Maria felt accepted. For a long time she had not thought of all the things that still lay in her car. It would turn out sometime, and then it would fit. She took more and more work from her grand-aunt. In the first few days, when they had done the activities in the stable together, Maria said more and more to her grand-aunt, „I’ll do it.“ And she had the impression that Magdalena was very grateful to her. It was Maria, as if the forces of her grand-aunt were diminishing, even if she seemed to move as always. Maybe it was half the minute she sat down, gathering short powers before moving from one place to the other. Maria had become more attentive and amiable. She thought for a moment that her grand-aunt had been waiting for someone to entrust her to her animals she shared her life with, that she would last until it was time to go carefree, but with a shudder Maria pushed aside this idea. Moreover, she scolded herself for such a request. Her great-aunt was already 92 years old, but so far she had mastered everything without any problems. Why should it suddenly be different? But then she distracted a noise.
„Do you hear that?“ Maria asked abruptly.
„What?“, came a question from the kitchen, where her aunt was brewing tea.
„It sounds like a whimper,“ said Maria, listening intently.
„That’ll be Mia or Mara,“ Magdalena replied shortly.
„No, the two are purring on the stove bench, and have no reason to whimper, „Maria replied shortly, „In addition, their whining sounds quite different.“ She heard her own words in amazement, astonished, because they already so differentiate had learned. It had become cold during the night. The winter showed itself from its most relentless side, so that the snow had lost its lightness and was frozen to heavy chunks.
„I think that’s coming from outside,“ Maria explained after listening carefully again.
„I do not think anyone or anything ventures out in the cold, but you can check it out,“ Magdalena said, realizing she was not leaving her niece alone while she turned to the cats with the hot tea put on the stove bench.
„Good,“ said Maria, carefully opening the door. Immediately she cut the icy air through her skin. Her gaze wandered over the surrounding landscape to last close. There was nothing but a black ball in the middle of the door. It looked like old rags, carelessly thrown. Maria crouched down to take a closer look at the indefinable something. Only then did she realize what it was, and a brief cry of horror escaped her throat.
„My God, that lives!“
A few minutes later she had brought the black fur balls into the house and placed them on a blanket in front of the fireplace. The cats had not moved, except that they watched lazily what was going on, while Maria knelt over it and tried to get a picture. It was a bitch, a pitch-black bitch, apparently so powerless that her eyes would not open. Gently, Maria put her hand on the side of the bitch and felt the bones under the fur. She seemed to be very emaciated. By contrast, the teats were haggard. The breath was only very slow and shallow. Fixedly, Maria looked at the dog. Never before had she felt so threateningly close to death.
„She has exhausted herself completely,“ Maria suddenly heard the voice of her grand-aunt beside her, „A bitch gives everything, including her own life, to save her puppies. I think it comes from the hermit up the hill. He has often had bitches when they had a litter, but he could not have done that in the middle of winter. “
„We will be able to save her?“ Mary asked, although she was afraid of the answer or because she wanted to hear that she was wrong.
„I’m afraid we will not be able to do much more,“ Magdalena said, shaking her head, feeling how close her niece was, „But I think it would be in her best interests to take care of her little ones. All the way to this point she has brought them, one after the other, instinctively looking for someone to look after the puppies when she can no longer. She is a smart girl. Now she can be quiet. Everything is good.“
And while the bitch was lying down, still with her eyes closed, there really seemed to be something like calm. Now she could rest, let go, finally sleep. Slowly the little ones began to stir. Lumbering they sought the closeness of the mother. The warmth seemed to invigorate them, so they wanted to touch their teats immediately. Uncontrolled, just like a puppy, they came across it, but there was nothing left. Whining, they let go after a few tries.
„You need something to eat,“ Maria said succinctly, „The bitch seems to be out of milk. What should we do?“
„I think our Lisa will be willing to give up some of her milk,“ Magdalena said shortly, then went over to the barn and milked the cow that gave birth to a calf in the summer. A few minutes later she returned with a full pot of milk, which she warmed by the oven and filled into two small bottles. These few minutes, Maria seemed like hours, as if these very minutes would decide whether the puppies were alive or not.
„Two vials?“ Maria asked, confused, „But how is that supposed to work, there are four puppies?“
„And we’re only two,“ Magdalena smiled, very grateful that Maria showed such concern and took care of the little one. She was back, the girl of yore, for whom life was more important than anything else.
„Here,“ said Magdalena, handing one bottle to Maria while she took the other herself. Carefully, they both took one of the puppies in their lap and offered them the milk from the vial. At first it was difficult, but as soon as they realized that it was good what came out, they sucked on it until they fell asleep with exhaustion. Then they put the two back and took the other two before. Soon all five were asleep in front of the fireplace. Maria sat next to it, agitated and worried, when she suddenly felt Magdalena put her hand reassuringly on her shoulder, very gently, a small, warm hand.
„They’ll do it,“ her grand-aunt said softly, and it sounded convincing. Maybe because Maria wanted it to sound convincing.
„I hope so, all five,“ Maria replied, unable to take her eyes off them. Silently and peacefully they slept, apparently content with themselves and the world, „They do not think about tomorrow or retirement coverage, only that now they have found a place where they can be.“
„That’s right,“ Magdalena confirmed, „but we should rest now. We will still need our strength in the next few days. “
„You’re probably right,“ said Maria, who now noticed her exhaustion. „May I sleep here today? I do not want to leave her alone. “
„Of course,“ Magdalena replied, and while Maria set up her camp beside the dogs, the cats were still sitting on the fireplace, watching with moderate interest.
And when Mary lay down, she knew that this life had been entrusted to her. She had accepted the entrusted and wanted to take care of herself as best she could. And the colors that wove the shuttle into life’s web image were bright as a new morning. And it was the evening of the ninth day of Advent.