Palo Alto Weekly 18th Annual Short Story
by Maia Shoham
sat in her little cabin. She was sitting on the hearth, staring
into the fire, while its light cast flickering shadows on the wooden
walls and Mama cooking supper in the little kitchen area.
Baby Holly was sleeping in her rocker. Katie moved her gaze
to stare unfocusedly at the kitchen as her mother's skirt swished
and swayed with her movements around the stove. Her gentle voice
brought Katie out of her reverie.
"Katie, set the table please. Your papa will be home any minute now," said
Mama, unloading three tin plates out of a cupboard.
Katie groaned. She had been hoping that Mama would forget to tell her to set
the table. But grudgingly she set the tin plates, cups, and spoons in place at
the table, scowling all the time.
Mysteriously, as if her bad mood had floated through the crack under the door,
as she set the last piece of silverware in place, a terrible, shrieking blizzard
began to rage and storm outside. Although it started gradually, soon the winds
began to scream and moan as if in pain. It was as if Katie's bad mood had infected
all the winds and snow in this part of Wisconsin and was making them squabble
with each other. She trembled.
Suddenly Katie began to think of Papa, making his way home from town through
the woods, through the howling, angry blizzard outside. Terrible pictures began
to form in her mind. ... Papa stuck under the snow, Papa blown into a tree and
trapped there, Papa freezing to death because of no nearby shelter, Papa being
eaten by a hungry bear.
Mama seemed to have thought of this too, for even as she called
Katie to eat, her large brown eyes were wide and fearful, and her
soft voice shook
Even as she set dishes of food on the small, circular table, she looked
slightly preoccupied. Katie leaned into her mother's embrace and asked, "Mama,
how will Papa get home? Won't he freeze out there in the snow?"
"Katie, I'm sure Papa is fine," said Mama, although
she looked exactly as worried as Katie was.
Mama and Katie continued eating their supper as though nothing was going on.
When they at last finished, Katie washed the remains of their potatoes from the
dishes while Mama dried them and put them away. As Katie was getting ready for
bed, Mama came in and suddenly started to brush Katie's long, wavy, reddish-brown
hair. This surprised Katie, for usually Mama never brushed her hair. She had
soon begun to learn that Mama only brushed her hair when she was extremely worried.
So Katie started to cry.
"Katie, dear, don't cry. I'm sure Papa will be home by tomorrow morning," soothed
Mama, though her voice was tight, as if she was struggling to hold
back sobs herself. However, this didn't help Katie. She just kept on sobbing
sobbing and sobbing, and sobbing some more.
Katie couldn't sleep. She tossed and turned on her trundle bed trying to get
comfortable. The blizzard was still going. She could see Mama's dark outline
restlessly moving on the big bed, too. Only Baby Holly slept peacefully. Then,
all of a sudden, Katie heard sobs. They were not coming from Baby Holly, she
knew. The only other person in the house was Mama.
Now Katie was the brave one. She cautiously climbed into bed with Mama and whispered
soothing words into her ear. But no matter how hard Katie tried, Mama would not
be consoled. So Katie spent the long night huddled against Mama's shaking body.
She was dazed. Usually Mama was brave. Now she was. She wondered what would happen
if Papa did not come home. She wondered if she would ever get over Papa dying,
if it happened. Finally, Mama cried herself to sleep.
Katie woke with a bright ray of sunlight falling across the bed where she and
Mama still slept. She could see Baby Holly starting to fuss in her rocker. So
Katie silently crept out of bed and started to calm her. Katie's little white
nightgown flapped around her calves as a sharp breeze came through the crack
under the door. Out of the window, Katie could see a white world. White ground,
huge snowdrifts, tall pines covered in snow. And yet the sun was out. It sparkled
off of the snowdrifts and made the trees look like they were strung with huge
golden Christmas baubles like the ones Katie saw in town when Papa drove her
and Mama and Baby Holly there to buy something for Christmas.
"Mama, it's okay. I'm fine," said Katie truthfully. "It's just
..." But before Katie could say another word, she started
bawling, the tears rolling down her small cheeks, whites of her
and her eyelashes
because she was crying so hard. All her worries of the previous
night spilled out of her mouth as she told Mama everything. However
Katie onto her lap and held her against her bosom while Katie clung
Katie's tears slowly stopped, and then Mama hurried herself into a work dress
and an apron, while Katie put on her dress. They were just finishing up their
salt pork and cornbread for breakfast when a knock at the door came. That knock
Katie continued to clear the table and wash the dishes as her
mother opened the door. Outside were Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Hubble.
were good friends
and they helped him with cutting down trees and all the other work
that men do. Mama stepped outside to talk to them, and even though
could hear a rumble of voices and Mama saying quietly, "I
When Mama came back in, she looked dazed, and she hugged Katie tightly, and told her daughter what had happened. She told Katie that Papa had tried to get home through the snow but he had gotten blown into a tree headfirst, and had suffered a concussion and brain damage. But worst of all, he was dead. Suddenly Katie was angry. She was angry at the day, for starting out so beautifully and now seeming so cruel. It was sunny and warm. Inside Katie's heart, the weather was like last night's blizzard. She was black and writhingly angry inside, and here is this sunny weather, daring to exist! "How dare it be sunny!" She thought. "How dare it!" Then she looked up at Mama and said, "Mama, I love you."
Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.
Sign-up now for 5K Run/Walk, 10k Run, Half Marathon
The 39th annual Moonlight Run and Walk is Friday evening, September 29. Join us under the light of the full Harvest Moon on a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon. Complete your race in person or virtually. Proceeds from the race go to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, benefiting local nonprofits that serve families and children in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.