The Gift: Fourth Candle (Day Nineteen)

The days of the week pass quietly, uneventfully. The disappointment of Tuesday gone, they seem somehow calmer, less angry but also less active, as though they are only limping through the day, unable to fight, unable to run. When the dates circled on the calendar arrive, although no longer carrying the meaning they had done a week ago, they go to bed together with efficiency: disciplined, not passionate, but with a kind of quiet affection that makes it a little more than a routine. And then they sleep, and in the morning they go to work and into their days. Alana’s stomach cramps pass, anticlimactically, and she settles into the quiet stoicism of the week.

When Sunday arrives they go to church as if by reflex, without discussion or agreement. The fourth candle is lit, the Bible read; and because it is Christmas in two days, they sing only carols. The boy and girl who prayed for them last week smile when they see them; at the greeting of peace, the girl, introducing herself as Emma, speaks to Alana and says she is praying for them. Alana thanks her; they swap phone numbers. They will catch up, they agree, for a coffee after Christmas. And then briefly they exchange Christmas holiday itineraries, with a mutual interest that might be more than just polite: Emma is going to Sydney to see her family; Peter and Alana will travel to Albury tomorrow, for Christmas Eve. Alana’s siblings will arrive on Tuesday morning. Then the greeting of peace ends and they return to their seats.

When it is time for the sermon, they feel strangely tired, as though it would take energy to sit and listen tonight. The topic – “Mary’s Song”, it is called on the screen – means little to them, and describes a state that they cannot quite understand. They have sung carols tonight, yes, and there was something comforting in an act so like childhood that they had been for a moment transported out of their pervasive dryness, but now there seems little to sing about. The walls of the church seem flat and dull.

Alana’s attention is caught first when she hears Hannah’s name mentioned. Ears pricking up, she turns to Peter. It seems somehow a sore topic to hear tonight; Peter frowns, and Alana shifts in her seat. When Mary heard the news that she was pregnant, the minister says, she broke into song. And her song mirrored another song earlier in the Bible – the song of Hannah. Perhaps Mary was inspired by Hannah, or perhaps she simply felt moved to say the same things. But they should look, he says, at Hannah’s song, and Hannah’s story, to help them understand what Mary is expressing. And so he begins to tell the story, and Peter and Alana sit awkwardly listening to the story they have never finished and now doubt that they want to hear.

Go to Day Twenty

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