Winter Star

A true story.
by Joseph Cunningham, LC | Source:
It was just a food basket – $4,786.03 for a food basket. St. Elizabeth Anne Seton’s Church Rosary Society had raised well over the $3500 goal they had set in September. Now it was February and the raffle was over.

The winner had been drawn and both members of the youth group had tried calling her – Jim, four times and Thomas, seven! Mrs. Peterson, chairwoman of the Woman’s Guild, had suggested making another drawing, but Thomas, the youth group president, would have none of it.

Prize day was bitterly cold. Jim picked up Thomas from work that afternoon so they could try James Street Apartments #207. The sky was gray and plain: it was an uneventful 15 minute drive through frozen slush.

It was the poorest side of the city. They pulled up to the curb and Thomas had already walked up the stairwell before Jim could get the prize out of the trunk. They rang the doorbell. Nothing. They rang again. Thomas was going to push it one more time when Jim dropped one of the jars of Mrs. Peterson’s pineapple preserves off the second-story railing.

“Jim, now look what you’ve done!” scolded Thomas. Thomas held the basket while he watched Jim clean up the mess. Ten minutes passed and by the time Jim had finished, Thomas’s hands had frozen and he was back in the car. Jim got in, noting the frustration of his companion. The sun had begun to set and the wind had picked up, swirling frozen debris across the road.

“Start the car, Jim,” said Thomas. Jim turned the keys and began to drive away; but a strange feeling came over him and he turned the car around.

“We’re gonna try one more time,” said Jim. His face showed a determination Thomas didn’t want to oppose.

They walked up the stairs and rang again, and waited. Sure enough, the outline of a young woman appeared behind the curtain. Slowly, she opened the door.

“Congratulations ma’am,” said Jim, “you just won yourself the church raffle!” The young woman turned and eyed them both, still holding the door partly closed. She was wet and wore a bathrobe, and Thomas could see she held a tiny baby by her side.

She looked down and closed the door. “One moment,” she said. Returning dressed, she invited them in. It was run-down: a worn-out sofa sat under musty wallpaper, running around the small livingroom adjoining the kitchen, which was only an old stove and a pile of dirty dishes. The young woman sat down by the sink. It smelled odd. Thomas was quiet, while Jim began to explain excitedly that she had won the raffle. Suddenly, the young woman held her baby very close, and burst out crying.

And then Thomas saw it: the lighter and the wetness on the floor, the smell, and the gas can leaning against the wall.

The young woman pressed her head to her baby’s and mumbled through the sobs, “I was going to do it,” she said, “I thought nobody cared.”

“God cares,” said Jim.

The young woman looked up at her baby and then at her guests and said,

“I know.”

Elena and little Christopher stayed at Mrs. Peterson’s house that night. It was midnight and the moon was full and beautiful, and it seemed to glow all across the dark blue band of space. She held her baby close, fast asleep now and serene, watching as two small twinkling stars seemed to disappear into the moon’s embrace. An overwhelming peace come over her, as when a father holds his daughter after a long cry; and now it was warm and the nightmare was over.

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