few stray snow flakes swirled about her head as Elizabeth stared at the two thin young children and their threadbare young mother. The weather had turned quite cold and a thick snowfall had transformed the city overnight. Everything seemed odd, somehow. There had been very little snow the two winter before and this was the first snowfall since she had turned seven.
The boy, was littlest of the three, and younger than Elizabeth, though she could not tell by how much. The older girl was perhaps twelve or thirteen .
The smallest child steadily returned her gaze. The mother, who was missing several of her teeth, was intent on selling lengths of sugar-cane wrapped in newspaper to the streams of passersby.
"Where's your father?"
"Sugar-cane-2p. Hot sugar-cane! Tupence. Sugar-cane. Sir? Tupence for sugar-cane?" The belly of the grill (really just half an old metal barrel with a grate, some wheels and a handle) glowed a deep red. Elizabeth was fascinated by the waves of heat which emanated from the makeshift contraption-she had no idea what caused the effect, but it was beautiful nonetheless. The little boy turned and spit onto the hot metal. It sizzled.
"What d'you care."
"My Father's in the war."
"Ours too. Yours been killed yet?"
"Shut up William. Go away girl."
"He died at Artois. He's a hero."
"My father's a hero too."
"Ma--William's talking to somebody. Go away girl."
"Stop it you two. Go away girl-we're trying to work... Hot Sugarcane..."
Elizabeth saw that the woman was wearing a bright red button which read "War Widow." She wasn't quite sure what that meant, but she thought it had something to do with their father being a war hero.
"If he ain't dead, he ain't no hero. Ain't no living heroes. Onlyest heroes is dead heroes."
A fat little man with huge side-burns stopped and bought a stick of sugar-cane. The mother said:
"God bless. Merry Christmas. Thank you."
"Sorry to hear about your husband. Condolences. Here you go, for the children." He dropped some coins into her cup.
"Oh, thank you, sir, very much. Very kind. Very kind."
"Hardly seems right. Children suffering at Christmas, what? Don't know what this county's coming too. All because of those damnable Bosnians. Should let them all to it. Bosnians and huns. Nothing to do with us, far as I'm concerned. Well, God bless. Condolences. That one looks well-fed." He said as he was leaving, pointing at Elizabeth. "Hey girl, better share with your brother and sister, what? Well, God bless, mam. Merry Christmas."
As soon as the man left, the mother quickly bent down and hissed into Elizabeth's face (Elizabeth almost didn't hear what the woman said for staring at her teeth): "Go away you little rich brat! Go away! Go home. I've got to feed my family and you're not helping. Now get away."
Uncertain how or why she had earned the woman's wrath, Elizabeth backed away. The little boy stuck out his tongue as she stepped into the street and headed for home.
©1995 Hyperbole Studios Inc.