Over the Chicago Horizon

October 9, 2008
Halka burrowed into the piles of garbage that lay beneath her. Clink, clink, clink. A dripping pipe ticked away the minutes. She sighed, stood up, licked her chapped lips, shivered and pulled her aged and tattered green coat around her thin and scraggily body. Slowly she shuffled, sniffling, to the eroded edge of the road and gazed out at the bleak streets of Chicago, garbage piled high, gray slush from last week’s snow. An occasional man stumbled down the alley, beer bottle in hand, still dizzy from last night’s drinking binge, slurring Christmas carols. A crumpled newspaper drifted across the icy, dismal road, perhaps dropped by a townsman rushing home for Christmas Eve dinner

Halka turned her attention to her six year old brother Marek, who was now sobbing in the background.

“What is it now?” asked Halka, sternly.

“I’m cold!” cried Marek.

“Come here.” She said, her voice softening. “You can lie in my spot, it’s warmer.”
Marek toddled over, looking more like a holocaust victim, rather than a poor parentless city boy. Halka started to turn back.
“Mommy, wait!” whined Marek. Halka stopped dead in her tracks. The words stabbed at her. Had Marek just called her “mommy”? She had not heard those words for months.
“Yes?” she whispered.
“Will you tuck me in, Halka?” whimpered Marek, noticing his error.
“Of course,” replied Halka, still in a daze. Blinking back the rest of her tears, she took Marek’s old baby blanket from his chapped and freezing hand, smoothed in out and carefully tucked the boy in. Kissing him on the cheek, she said, “Now go to bed. It’s very early in the morning.”
She shuffled back to her original place at the edge of the road. Sniffling, she remembered the warm chicken noodle soup with matzo balls and warm potato dumplings her mother would make after Marek and she would come in from playing in the snowy front yard of their old brick rowhouse. She also remembered the sweet jelly doughnuts her father would bring back for her after a long, hard day at the bakery.
Jerking away from her dismal memory of her family, she reached for the crumpled newspaper that lay at her feet, staring up at her like a stray puppy.
Turning to the front of the page, she read the date. December 25, 1894. It was Christmas day and there she was, alone and desperate. Just one year before she had been sitting in the living room of her home, unwrapping presents and gulping down warm cocoa.
Now she sat upon an old burlap bag filled with garbage, her hair tangled and flies buzzing around her face. Just three weeks after Christmas, when her father had been walking home from work, a gang of thugs attacked him. He died alone in a cold alley of Chicago .
Shortly afterwards, her mother became ill with consumption and wrote a letter to her brother Hershel in New York to come and get her and Marek. But when her uncle came to get them, they refused to leave the side of their dying mother’s bed. After a week of trying to persuade them to come to New York, their uncle left with no Halka and no Marek, leaving them to care for their mother. But when she did within two weeks afterward, she left Halka and Marek alone in the big and dismal city of Chicago. Halka felt a tear roll down her check but quickly wiped it away, remembering what she had told her brother when her father had died.
“Crying solves nothing, not matter how hard or how long you do it.” Still sniffling, she rose and walked over to the shattered window of a nearby abandoned apartment. Staring at her reflection, Halka noticed how big and dark the circles were under her eyes and how tightly her homespun dress clung to her bony body. She spotted the turned out pockets of her dress. Empty.
Turning to Marek who was now shivering again under his thin blanket, she looked at his tangled and matted hair. What had once been neatly combed back was now drenched and hanging in his eyes. Staring back at her own reflection, she slid down onto the ground. She looked up at the filthy city that loomed over her like a menacing giant and said to herself, “This is no place for an orphan like me.” Then she realized that as hard as it might be, she needed to get to New York and find her uncle.

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Moriah W. said...
Mar. 5, 2009 at 3:01 pm
Erin!!!! I found you! This was always one of my favorite stories you wrote <3 <3 Vote for this girl, people!!!!
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