She shuffled in with snowflakes caught on her hat, her red coat like a violent cloud that swallowed her - puffed up and forcing her arms away from her torso as if she were a body builder. Her boots didn't lift off the carpet as she walked, just slid across with a heaviness that belied the purity of her snowy tuque. A scarf covered her lips and most of her nose and she made brief eye contact with me, her gaze glassy and sad.
I tried to make my smile warm as she came and leaned up against my desk, looking at me quickly before gazing up at the ceiling. "Um," she said and her left eye squinted, "I just kind of wondered if you kept any canned food here?" Her shoulders seemed to curl forward and she flipped her gaze to the floor like she was repenting. "I just wondered, 'cause you're a church, you know...?"
"I'm sorry," I told her, "We don't keep stuff like that here. The Salvation Army is right around the corner."
"Yeah," she said and she wiped her nose on her scarf. "I won't get any money until Monday."
I felt like I was folding in on myself. That every good thing in my life reflected on her in an ugly light. That this was a moment that mattered and I was useless in it.
"I'm sorry," I said again - like an apology would fill her belly and a sympathetic smile would turn her life around.
A melting snowflake turned into a tear as it dripped from her hat and disappeared beneath her scarf. "Well, do you have any coffee I can have?"
I rushed to the water cooler where we kept a jar of instant coffee. I lifted it and shook it. "There's less than a third here - and it's just instant - but you can have it."
I put it in her hand.
She pulled off her mittens and folded her fingers around it like she could already feel it's warmth. "But what about you guys? What will you drink?"
"Oh, don't worry about us. You take that. I'm sorry I don't have more to give you."
"Thank you," she said, clutching that pathetic jar against her coat. "Thank you."
"It's not much," I said.
She shook her head like I didn't know what I was saying. "Now I'll have coffee 'til Monday." There was a music to her voice that hadn't been there before and as she headed back out into the snow her boots lifted just a little higher off the carpet.
[NaBloPoMo Day 29]