Sara was waiting in the front yard when they arrived. She was the teacher at the local school.
“What happened?” she asked. “Johnny, are you alright?”
“Mr. Walsh died in the explosion,” Mary said quietly. “He made Johnny leave before him.”
Sara covered her mouth with her hand. “The brave man. How is Mrs. Walsh doing?”
Abigail shook her head and followed Mary inside.
That night Abigail lay beneath the blankets on the bed she shared with her sisters. She tried to sleep but every time she closed her eyes she saw Mrs. Walsh kneeling beside her husband. And the five children, so young and without a father.
She struggled to her knees, trying to keep from waking Sara and Mary. “Dear God, help the Walshes. Be with them, keep them safe. If there is anything I can do for them let me know. Amen.”
She laid back down and closed her eyes.
The next morning the sun shone but even the brightness of its glory couldn’t erase the horrors of the day before. Abigail’s father and Johnny went to work as they always did. But there was no whistling from her father and Johnny shuffled along.
School had been cancelled until the Christmas season was over. Abigail wandered the house struggling to find something to do.
“Mama, what are the Walsh children going to do for Christmas this year?”
“I don’t know, honey,” her mother replied. “Sweep up the breakfast crumbs and spread them out for birds.”
Abigail took the broom and moved the crumbs into a pile. She scooped them up in her hand and went outside. As she scattered the crumbs she saw Lucy Walsh shuffle by.
“Lucy,” she called. “Wait for me.”
Lucy was the same age as Abigail and they played together at school.
Lucy looked up at Abigail and tried to smile. “Hi.”
“Are you going to be okay?” Abigail asked wrapping an arm around her friend.
Lucy shrugged. “I’m trying to find some work so I can help Mama buy some Christmas presents for the little ones. They deserve some happiness.”
Abigail nodded. “I’ll keep an eye out for jobs. I hope you find something. It doesn’t seem like Christmas without presents.”
She waved goodbye to Lucy and then skipped off to the store. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Van Berg, smiled at her as she stepped into the warm room.
“And how is Miss Abigail this morning?” Mrs. Van Berg asked, sweeping her into a hug.
“I’m okay,” Abigail replied. “Do you have anything for me to do this morning?”
Abigail helped out at the little store when she could and when there was work for her. She was saving up to buy the pretty doll she had seen in the window of a store in the city.
“A new order of buttons came in this morning,” Mrs. Van Berg replied. “You can sort them.”
Abigail nodded and hurried to the button drawers. She opened the box and ran her fingers through the cool buttons. Scooping up a handful she began to drop them into the proper drawers.
“Abigail,” Mr. Van Berg said. “We will be closed for Mr. Walsh’s funeral tomorrow.”
Abigail didn’t say anything. What could she say? The buttons made dull clinks as they dropped into the drawers. Was that how the Walsh’s house sounded? Empty without Mr. Walsh’s laughter and jokes? Was it dull there now?
Whenever Abigail visited the Walshes she had laughed along with the family at the funny stories Mr. Walsh told. He always seemed to be laughing. Now his laughter would be missing from parties and family gatherings.