"Good morning to you, young lady. Would you care to purchase a Christmas ornament? I made them myself."
Leslie Stuart stared at the sweet faced old woman on her doorstep through eyes still wet from crying. She had discovered Gil's favorite coffee cup in a kitchen cabinet and the tears had begun to flow again. Leslie's husband had died eleven months ago, but the wound in Leslie's heart was still fresh and raw. She had almost welcomed the ringing of the doorbell to distract her from the all-encompassing loneliness she felt on a dreary Saturday morning.
"I'm sorry, my dear," said the old woman, shifting a large wicker basket from one arm to the other, "Am I disturbing you? I can come back another time."
Leslie realized she had been staring at the woman without speaking. "I, I'm sorry ma'am," she replied, "I just was thinking..."
"My child," the woman interrupted. "You have been crying. Is there something wrong?"
"My husband that I loved very much died almost a year ago," Leslie murmured, her eyes filling with tears once more. "I miss him terribly."
"Oh you poor thing," the woman replied. "I'm so sorry. I won't bother you any further."
She turned to leave and Leslie grasped her arm. "Please don't go," she said impulsively. "That basket looks heavy. Come inside and rest for a moment. Would you like some tea? I just made some."
"Thank you, child," the woman replied. "A cup of tea would be very nice. It has been a long, cold morning." She followed Leslie into the house, the hem of her dark blue dress trailing along the floor.
Leslie seated her guest at her kitchen table and placed a cup of hot tea in front of her. After offering cream and sugar, which the woman politely refused, Leslie sat down with her own tea and they began to talk.
There was something about the old woman's cherubic face, her iron-grey hair and her kindly manner that put Leslie instantly at ease. In no time, she was pouring her heart out to the kindly stranger. She showed the woman a picture of she and Gil taken on their vacation to Bermuda, his tall and tanned muscular frame contrasting with Leslie's voluptuous body and long red tresses as they posed in their swimsuits, smiling happily at the camera.
She and Gil were so much in love that they had cultivated very few friendships, and those had dwindled away after his death; as they so often do when a couple becomes a single. Both Leslie's and Gil's families lived far away, so she really had no one to talk to other than her co-workers and was lonely most of the time. The old woman's' visit quickly became an emotional release for Leslie's sadness.
Leslie found herself telling the woman how she and Gil had met at a corporate seminar for advertising account managers eight years ago. How they had dated, fallen in love and married, buying their first house after the honeymoon. How Gil was so handy with tools and fixing things, while Leslie's domain was the kitchen.
She wept anew as she told how Gil had gone to the hospital for a routine operation to have bone spurs removed from his heels caused by marathon running, which they both did for fun. Then, inexplicably, a viral infection had set in after the operation and a week later her husband was dead.
The woman arose from her chair and hugged Leslie's shoulders as she covered her face with her hands and sobbed, once again overwhelmed by the memories. "There, there my child," she said soothingly. "I am so sad for your loss. Some times, it is good to talk these things out with someone else. Thank you for the tea. I will not bother you any further."
"Wait, please," said Leslie, wiping her eyes with a napkin. "You wanted to show me some Christmas ornaments you had made. I would like to see them."
"Very well," said the woman, lifting the basket to the kitchen table. "I have some lovely ones here that I think you will like."
Folding back the wooden lid, the old woman began removing the most intricate and beautiful ornaments from the basket Leslie had ever seen. She placed them one by one on the table in front of the astonished woman, smiling benignly as Leslie's eyes widened in wonder.
They were not the customary ornaments, but rather finely wrought figurines that seemed almost lifelike in their detail. Leslie was almost afraid to touch them for fear that they would break in her hands. Reindeer, polar bears, horses, camels, donkeys, penguins, sheep and birds stood stiffly on her kitchen table; their eyes bright and looking for all the world as if they would move at any second. Leslie poked a tentative finger at a polar bear figurine and laughed with surprise as she felt warm fur. All the figurines had the same strange warmth as she examined them in turn, marveling at their almost sentient quality.
The woman then set out equally intricate wooden soldiers, nutcrackers and snow people; followed by a lifelike Santa Claus, delicate angels and children in pajamas. Leslie laughed excitedly at the display, feeling happier than she had been in a long time. 'How can she fit all these beautiful ornaments in that basket, ' she wondered to herself. Then, yet another new figurine caught her eye and the thought crept away.
"They're all so beautiful," she exclaimed as the old woman stood next to her, smiling. "I don't see how I could pick just one and yet I can't buy all of them. How am I to choose?"
"They are all beautiful, my dear," the woman replied. "But I have one here that I think you will like more than all of these." Reaching into her basket, she withdrew a large snow globe and handed it to Leslie. "I think this is what you need most of all," she said sweetly.
Leslie turned the snow globe slowly in her hands. The scene inside was a cabin in the forest and the detail was incredible. She had not shaken it, but the snow fell slowly and gently inside the globe; coating the cabins roof, the trees and the ground with a blanket of gleaming white. She could see the grain in the cabins logs, the finely wrought scrollwork outlining the porch, the individual window panes rimed with ice; it all looked so real and somehow comforting.
"Is it not beautiful, my child?' said the old woman in a soft voice. "It is so peaceful and serene in the forest and it is cozy and warm inside the cabin." At her words, smoke began to curl from the chimney and the windows emitted a subdued glow.
'It looks so peaceful there, ' Leslie thought. 'I wish that I was inside having a mug of tea or maybe hot chocolate.'
While Leslie was examining the snow globe, the woman placed the other ornaments back in the basket and closed the lid. "That one is yours, my dear," she said, lifting the basket and walking briskly towards the door. "It is my Christmas present to you."
"No, wait," Leslie cried placing the globe on the table and running after the woman as she walked out the front door. "I can't take this; let me pay you something for it, please."
"The happiness it will bring you is my payment, my child," the old woman replied as she moved nimbly down the front porch steps and down the sidewalk, "And a very Merry Christmas to you, Leslie."
"Wait, please," Leslie called after the receding figure. "I don't even know your name." There was no response. Leslie watched while the woman disappeared around the corner, moving rather briskly for someone her age. Shaking her head in confusion, she went back in her house to examine her ornament more closely.
Leslie set her laptop and briefcase down by the umbrella stand that she and Gil had found in an antique shop on Martha's Vineyard and locked her front door. It had been a busy day at Cort and Associates and she was glad to be home. Oddly, she did not feel the pang of loss that usually arose when she walked in the front door, instead she felt strangely comforted and at peace.
Ever since the mysterious old woman had visited her and left the beautiful snow globe behind, her sadness had abated and she once again felt hopeful about the future. Leslie was unable to explain it, but it came as a welcome change. She walked to the fireplace where the globe sat on the mantel and watched the snow gently falling on the cozy cabin.
She had examined the globe carefully numerous times in the two weeks since the old woman's visit and could find no openings for batteries or a winding key that would light the cabin or propel the snow. Finally, she accepted the phenomenon and enjoyed the quiet beauty the globe contained.