By Steven Carr
Cold, harsh winds rattled the panes of glass, and funneled down the stack of the old stone chimney, whistling like a shrieking cat as they passed over the large iron pot's scorched lid. Inside the pot a gray foul liquid boiled and bubbled, while underneath blue and yellow flames rose up from burning elm logs, spitting specks of red and white embers that popped and crackled before disintegrating in the damp, cool air of the room.
Sitting in the pine rocker in front of the fire, her back hunched over, Miranda nimbly sewed and stitched the piece of linen that lay across her lap and over her knees while humming a dirge she once heard when just a young girl so many years ago. The moldy floorboards beneath the rocker's rails creaked as she teetered to and fro, her shadow cast like a dark rocking apparition on the cabin's front door. From her son-in-laws bedroom she heard her daughter gently sobbing.
When her son-in-law, Efram, opened the front cabin door, the blast of air from outside made the fireplace flames shoot upward around the pot's belly and sent a shower of sparks toward the ceiling.
“Close the door you damn fool," Miranda croaked without looking up from her sewing.
A very big man, both in height and weight, Efram slammed the door, causing the pots, dishes and empty, unlit oil lamps on the shelves along the walls to rattle and clank. He bent down and untied his muddy boots and placed them by the door, then sat a small burlap sack at Miranda's feet.
“To add to the dinner pot," he said.
“What's in it?" Miranda asked.
“Just a couple of turnips. Was all that I could get," he said, going to the fire and holding his hands, palm down, over the steam rising from around the lid. “From the smell of whatever you got in the pot already, even one turnip will help."
“You're so useless, we'll all be starving," Miranda said turning the piece of linen over and examining the stitching on a sleeve.
“I can't be blamed for the bad weather that has killed all the crops," Efram said gruffly.
“Explain that to the rumbling in your poor children's empty stomachs," Miranda said.
* * *
The sound of Efram's wife, Adele, scraping the edge of the butcher knife up and down the leather razor strap attached to the side of the fireplace was almost lost in the din of her six malnourished children playing games at the large oak table. Under her breath she counted each stroke while perspiring from the heat of the roaring fire and steam from the pot. All the while huge tears rolled down her pale, sunken cheeks.
* * *
“It's been decided," Miranda said to her while breaking a thread between her black, rotten teeth. “Nothing more to be crying about."
Adele continued sharpening the knife until her six year old son, Nathan, yelled “I've won! I've won!"
“Did you win, my love?" Adele asked, briefly stopping and turning to see her son being lifted up onto the shoulders of his two older brothers.
“Yes, Mommy, I won fair and square," Nathan said as he was carried around the room with his older sisters dancing behind.