softly breathe.
With a quiet peace in her heart, Izzy fell into a peaceful sleep feeling happy, warm and loved, and her last thought as she drifted away was a very soft “Merry Christmas to me”.