by CJ Heck
This morning, like every morning, snow or no snow, Jake walked the tracks, picking up rogue coal jostled from the railroad cars bouncing along the tracks. It couldn't buy food, but each shiny black lump was precious and it went a long way to keep his family warm in these tough times. The heavy snow seemed to punctuate just how hard things were -- and how bad they could still get.
As he walked, he pushed the snow away with his boot. The coal was nearly impossible to see and, with each step, his heart grew heavier, knowing his pockets were nearly empty. How in the world had things ever have gotten so bad?
Jake's oldest delivered groceries and stocked shelves for Burt down at the market on Tuesdays, while Tommy, the middle child, had a paper route. Even Dotty, his wife, had a job one day a week cleaning for Annie Parker. Her husband owned the town's mill. Jeb Parker did what he could, hiring for a day here, a day there, but few needed what the mill produced, so even Jeb was on hard times. And Sarah, sweet Sarah, was only two years old. This was all she had ever known. How he wished he could make everything better.
Hours later, Jake had reached his lowest point yet. It was dark and snowing even harder, as if that was possible. All day long, Jake had stood in the growing lines for the few jobs that were available, but there were always more men than jobs. Overcome by exhaustion and grief, he sat down hard on the curb, his feet planted in the freezing slush below. With his head in his hands, he fought back unwelcome tears. Jake's spirit was broken and he felt so defeated.
Blinking through tears of resolve, Jake prayed for his immortal soul. "God, help me, I'm worth more dead, than alive." Then, with his service revolver pointed at the roof of his mouth, he suddenly noticed something half buried in the slush between his feet. In quiet disbelief, he slowly reached down and picked up a wet and crumpled fifty dollar bill ...