"Count the stars, Mathias," the old man said. He traced the sky with his index finger. There was a bitter chill in the air that hovered over the boat dock, and just a sliver of moon peaked out from beneath a blanket of fog.
The young boy who stood beside him stared up at the heavens, squinting his eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of a constellation or two.
"I don't see any stars, Grandpa." Mathias ran up to the railing, grabbed it and swung backwards. He jumped off and stepped backwards. Hunching down low to the ground, he removed his red mitts from his hands and began to play with some small pebbles on the deck. Grandpa took his right arm and he stood up again. Their figures made two invisible shadows against the night.
"Of course you can't. They're behind the clouds." Grandpa wrapped his woolen scarf around his neck. "But God can. He made them, you know."
"Really? All the stars? All the stars in the universe, Grandpa?" Mathias's cap fell down over his eyes. It was much too big. Grandpa laughed and straightened it. Mathias gave him a toothy grin.
"Really. And did you know that He knows where each and every one of them are?"
"No, I didn't. How can he? I can't even remember my lessons from school."
"God is infinite, Mathias. He is bigger than the whole universe. In fact, He knows everything." Grandpa paused. "Do you remember that time when your mother sent you to get the butter?"
"Sure do. I gots losted." Two missing teeth gave him a whistle.
"You didn't know where you were, did you?"
"No. I cried and cried." A tear dripped down his cheek, perhaps because of the cold air, perhaps because he remembered the way everybody in the street was a stranger and the frightening sounds of machinery coming from the cotton factory.
"Remember, you told me when you saw Mr. Morrow's candle cart that you hopped in and rode all the way home?"
"Yeah." The smell of beeswax like that which had seeped into the horse blanket he'd hidden under was still a comfort to him.
"Did you know, Mathias, that God knew where you were?"
"Yes, Mathias. God always knows where you are and what you are doing." Grandpa picked him up and sat him down on a wooden barrel. A single moonbeam shone down on the child's pale face.
"Even if I went to the moon?" Mathias asked, pointing up at the shaft of light.
"Even if you went to the moon," Grandpa smiled reassuringly. "God created that, too.""So God's a little like Santa Claus, then?"
"No, I'd say Santa Claus is a little like God."
Mathias jumped down off the barrel. His feet now back on the ground, he paused for a minute, then took Grandpa's left hand in his, and then reached out to the sky with his right hand.
"What are you doing, Mathias?" Grandpa asked.
"You said God's all around us. I kinda thought maybe I could hold hands with Him,too." The worn red mitten sat on the the backdrop of darkness like a bright new star.
With a warm smile, Grandpa also put his free hand in the air, and they walked down to the end of the dock and onto the street, holding hands with God all the way home.
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