Cold gnaws at the house. Chill seeps through the brick walls and pours across the floor in invisible rivulets that seek out and nip at toes. Frost crawls up the windows, riming every pane. The children scrape at it and giggle when snow falls to the sill. The furnace cycles ceaselessly. On. Off. On. Off. It's not truly cold inside, but still we huddle, cringing at the creaks and pings of a house under assault.
The fireplace crackles. Before it one dog rolls and yips, reveling in the heat. The other dog stomps in circles and flops down, satisfied with her warm nest. My children tumble to the floor and lean against their living pillows, snuggling into the warmth, absorbing the animal stillness and drooping into sleep. I sit above, tangled on the couch in a mess of blankets, jealous of their ease. The dogs grow restless, slinking out from under their young masters. My babies have grown far too big for me to carry up the stairs, so I collect blankets and tuck them in together on the floor.
I remain vigilant through the night, stoking the fire, keeping the children covered. The dogs paw at my feet and only reluctantly withdraw from the couch. I am minded to let them up, but that is a step from which I never can retreat. I draw the line.
I doze, wakened occasionally by restless stirring on the floor or cold breezes that herald the need for more wood. Toward morning I stretch and pet the dogs who have slunk up beside me. Their trespass was forgiven in the darkest hours, when my ankles grew cold and their company was a balm. Dawn comes slowly, heralded by a halo of salmon and peach ice glistening at the tip of every branch.
The children wake. They are gleeful at finding themselves downstairs, on the floor, together. It is different, and different is good. Seeing me, they leap. Soon the sun will rise high and the freeze will wane. Until then I hold my children, basking in their warmth.