A Solstice Story
Under the indigo light, the twilight roads glistened with rain, but the clouds were clearing now, and the sky of the winter solstice was luminous and streaked with pink. In the windows of the houses, yellow lights snapped on one by one, and as their curtains were drawn, the girl caught sparkling glimpses of tinsel and fairy lights.
Up in the woodlands that were silhouetted on the soft curve of the hills to the south, a roe deer raised her lovely face to the silver sliver of rising moon. A hare hopped from her form and twitched her black tipped ears at the sounds of faraway cars taking people home to their families for the night. Or home to their cats. Or to the television. Or for some people, home to nothing but loneliness.
In the skies over the commons, wisps of jackdaws rose and fell noisily as they settled into their roosts for the night.
The girl, Asha, walked past the well-lit houses. She walked past the houses where Christmas music could be heard behind the closed doors. She stopped, instead, at a quiet house, dark but for a single candle burning on the window ledge.
Asha stood before the window, and waited to be seen. It was getting dark, but she knew that there were children in the house. Children often seemed to sense the way the light changed as it bent around her, and would look up from whatever they were doing. It wasn’t always the way with adults. Sometimes adults would not see her for days, and often they were so busy they did not see her at all.
Sure enough, in only a few minutes the surprised face of a girl appeared at the window. Asha smiled, and the girl raised a shy hand. Asha could not wave back, so instead she nodded and smiled again. After a moment, the girl disappeared from the window. When she reappeared again it was in the widening crack of the front door, with her mother and her two sisters besides her.
“I told you,“ the girl said, looking up at her mother, and her mother rested her hand on her daughter’s head and said, “yes, Sweetheart, you did.”
Asha moved into the shaft of light that fell out from within the house onto the path, so they could see her better. Her eyes were kind and wise, and so familiar to the mother that when she looked into them she caught her breath and raised a hand to her lips in surprise.
The smallest girl approached her cautiously, as you might approach a wild creature. “Hello?” she said. It was said like that, like a question.
“What’s your name?”
“And I’m –“
“It’s OK, “said Asha, “I know you.”
The mother stepped forwards then. “Asha, why are you out here alone in the cold? Are you lost? Why did you not knock at the door?”
“I couldn’t knock because of this.” Asha raised the box she was holding by way of explanation. The little family looked at the box in her hands. It was almost as big as the girl herself. How had they not noticed it before?
“Come in, you can put it on the table,” the mother said.
“I will come inside for a moment, thank you,” Asha said, following them into the house, “but I can’t put it down.”
“I have to carry it forever.”
“Who says you have to?” asked one of the children. “It’s not fair to make a child carry something so heavy.”
“That’s just how it is,” said Asha. “Don’t worry, it is not always so big. It’s true, some days it weighs so much all I can think about is how heavy it is. But I’ve carried it for a long time now, and sometimes it is so small I hardly notice it at all.”
“What do you have in such a strange box,” the tallest girl asked, “that could grow and shrink like that?”
Asha took a deep breath then, as though readying herself to hold more weight. “In my box,” she said, “is the smell of his skin. There is a lost future I had imagined. There is the first time we played chess and he let me win. There is the space where answers should be. Sometimes even an empty space can feel heavy.” And as she spoke, the box in her hands grew larger, but not large enough to hide from them the tears that rolled down her cheeks.
“I’m so sorry,” said the mother.
“How can we help you?” said one of her daughters. And the other girls wrapped their arms around Asha, and as they did so her box indeed became smaller again. None of it made sense.
“Thank you,” Asha said, “but it’s not the time for you to help me.”
“Then why did you come here to us?” the mother asked.
“I came to tell you that your box will not always be so heavy.”
And just as they were all about to tell her that she was mistaken, and that none of them carried a box, they each felt the weight of it in their hands, a weight so heavy that they fell together on to their knees. And one of the children cried out in anger because she did not want the box, but she could not let it go. And one of the children wept because holding the box made her feel terribly sad. And the third child looked at her mother in fear, because the box was so heavy she did not think that she could bear it. And the mother looked at her daughters with her eyes full of love, and she took a little more of the weight in her own hands, and said to them, “we are stronger than you think.”
Up in the woodlands to the south, now blanketed in dark for the longest night of the year, the jackdaws moved closer together against the whistle of the wind, the brown hare ate her modest supper in silence, and the roe deer lowered her lovely head and allowed herself to rest a while.