Rose opened the cupboard for the third time. She stood on tiptoes hoping some food would magically appear. The kids were awake, and they would be hungry.
“Tom, leave Nina alone. It’s time to get up,” Rose yelled.
From the little galley kitchen, she could see Tom trying to take the bedcover off his sister.
“Hurry, we have to go.”
The family had been homeless since their house burned down six months earlier. They had lived in a motel room paid by the Red Cross for a while. When the assistance ran out, they moved to a shelter and then to a camp in an empty lot behind some warehouses. While there, a welfare worker had told her about a new housing program. Rose immediately applied, and they had moved into a tiny low-rent unit two weeks ago. The agency had paid the deposit and first month’s rent and was helping her find a job. They had given her $100 that Rose had used for groceries and a bottle of vitamins for Nina. Now the food was gone, and she still had not found a job.
She looked at the avocado green refrigerator and felt a pang of hunger. There had not been enough food for her the previous night, and she had gone to bed on an empty stomach. She opened the refrigerator, the light flickered, and went out. Nothing in there but an egg and some small catsup packages.
“What’s for food? I’m hungry,” Tom declared as he climbed up on the chair, his curly black hair covering his eyes. He needs a haircut, Rose thought.
“I’m cooking. Let’s wait for Nina,” Rose said.
She knew if she placed the food before him, he would eat his portion and Nina’s before she even got to the table. Although two years younger, Tom was almost Nina’s height, with chubby cheeks and strong, long legs. Nina was scrawny and sickly. Rose worried about her kids all the time, especially Nina. She looked thinner and more lethargic every day.
“Come on, Nina. Mommy gonna go get a job today,” Rose coaxed Nina to get out of bed.
“What you going buy me?” Nina asked. Her big brown eyes rimmed by dark circles.
“A big doll,” Rose said without conviction, but she knew it was what Nina wanted to hear.
Someone had taken Nina’s doll at the last shelter, and she had cried for days. Rose had promised she’d buy her a new doll when she got a job.
She scrambled the egg and tossed in the catsup.
“Mommy’s making red eggs.”
“Again? I don’t like red eggs,” Nina complained. She didn’t like anything.
She remembered there might be crackers left in the metal tin inside the cupboard. She had to hide food from Tom, or he’d eat everything at once. She pulled a chair and climbed to reach the top shelf. She noticed something she hadn’t seen before, a thick wad of dollar bills inside a yellowed envelope.
Her legs wobbling like jelly, she carefully climbed down. Her hands trembled as she started to count. The kids gathered around her. Nina knew her numbers and counted to fifty-two. Tom mimicked his sister. Their eyes growing wider and wider as Rose placed each bill on the table. There was more money than they could count. When Nina finished, she sat, tears streaming down her face.
“Mommy, we have money! Can you get me a doll?” Nina asked. Tom jumped up and down. He didn’t know about money, but he knew this was a reason to celebrate.
Three hundred and twenty-nine dollars. Enough to cover next month’s rent, giving them one more month of hope. By then, she surely would have found a job.
“A red truck for me,” Tom added.
“Yes, kids. Our luck has finally changed.”