She sang the words in a thin, dry voice, cracked and quiet. The room was in the evening's shadow, the grey-orange of the chilly dusk beyond the glass of the window. The words glided unassumingly over the strident bleat of car horns, over the rush of tires over the wet roads, the sounds of the City in perpetual, indifferent motion. And, once they had been spoken, there was just the din and the echo of their absence, as though they had not been spoken at all.
She struck a match and held it to the wick of the shamesh candle. The din of the City for a moment receded from her awareness. She was intent upon the little yellow light. The flame took and danced desperately atop the white wax, as though panicked by its own fragility. And then, after a span of six or seven seconds, during which she did not blink, the madcap flicker quietened as the wax liquesced and was drawn up into the fire. The light had realised that it would be sustained for now despite the cold shadowed place into which it was kindled. She shook out the match and placed the half-charred remnant on the window sill.
Then she took the shamesh candle from its socket. The fire, alarmed by the sudden motion, danced frantically again. She nursed it in a shielding hand and then, carefully, touched it to the other eight waxen tapers. And as she lit them, one after the other, she sang the Ha-Neyrot Halalu2 in her reedy, unmelodious voice. Each flame was the same - the same precarious trembling and then a quietness. She worked from left to right and, when all the candles were burning, she set the shamesh back in its place, watching over its devoted little brothers.
Beyond the glass, burning cold to touch, the crepuscular light was dimming, hardening into the steely rust of the sodium-stained City night. Despite this she did not draw the curtains. She did this for the world to see these nine tiny lights. She did this so they would see - the people walking past in the street below, crouched up in overcoats against the winter air, breath steaming over chilled fingers clutched to their mouths. She did it so they would remember, remember something that happened many years, many winters, many huddled frozen nights ago in another city far away.
So she watched the nine flames and their phantoms in the gloomy mirror of glass and twilight. And she remembered.
When God first created the heaven and the earth they were in complete darkness. There was only the roaring wind from His wings as He passed over the black seas. So He had said, Yehi Or!3 And with those words, in the midst of that great primordial darkness, the first light had begun to burn. Alone in that tenebrous world, the light was good.
And that Yehi Or had echoed and rung down through the days of humankind. Some slight candle had always burned against the night. The weight of death and darkness would have crushed that little light and it would have gone out. But He had said Yehi Or and so he sustained that small flame against every gust and chill and shadow. He did it so His creatures could see the light and know that He had not abandoned his creation but was there in that tenuous yellow glow. And it was at this time of year that creation remembered - as the days shortened and the nights waxed, when it seemed that the sun would stop dawning altogether and the cold night would go on forever - then the year turned. The light did not go out. This feast of the unconquered sun was as old as humanity. Older. The animals and the birds, the trees and the flowers hailed the light that endured against the crowding darkness.
But she, and these nine candles and their thin ghosts reflected in the window, recalled a particular winter, a particular darkness, in a particular place at a particular time long ago, a particular light that did not go out. But she understood that it also stood for all winters and all times. It stood for a light that shone on through every darkness. A light inaugurated at the beginning of the world.
And there was evening.
* * *
She dreamed he had come to Rick's. He looked older but the same. His beard was shot through with more silver but his gaze was steely as ever. He was sitting at one of her tables.
There was a hollow fear in her chest and her bowels. Every smallest movement toward him was an enormity of effort. She dragged herself, increment by increment, to the table. She was terrified but compelled by the logic of dreams to advance.
And he looked up with dark, dark eyes. So this is what you are doing, he said with infinite disappointment. Waiting tables?
She said, this is what I am doing. And I am happy.
And he laughed and he said, no. No you are not. But there was an almost imperceptible accent of trepidation in his words that she had never heard before.
She said, no not happy. Not yet. But there is the possibility of happiness. The possibility of peace.
And he said, the possibility of happiness? What is that but eternal grieving? The hope of happiness glimmers like a candle flame, and it is snuffed out in a moment.
And she smiled and she said, yes, but it is better and more powerful than the darkness. However small it is. However fragile.
And there was morning.