The ass stood up against a wall, tethered and watching. He was watching what the man and the woman were doing. The woman was very frightened. She lay on the blanket that she had sat upon as she rode the ass. She was on her back with her round belly facing up and she was clutching the man’s hand. The man was kneeling over her and was quite frightened himself. He spoke slowly and quietly to her though. His whispers calmed her, but every few minutes she would raise her voice and cry out again. The night was cold, even with the small fire burning in the firepit.

The ass watched it all and his long face showed no expression, except for his eyes. His eyes darted around quickly when she cried out. He took quick nervous steps around the small corner to which he was confined by the rope. He was not sure what the man and woman were so frightened about, but he did not want to be tied up and he was hungry. The loud cries startled him and he wanted to be outside where it was quieter. As the cries grew louder and more frequent, he began to pace more quickly and pulled against his bridle. When they still didn’t look, he began to neigh loudly, mixing his cries with those of the woman. The man looked up, said something to the woman, and walked quickly over to where the ass was tied. He frantically undid the knot and pulled hard on the ass’ lead to bring him out the narrow door. Outside he led him to the nearest post, tied a poor knot, and hurried back inside. The ass was left outside in the dark.

He was glad to be out where it was quiet now. The woman’s cries still sounded through the walls but they were muffled. As the night wore on he slept, being woken from time to time by noises from within and by the cold.
Later the man came out to the post where the ass stood. He was tired and moved slowly compared to before. He came and laid his hand on the ass’ muzzle and stood for several moments, breathing quietly. Finally, he undid the knot and led the ass back inside. He did not bother to tie the ass but simply shut the door, walked over to where the woman now lay sleeping and lay down beside her.


The ass stood in the still and quiet darkness of the room. He did not understand what had happened but he now heard the peaceful breathing of the man and the woman. The fire had heated the barn now and he was glad to be inside. Yet in the midst of the confusion he had not been fed and now he keenly felt his hunger. He looked around the room and saw a trough placed up against the far wall. He walked up to it and bent his head down to eat. Yet as lowered his mouth into the trough, his lips were met not with dry and brittle straw but with something warm and soft. He paused for a moment. Then a different cry rang out loudly in the room.

The ass started, hit the side of the trough with his snout, and hurried back to the corner where he had stood before. He saw the man spring up and feel his way to the side of the trough. The man peered down into the trough and the woman spoke to him with worry in her voice. He spoke back and then reached down and took something out of the trough. The ass then saw that it was a child. He watched the man take it over to the woman and the woman take the child into her arms. The man knelt beside them both for a few moments. Soon the crying stopped and the man and the woman spoke to one another softly. Their voices were calm and the ass heard them laughing. They sat together in silence for a few moments, listening to the child falling slowly back to sleep.

Finally, the man rose and walked over to the ass. He put his hand on his snout and stroked it, speaking quietly to him. The ass stood still and leaned into the man’s hand. After a few minutes, with the child still in the woman’s arms, the man led the ass over to the trough. The ass looked down inside and slowly lowered his head. He felt in the straw the indent of where the child’s body had lain and breathed in his scent. It was still full of the odours of birth, blood, and flesh. With bowed head, the ass ate of the straw until he had had his fill. Then the man led him back to the corner and tied him up again.

With the child back in the trough and the man and woman sleeping once again, the ass stood in silence. The barn was warm and all was quiet. Now that his belly was full, he had largely forgotten the events of the night and he was only thinking of sleep. As the first light of the morning showed under the crack of the door, the contented ass fell asleep, at last able to rest.

St. Peter's Fireside