Snow was falling on the day she was released from the hospital – not in hard
pelts but in gentle drifts that fell softly like a kiss. Her face was mostly
covered by a blanket, to keep the cold from her lungs, yet through a tiny
opening she could see the flakes falling and she longed to reach out one
of her hands and hold one of them. She was five months old, but she had
never known the sunlight or breeze, the rain or snow. She had never known
anything but the cold floor of sickness and abandonment at ten days old and
the hospital the days after.

Strange voices outside. One embracing her, the other standing just out of
her view through the crack of the blanket. After awhile, the voices stopped
and she was handed over. Handed over to someone new, someone who would take her to her new place of existence. An orphanage. She could never know what the voices said, or what it meant to go to this place. Never know the hope
on one hand of having survived septicemia and having grown healthy enough to
leave alive. Never know the dismal reality on the other hand that the orphanage might very
well define the existence of her entire childhood. So she went, silent and without protest, pulling her hand – still bruised and scabbed from the
intravenous needles that had been there for as long as she remembered -
close to her mouth so that she might suck her fingers. Without
understanding, she went.

There was a room with a bed here for her, with high metal slats, and a window
in the corner where the sunlight came in. The bed was not empty, she
realized, as she was placed in it. For a single second as she was lowered to
that place she caught a glimpse of large dark eyes and black hair. A small
face on the other side peeking out from beneath the blankets. Another child
shared this bed with her.

She was settled in beneath the covers and where she could see the snow
falling past the window in the corner. She stared at it awhile, and then at
the ceiling above her. Suddenly something moved – ever so gently – next to
her, bumping along her side. She reached one of her hands toward that
movement and took hold of something. It was a leg, heavily clad in knitted
pants, with a stocking foot at the end. She pulled at this leg and it
pulled back. She hung on tighter and it pulled harder. Another foot came to
rest on her chest, building leverage in order to save its partner. A grunt
came from the owner of those legs; the face at the other side of the bed.
Finally, the pressure on her chest caused her to lose her grip on the leg,
which moved quickly away from her. She sighed and put her fingers in her
mouth and stared at the window once more.

Moments later, the foot came back to rest beside her once more. It quivered
softly there, as if daring her to capture it once more. She pulled her
fingers from her mouth and gently reached to touch the stocking. Back and
forth, she ran her hands across this foot, unwilling to hold it too tightly
for fear it might flee once more. It stayed there beside her, and she could
feel a warmth – a comforting human warmth – emanating from it. She pushed
her face against it, and felt the warmth against her cheek. She breathed its
fragrance. She embraced it in her arms, opening them only a short time later
to let the other foot in too. Later – if she lived to be a grown up girl -
she might cringe at the idea of another’s feet in her face. But at five
months old and in an place where too many children needed holding for any to
get enough of it, these feet were often the only life she could hold onto.

She awoke one morning to a horrible pain at the end of her legs. She blinked
in the dim light coming from the window. Her left foot was uncovered, cold.
Something had pulled her sock off. She felt something manipulating that cold
foot, then felt the hot wetness of a mouth. And then, sharp teeth on her
toes. She yelped and tried to pull away, but the hands holding her there
were stronger than she had been. She kicked and flailed, and yet the
sensation remained the same; hot, wet and biting. She doubled up and inched
her body sideways, until finally the hands had to let go. Her face was
pressed hard against the slats of the crib, her hands were upon the soft
warmth of the other child’s belly. She gripped the cloth there and pulled
herself slowly toward it, panting and straining with the effort. Finally,
her sockless foot felt the leg of that other being, their bodies lined up
straight. There was breath on her cheek, and two glittering eyes stared into
her own.

And the being became more than a pair of feet. She reached her almost healed
hand to touch those cheeks. Her fingers explored that mouth, feeling in an
instant of painful surprise the presence of the two brand new teeth there.
The being had hands of its own that found their way to stroke her hair and
tickle her beneath her chin. She smiled at this, and this other person
smiled too. They embraced there for moments, twin heartbeats beneath the
sheets and twin eyes each watching the other pair with something only
described as joy. They were strangers no longer.

All too soon, the workers came. They laughed at the predicament of these two
silly children embracing as lovers on the same side of the bed, and she with
one of her socks pulled clear off. They marveled over the other’s new teeth.
She was taken to be fed, the other taken to be washed. Pulled apart and
separate now and it made her cry for the other, as the other cried too for
her.

They found themselves, a short time later, back in bed facing opposite
directions. She reached again for the feet, yet remembered the face. And so
this marked a number of days with a longing for eyes and mouth and breath
once more. The other got another tooth, this time on the top, and its biting
increased. The other was talented at removing socks, and she tried to
remember the feel of the peeling of that knit layer so she could make her own
fingers work that way on the other’s feet too. The other was so much a part
of her, with it’s feet and eyes and teeth. They grew there in that little
bed, each finding legs becoming longer and the feet more accessible. They
taught each other a language there that only they could understand. They had
secrets, those two, that nobody else could ever know.

And then suddenly it all ended. She, taken from the bed one day, with one last
glimpse at the other lying there, and she never returned. Pulled apart and
separate, she grew without the other. Her world became a world of faces, of
mother and father and sisters. Of new places. Of home. Of sunlight and
breeze, of rain and snow. Of rocking chairs and teddy bears. Of new people
who would draw in shocked breaths and laugh uncomfortably as she – having
lived to be a grown up girl of almost two years, and having honestly
forgotten those glittering eyes and three brand new teeth – would slip to the
floor, and pull their stocking feet close to her so she could feel the warmth
of them against her cheek and breath in the life of them. So she would know
that they were strangers no longer.