by Marina Di Girolamo
Based on Portrait 1 & book title: God and the Grocery Man
Surely, God has bigger plans for me.
I shiver as more and more globs of thick snow encase the small window of the tight room that I share with my two brothers. London was often oppressive with its endless grey skies and unforgiving rains, but this bitter, harsh weather for weeks on end, is more than I can bear.
“We are embarking on an extraordinary adventure,” they had proclaimed. “The new land will be vast and full of opportunities.”
Opportunities for whom? Well, certainly for my brothers. As for me, I pretend to be content to be keeping hearths warm, and pots of tea at the ready for when they return home, stomping the snow off their boots and laughing about something, or someone, they had encountered at the tannery that day. I do not begrudge my brothers their happiness; I just wish that I felt some of their optimism.
Mum and dad are making every effort to help me adjust to this new reality; I know this, but at an age when I would be greeting suitors and attending spirited socials in England, I am here, without companionship, lost in my own muddled thoughts.
I hear the door slam and my father comes into view. I watch him take slow, hesitant steps in the deep snow, axe in hand. It seems that we never have enough wood to keep our cabin warm enough so as to forget the life we left behind.
I turn from the window and walk into the kitchen where mum is peeling turnips. She looks up at my sullen face and senses how I am feeling.
“It will be spring soon,” she says hopefully. “Everything will be better and brighter in the spring.”
I smile back at her, knowing that this is what her heart needs.
“I know, mum. This brutal winter has to end eventually.”
She stands then, and embraces me in a long, loving hug that is full of unspoken words. When we finally come apart, I can see that her eyes are wet. I think about the sacrifices she has made to bring us to this promised land. This generous, gentle woman, whose home was always ready to welcome untold friends and relations, can now count acquaintances on one hand. What does she think about when her weary head finally meets her pillow on these long, black nights?
“I wonder what stories the boys will have for us this evening?” I say to lighten the mood.
She giggles girlishly as she wipes her hands on her muslin apron and replies, “Those two can make a tall tale out of anything, and thank God for that.”
I chuckle and add, “That’s for sure.”
I take the turnips she has peeled and begin to mindlessly chop, chop, chop. I think of my father splitting logs outside in the cold—my sweet, rosy-cheeked father who would pluck the stars out of the sky for us, if he could. I feel guilty then, and silently promise God that I will strive to embrace whatever this new life, this new country of majestic pines and rolling hills may bring.
The sun is getting low on the horizon when my father opens the door, attempting and failing to keep it from swinging back in the wild wind.
“Let’s hope the boys won’t be too much longer,” he says. “This snow is showing no signs of letting up.”
Then as if they have sensed our anxiousness, we hear the jingle of the blessed silver bells, as our piano box sleigh draws nearer and nearer to home.
“Thank heavens,” exclaims mum, as she lets out the breath she has been holding.
I scurry to open the door and, at first, all I can see is the faint light of the oil lanterns piercing through the swirling snow. Then, instead of just the familiar figures of Henry and George, I see a third.
“Who is that?” asks mum, as she peers excitedly over my shoulders.
“I haven’t a clue,” I respond.
As they approach, we move away from the door to let them through, and Henry quickly pulls it shut behind him.”
“You are as good as gold now, lad,” George exclaims as he slaps the back of the stranger playfully. “This, dear family, is our brave new grocery man, young James. His horse decided he had had enough when we came upon him.”
James is removing his gloves to shake hands with my father, when he looks up and our eyes meet. Suddenly, there is no snow, no storm; just a bright glow that radiates from golden, amber eyes.
Dad’s voice interrupts my blushing, which I am completely certain is obvious to everyone, when he says, “Well, thank God our boys met up with you, James. This is no night to be stranded outside.”
“Thank God, indeed,” I think.
And then the grocery man speaks for the first time, his voice as smooth as honey.
“I can not begin to say how grateful I am, sir. If George and Henry had not come along when they did, I do not know what I would have done.”
“Alright then,” says mum being mum. “Come in and warm yourself up by the fire. We’ll have a nice hot stew for tea, and you can tell us all about yourself, because you’ll not be leaving this house tonight.”
James smiles in gratitude, and begins to remove his wet outer clothing.
I now notice that he is not as tall or robust as my brothers, and that he has a gentler, more cautious way about him.
I finally coax my legs to move when mum asks me to pour some tea, but my fingers are trembling uncharacteristically.
The men gather around our crude, pine table, and I tentatively place a cup of tea in front of James, hoping to not make a spectacle of myself by spilling the hot liquid all over him.
James turns his head, a mass of black curls, and our eyes lock once more.
“Thanks very much,” he says.
I can feel myself reddening again. How odd that words I have heard all my life can have such an unexpected effect on me now. What a strange and wonderous sensation I feel. At this moment, in this cramped, but cozy cabin, I suddenly remember what hope is. I close my eyes for a second, and silently thank God, and the grocery man, for this priceless gift.