Luisa Kay Reyes
Lorelei stifled her deep-throated cough as best as she could but it cruelly escaped from her, even so. Leading to all of the choir members staring at her with a mixture of both shock and disdain. For several had said she wouldn’t be able to handle the complexity of the solos for the Christmas Eve service, yet against their wishes the music director had remained steadfast in his belief that Lorelei possessed the very voice they needed for the candlelight service. So as the two-measure introduction to her piece began, Lorelei breathed in deeply and prayed earnestly for her cough to abate for the next few minutes. With the moment the first note to her solo began, forcing the reluctant choir members to let their disbelieving expressions fade away. For there was no mistaking it, Lorelei’s voice was rich and lush and hankered back to the days of the golden age of singing, a detail that would be inspiring even to those hardened from years of too much hardship and an overriding cultural mockery of important holidays.
Yet, Lorelei could tell that she was singing over the hoarseness that threatened to intrude upon her voice, making her feel ever so grateful when her solo ended that she had managed to disguise her impending sore throat for the time being. A disguise that she apparently maintained well enough for the music director to even nod in approval over her singing. Leaving Lorelei to make a mental calculation that Christmas Eve was merely two days away. If only she could maintain her vocal health until then, all would be well. However, having always been delicate of constitution, Lorelei frequently had difficulty battling winter coughs and colds. And now that her grandfather had passed away, Lorelei and her mother were stuck in a seemingly impossible situation.
For the uninsulated cabin they had managed to rent after her grandfather had passed away didn’t come with a fireplace. And with the heating oil for the furnace being atrociously expensive, even though the fish charity in town had already supplied them with their maximum allotment for the winter, Lorelei and her mother found themselves crowding around portable electric heaters as much as they could. Learning with dismay that these small heaters had the most disagreeable habit of raising the electric bill something fierce. It was a difficult situation that often left Lorelei feeling like they had hit rock bottom – that is until the bottom would yield to an even deeper bottom. But, for some reason, through it all Lorelei knew that she just had to keep singing.
Reaching for the bowl on the counter after the rehearsal ended that contained some cough drops for the choir members, Lorelei grabbed several of them for good measure and put them in her coat pocket. Then, tightening her red scarf around her throat to feel some warmth, Lorelei prepared herself to brave the cold outside. She lived on the wrong side of the tracks now. However, their cabin did have the one redeeming quality of not being too uncomfortably far from the church on foot. So Lorelei headed towards home in as brisk of a pace as possible.
Going over her solos in her mind to try and block the cold out of the growing numbness in her fingers, Lorelei found herself completely lost in her musical reverie when . . . wham! She suddenly bumped into a tall, somewhat plain, yet kindly looking young man who laughed slightly as he noticed her surprise.
“Whoa, there!” he said. “Santa Claus still has two more days so why the rush?”
To his credit, he was trying to be agreeable, but Lorelei was in too much of a fluster to fully appreciate it at the moment. So she hastily responded with “I’m sorry, but I must hurry. I can’t be out in the cold for too long or else I’ll get too sick to sing.”
“Are you that girl I heard singing in the Church a little bit ago?” he asked in astonishment as he stepped to the side a bit. “I thought I was listening to the voice of an angel.”
Lorelei was about to hurry on past him, but at this last comment of his she couldn’t help but smile. Compliments like that during times like these were partially what kept her spirits from fully sagging.
“I’m sorry, but I really must be going” she said before walking past him. For the sooner she got out of this cold, the better. Nonetheless, thinking twice about it, she momentarily glanced back at him and said “Thank you, by the way. I really do love to sing.”
Leaving the young man to watch in surprise as he saw the lovely young brunette walk hurriedly over to the wrong side of the railroad tracks. Granted he was home in between tours of duty overseas. And after having spent so much time studying at the military academy and boarding schools prior to that, he sometimes found himself wondering where home really was. For he at times felt like he knew less about the locals in his hometown than he did about the residents in some of the far flung places where he had been stationed. But, now that he was home for a bit, this was one local he suddenly felt determined to learn more about, with the best place to learn about who’s who in town being the local coffee shop to see what news could be had. A shop that Princeton wasted no time in finding.
“Mind you they’re decent folk” the server stated while handing him his medium-sized cup of hot chocolate that he had ordered. “She and her mother have more books than the public library, but that cabin they live in now . . .” and the server proceeded to tell him all the details about Lorelei and her mother’s newfound living situation, not surprisingly delighting in his role as a better purveyor of all the local town gossip than the struggling daily newspaper. Resulting in Princeton trying his best to feign indifference to what he was hearing – lest the server make too much of his inquiry – while at the same time taking in every detail that the server let slip from his lips.
Back on the wrong side of the tracks, a few minutes later, upon reaching their cabin Lorelei found herself wondering why she had been in such a hurry to get home to begin with. For it felt decidedly colder inside than it did outside. So popping three of the cough drops into her mouth, Lorelei then petted her kitty kat who had developed the habit of snuggling in front of the portable electric heater in order to stay warm, himself.
“You can see if you can convince your cat to let you share in some of the warmth, too” her mother said while handing her a bowl of her homemade chicken broth. “It is the third do, which tastes very watery, but hopefully it will keep you in good voice for a while.” And Lorelei accepted it, gratefully, knowing that her mother was trying her best but finding it ever more
difficult to recall their life of old.
Lorelei did have a day job that she used to help them make ends meet, but right now with the Christmas season her hours were very unpredictable, making it even harder for them to save enough money to try and obtain better living quarters. Once the Christmas season reached its fulfillment, she was hoping to start doing some teaching and get a more stable income. But, right now, as she found herself shivering once again after finishing all of her warm chicken broth, all Lorelei could daydream about was a warm fire, a magical gurgling well of heating oil that they could dig in their backyard, or anything at all that could help them stay warm. Lorelei sighed, try as she did to save some money for incidentals, she didn’t even have enough change at the moment to afford a candle.
Startling them all from their quietness, after a while, there was a knock at the door. And when Lorelei got up to answer it, she didn’t see anybody there which struck her as unexpected. But upon closer inspection, Lorelei did find that there was a folded over note posted on the door.
“What does it say?” her mother asked out of curiosity And as she read through it, Lorelei felt puzzled. “A light for an angel, that’s all it says” she responded. Making Lorelei glance around in bewilderment until she saw it, for sitting there beside the door was a lantern.
“And not just any lantern, but one with a lit candle in it, as well!” Lorelei exclaimed excitedly as she rushed to get it.
“But who can it be from?” her mother asked. Making Lorelei stop to think for a moment. For in her excitement she hadn’t stop to think about who could have graced them with this unexpected kindness. And then it dawned on her, the poor young man she had run into from earlier. Can it really be? she wondered almost giddily. No matter, the light from this candle filled her with such an inner glow, that she found herself vowing all the while that this Christmas Eve, she would sing more beautifully than ever. Beckoning everyone to sing with the joy that she felt upon seeing this warm beacon of light.
Luisa Kay Reyes has had pieces featured in “The Raven Chronicles”, “The Windmill”, “The Foliate Oak”, “The Eastern Iowa Review”, and other literary magazines. Her essay, “Thank You”, is the winner of the April 2017 memoir contest of “The Dead Mule School Of Southern Literature”. And her Christmas poem was a first place winner in the 16th Annual Stark County District Library Poetry Contest. Additionally, her essay “My Border Crossing” received a Pushcart Prize nomination from the Port Yonder Press. And two of her essays have been nominated for the “Best of the Net” anthology. With one of her essays recently being featured on “The Dirty Spoon” radio hour.