Elisa closed the shop door. Bitterly cold wind swirled around her, biting through her worn jacket and thin stockings. It had been another long day at Golda's Toys. Anxious parents aware that Christmas had suddenly come within a few days scrambled to pick presents for their children that fit into their meager budgets. She couldn't blame them, not entirely. Not when her own Christmas list was far from complete and her own budget tight.
She stomped her feet against the cold, walking down the dimly lit street towards her apartment building. On days like this, she wished for a vehicle like the ones she saw driving down the street. Or even a horse to make her travel faster. But she always told herself it didn't really make sense. She didn't go anywhere far enough to warrant having an automobile. Instead, she huddled against herself and walked as quickly as she dared. Thankfully, she didn't have far to go.
When she arrived at the building, Elisa walked as quietly as she could up the stairs. Voices reached through the closed doors and into the hallway. The Suttons were arguing again. Little Aggie Maple cried. She'd been teething recently, the poor dear. The Clark children played loudly. When she reached her own floor, things became quieter. She was one of two residents on the top floor of the building.
Elisa shed her winter coat and scarf as she walked into the small apartment. The scent of pine tickled her senses and sent a wave of peace through her. She could use the peace. Her small, simple tree had no candles and only a few, handmade ornaments. She told herself she liked it better this way. No fuss, just a quiet, simple tree. But in her quiet moments, she allowed herself to dream of a grand home with a large, candlelit tree and all the gold and red baubles its branches could hold. Strands of tinsel and a gleaming, golden star. A complete Christmas fantasy that would be the envy of all around.
She sighed and put the dream back in her pocket for another day. For now, she needed to focus on getting supper made for herself and Caleb, her husband. As her stew warmed on the stovetop, she looked over her list of things to do. There was still baking to be done and presents to make for her friends and her husband. Elisa sighed. Things hadn't been easy that year. And time it seemed was always too short.
The door opening shook her from her thoughts. She turned to see her husband walk inside, shaking snow from his dark hair. Her heart skipped a beat. Tall and handsome, Caleb was a gentle soul. He always found ways to make her smile every day. Their wedding two years ago had been a simple one, with plain iron rings exchanged as they didn't have money to purchase gold. She never had received an engagement ring, and that was okay. She didn't need a metal band on her finger to prove Caleb's love. But in quiet moments, she'd dream of a beautiful art deco ring like the ones she'd seen in shop windows. That dream staying in her pocket with the Christmas tree.
"Good evening, Elisa," he said, his tenor voice soft and sweet. "How was your day today?"
She smiled. "Busy. It seems just about everyone was in to get something for a child."
He nodded. "I don't believe any parent wants their child to go without on Christmas." As she set the table, Caleb set his jacket on the coat rack. "Can I help you with anything?"
"No, but thank you."
"It's gotten cold out there recently, hasn't it?" Caleb asked, looking out the small window to the street below.
"Yes. That's why I enjoy my knitting so much. It helps warm me up."
He glanced at the basket of yarn and needles she'd pointed to. "What are you working on right now?"
"Mittens for the Clark children. I noticed yesterday they weren't wearing any. I know it's been a hard year for them. I hope I can finish them before Christmas."
Caleb nodded. "It has. That would be a wonderful present to go with the small toys I've carved for them. I'm sure their parents haven't been able to procure anything."
Elisa filled two bowls with stew and set one in front of Caleb before taking her own seat. Caleb said grace over their meal. They chatted easily about the neighbors and neighborhood, and their work. When they finished eating, Caleb helped her wash the dishes and put things away. She appreciated the help. With everything done, Caleb stoked the fire in the furnace and they sat together, Caleb reading quietly from the Bible as Elisa worked on the mittens. Despite the heartache and hardship of the year, peace settled over her.
The clock chimed eight. Caleb looked thoughtful a moment before he said, "I wonder if perhaps we could leave our gifts for the Clarks outside their door. Make it a surprise for them. A bit of real Christmas magic for those little ones."
Elisa smiled. "I think that's a grand idea."
He kissed her cheek gently. "It's probably time for us to turn in, dear."
Knowing she needed to be up early to go to work, Elisa nodded. "Let me finish this mitten, and I'll be right there."
Christmas morning, Elisa spent more time than usual getting ready. She chose her nicest dress and the stockings with the least noticeable holes. She took the pins out of her hair, allowing the overnight curls to fall about her shoulders. She brushed and styled it before putting on her cloche hat. Though the dress and hat were no longer in vogue, they were the nicest she had, and reminded her of happier, easier times. Caleb held her coat as she put it on. Together they walked downstairs, stopping in front of the Clarks' door to leave the mittens and little wooden toys with a simple note Elisa had written, "Merry Christmas from St. Nicholas." She continued down the stairs while Caleb took a moment to knock on the door before joining her.
The Christmas service was beautiful. Reverend Green gave a lovely sermon on the hope of Christ. She leaned against Caleb's side. Despite the hardship she and her husband had faced, she did have hope.
When the service concluded, she and Caleb walked back to their apartment, noting happily that several of the Clark children had donned their new mittens to play in the snow. Elisa allowed herself a tiny smile. As they walked inside, she put the leftover stew on the stovetop to warm before sitting with Caleb next to the Christmas tree. They exchanged gifts, Caleb handing her a small, simply wrapped box. He pulled away the wrapping on the new fingerless gloves she'd made for him with a matching scarf and hat. "These will be perfect in the carpentry shop. It gets so cold in there, but regular gloves would be impractical."
"I'm glad you like them," she said, beginning to untie the strings on the package. When she removed the paper, she gasped to see a velvety jewelry box. Tears pricked her eyes as she lifted the lid to reveal the art deco ring from her dreams. The stones were small, but the twinkling diamonds and rubies could not have been more perfect.
"It's the ring I always wanted for you to have."
"Oh, Caleb," she said quietly. "How did you ever manage it?"
He smiled. "You, my darling, are worth a few small sacrifices each day." He pulled her close for a gentle kiss. "Merry Christmas, Elisa."