There was enough porridge for a few tablespoons to be daubed into each bowl. Disappointed eyes peered at the grey smears and then closed.
“Be present at our table, Lord. Be here and everywhere adored.”
The insistent wind buffeting the door interrupted the halfhearted prayer, and a flurry of snow snaked across the dirt floor of the sod house. The children watched, mesmerized, as some of the glittering crystals melted into the dirt while others winked and sparkled, incongruously, wickedly.
“Eat, while it’s hot.”
They scooped up cereal, already tepid, and too skimpy for their hollow bellies.
“I’m still hungry, Mama.” David whined, and Mama spooned the last of her own porridge into his bowl.
“When is Papa coming?” Little Katie licked the back of her spoon and ran her finger around the bowl.
The single window was crusted over with frost, and Ben scraped carefully, revealing the white fury that was pummelling the little soddie and the shrieking, icy breath that battered the door again and again. The clear place froze over quickly, and Ben blew on it, trying to prolong his view of the whirling chaos.
“The dog is here again.”
“Let’s see!” David and Katie crowded next to Ben, trying to see through the tiny spot in the ice.
“See the shadow?” Ben was adamant the shifting shape was the dog that had been lurking about, and they took turns until the window froze again.
“May we keep the dog?”
What to answer? Yes? believing the dog would soon be dead, knowing there wasn’t the smallest of scraps to give the starving beast? Or no? killing their hopes, for God knew there was little enough hope, with John gone these many months to work, and now, no word, and scarcely enough food left for another meal or two. Coming west had been a mistake. What had they known of homesteading?
They crawled into the rope bed together under the patchwork quilt to keep warm. Mama got a book and read until she was hoarse, and they slept, each praying the storm would abate, and dreaming of warm bread, butter, and soup in their aching stomachs. The sun was low when they awoke, still wearied by hunger and cold.
Ben melted the spot on the window and was surprised to see calm lightness, like an odd dawn. “It’s stopped snowing,” he announced.
Snow was drifted deep against the door; it was impossible to leave the soddie without pushing away the immense drift. Ben strained and heaved with Mama’s help, until he could crawl out, bundled in layers of clothing, only his eyes showing through a slit in the woolen scarf.
It wasn’t long until he returned, with firewood and a shovel.
“Drifts are twelve feet high. I crawled into the lean-to for the firewood.” And with that, he cleaned away more snow from the door in the fading light.
“Mama, look,” he called softly, unwinding the scarf from his tousled head. Together, they squinted into the deepening gloom from the doorway, and an answering gaze met theirs. The animal paced in the powdery snow, a restless shadow blending into the descending oblivion.
“Ben, I think...”
The light from the soddie shone directly on the animal’s face, so they could clearly see the yellow feral stare.
They moved into the soddie, pulling the door shut behind them.
“The dog’s back, isn’t it?” David clamoured. “Please, can we keep him?”
“Oh, David, I don’t know.”
An eerie howl penetrated the night, and the children shivered. Unshaken, Mama peeled the last of the withered potatoes.
The next morning, dawn was made exquisitely brilliant by the snow, but Mama eyes were dark with concern as the children sang,
“And grant that we, may feast in fellowship with Thee.”
Mama wondered how long it would be until they were feasting with the Lord. There was no more oats, potatoes, or flour. Where was John? Where was God?
“The dog!” The younger children were already melting the frosty window. “He’s got something.”
The wild animal was standing, waiting, something in his jaws. He dropped it, a flutter of fur, then turned and loped away.
Ben pulled on his boots and ran into the snow.
“Amazing. He brought us a rabbit.” Ben held it up, like a victory banner.
“Like Elijah and the ravens,” whispered Mama.
“May we keep him now?” begged the children.
“It looks like he’ll be keeping us.”
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