“When’s Da going to come home?” Tarin begged. His face was blackened with soot from cleaning the fireplace, and the rest of him wasn’t much cleaner. “I’m hungry.”
“We’re all hungry,” Alynn sighed, closing her eyes. She’d lie down on the floor if it wasn’t still so dirty and wet from the leaking roof. Three days’ worth of cleaning hadn’t made too much of a difference on the tiny hovel. She’d spent four hours scrubbing the walls, and she still couldn’t see much of a difference.
“I want cheese,” Tarin said. “And bread and soup and carrots and a big cup of milk!” He spread his tiny arms wide, smiled, and looked up at Alynn. “Can I have some cheese?”
“We don’t have any.”
Tarin’s face fell, and he went back to cleaning the fireplace. “Is this good enough, Lynder?”
Alynn looked at the fireplace. Only half of the fireplace was noticeably cleaner, and streaks of soot were everywhere. “Let me touch it up,” she said.
“You never let me finish!”
“You’re not old enough yet,” Alynn snapped. “Go pick dandelions.”
“But it’s rainin’!”
“You said you’re hungry. Go outside and pick dandelions.”
Two tears slid down Tarin’s soot-streaked face, and he stormed out of the house. Alynn sighed, then scowled as water dripped from a leak in the ceiling down the back of her neck. If Tarin were older, she’d send him up on the roof to patch it. It was almost as rainy inside as it was outside.
Alynn took all the buckets, mugs, and bowls she’d placed under leaks and emptied them into the soup kettle. “At least we won’t be fetchin’ water for a while,” she muttered.
Someone knocked on the door, and it creaked open. The latch was broken.
“Can I come in, Alynn?” asked the voice of Fiona O’Shaughnessy.
“Sure, you can,” Alynn sighed.
Fiona had visited the hovel only once before, but she skipped inside as if she was visiting an old friend. She looked up at the leaky ceiling with a wry smile and found a dry patch to stand under.
“You’ve done a grand job of cleaning,” Fiona said. “How can you stand not havin’ a fire going?”
“Can you help me finish cleanin’ it?” Alynn asked.
“Sure, I can. I should have brought my brother Micheal with. He’s eight, and what he’s got is more energy than the rest of us put together. He doesn’t enjoy cleanin’ much, though. He likes runnin’ errands with Da. What is it you like to do?”
“I don’t know,” Alynn said.
“Of course you know. Everyone likes somethin’, don’t they?”
“I suppose I like gardening,” Alynn said. “But we haven’t had a garden since I was nine. We’ve moved too much.”
“That’s a fright.” Fiona scrubbed the stones deftly. There seemed to be magic in her touch that made dirt fly away. “I like cleanin’, but it’s cookin’ I like best of all. I’m still terrible at it. I can spin, though. Da pays me sometimes to spin for him. Do you like spinnin’? I’m sure Da could pay you, too.”
Spinning yarn wasn’t Alynn’s favorite chore, but she didn’t mind it. She enjoyed watching the fluffy rolags of wool turn into soft yarn. And she was willing to do anything to get out of the hovel and earn an extra shilling for food.
“I’d love that,” Alynn smiled. “Do you truly think he would?”
“Of course he would! As long as yer da’s alright with it, that is. I can teach you to use the spinnin’ wheel.”
For the first time in a long time, Alynn felt hope and excitement. It was Christmas and Easter and the first day of harvest all wrapped into one. “I’ll tell Tarin,” she said, “and I’ll meet you at yer house!”
“A job?” Colum asked quizzically, letting his spinning wheel come to a stop. “You’re a wee bit young for a job, aren’t you?”
“But she’s my age, and I’m twelve, and twelve is a grown-up, right, Da?” Fiona asked. She looked at Alynn. “You’re twelve, aren’t you?”
“She’s not!” cried Tarin, who had tagged along.
Alynn shrugged, trying to look unconcerned. “I’m close enough.”
“Is yer father alright with it?” Colum asked. “You’ve talked with him?”
Alynn nodded, and her conscience stung for lying. “I have—I mean, I will tonight. If he comes home for tea, that is. Sometimes he doesn’t get back from work until after Tarin’s gone to bed.”
“And he’s always too tired to play with us,” Tarin said.
A friendly look came into Colum’s face. “Well, lassie, you can work from Terce to noon, every day except Sunday, and I’ll give you five shillings a week. Tarin, you can come and help me run errands, and I’ll give you yer own shilling if you’ve earned it. How’s that?”
Alynn’s face lit up, and she gave Colum a hug. “Thank you, Mr. Colum,” she smiled. “Thank you so much. When do I start?”
“Come on Monday, if you’ve a mind to.” Colum smiled, and Alynn skipped off to make dinner. Hopefully, it was the last time she’d have to make do with oats and wild greens
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.