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A Helping Hand

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Jamal shoved his mittened hands in the thin pockets of his coat. He’d forgotten his hat and his ears were getting cold. The day was dark and gray. Icy drops were falling from the sky—not rain, not snow, but sharp pellets that felt like needles when they hit his skin.

The snow banks were piled high against the side of the road, blocking the view of traffic. Sometimes he felt as if he were walking through canyons. His father grumbled that global warming was a myth; certainly this winter had proven the scientists—all of whom had been citing warming figures from the first thirty years of the century as proof of this phenomenon—wrong. Jamal’s grandmother said that she remembered winters like this when she was a girl, and that weather, like life, had its cycles.

He shivered again. He didn’t like this cycle. He’d outgrown his heated boots and he had to wear his father’s cast-offs, which were too big, and the heater had stopped working years ago. His grandmother knitted his mittens which was why he kept them hidden; he was the only kid in his class whose gloves and coat didn’t self-heat.

His family had been struggling for the past year. His mother’s illness and death had drained their reserves, or so his father had said one dark night when Jamal had found him alone at the kitchen table, staring at his handheld. It beeped constantly as creditors sent threats, past due messages, and notices of legal actions.

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