The Little Match Girl

She struck the last match. A spark slid along the thin, tattered box and leapt onto the end of the tiny match she cradled in her hands, herself tucked into a corner that cut the wind blowing down the street. Snow fell gently around her. She stared into the last timid seconds of the flame and conjured up warm, laughing fireplaces, and roast turkeys, and red woollen mittens with little balls on the end.

Abruptly, the flame left the match and what remained was a thin trail of smoke. With no fire remaining, she now stared into the thin ashen streak. Or rather, past it; into the vacant cold air surrounding her and what remained of the smoke. She had run out of matches, and in the morning her frozen body would be lying in the corner of the sandstone building, slumped over the third and fourth steps. But that was the morning, and a long night still lay ahead.

As the last speck of grey ash disappeared, she wanted to simply fall off the page, to collapse into a tender, familiar epilogue. Instead, she was here: looking at a lifeless, half-burnt stick. There was only a distant sense of loss, for she was not separated from warmth; instead it no longer existed and the acidic taste of the cold became a single note, a white wall enclosing a small, white room.

Briefly, she yearned for sadness and tried to glimpse the reflection of her grief, and then, it too fell under the droned tone of the cold. The sky was still a rich, deep blue; it would be many hours until that coldest time just as the sky begins to brighten. The street was dusted white except for several thick brown lines scored through the middle by carriages. Distant yelling from a bar blended into a low hum, interrupted now and then by the rising and falling hooves and wheels, passing hopelessly. She didn't cry, rub her arms for warmth, or huddle into the nook afforded by the bank's ornate exterior. Instead, she faded into her own existence, subsumed by its singular, urgent call. Cold.

And then, it was too much. The narrative sweeps up, above the street and the sandstone building, swirling as it looks down past lilting snowflakes, while the sun rises and the sounds of life return with a warm hum. Daybreak brings with it the immense tragedy. The frozen eyes of the crumpled figure do not witness this catharsis. They are fixed, staring into the dark blue night, waiting for hours to come, and carriages to pass, and the last, grey wisp of smoke to drift into oblivion.