Slowly the story returns to him. Hannah was the second wife of Elkanah, and unable to have children when Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, had already given him several children. Elkanah loved Hannah more than Peninnah, however, and whenever they went to the temple to offer their sacrifices he gave Hannah an extra helping of the food he had offered. And yet this was not consolation enough; Hannah still longed for children, and one day in the temple made such a show of despair while she prayed for a child that the priest Eli saw her and thought she was drunk. Hearing Hannah’s assurance that she was not drunk, merely in deep distress, Eli hoped that God would grant her her request. Hannah, promising to give to God any child she conceived, went away more hopeful than before. And soon enough she conceived a child and gave birth to a boy, Samuel, who, once weaned, went to serve with Eli at the temple and became one of the greatest prophets of Israel.
How strange, Peter thinks, in this day and age to read a story of a woman whose only wish is to produce a child, not to raise him herself. It hardly seems a story a child of the late twentieth century would have understood; and yet there it is in Alana’s children’s Bible. What, he wonders, did it mean to her when she first read it? Was it simply a fantastical tale to fill her with wonder?
Closing the book, he wanders the room, gazing aimlessly at the objects that scatter the living room – shared memorabilia; wedding photographs; their Leunig calendar with those circles around the 19th to 24th of December, an indication not of the prospect of Christmas but of their increased regimentation in something that used to be spontaneous. His eyes settle on the calendar – the circles, the handwritten notes about family gatherings, the swirly and whimsical cartoon on the page above – and he stands staring at it in a mixture of interest and coldness until he feels Alana’s arms around his waist and her head rested against his shoulders.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she says.
“I didn’t try,” he replies.
She pulls her arms away slowly and walks to his side.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “You know how these things get to me.”
She slowly walks over to the couch where the children’s Bible still sits. Peter follows.
“Read me the story,” says Alana.
Peter picks up the book, still open at the appropriate page, and then looks at Alana.
“Do you want to hear the actual story?” he asks. “Or my version?”
Alana looks at him tiredly. “You decide,” she replies.
He tries for a moment to interpret the look on her face: is it a cue for him to entertain her, to distract her with his silly voices and far-fetched embellishments, or a sign that she is too tired for that sort of thing? He cannot tell. He only has guesswork and a track record of past successes to go on tonight.
“Well then,” says Peter, “my version it is.” And he begins.
Go to Day Nine