This story was written for the December Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!
Night pushed against the window, chilling Dr. Jasmine as she looked out over the empty street. Up the stairs drifted the scents of baking chicken with sage and rosemary and simmering cider with cloves and cinnamon. The houses across the street stood silent against the frost.
The feast would wait until her guests arrived, and she could steal this moment to remember.
Christmas Eve had seemed darker then, forty years ago, during her season of disappointment. She spent the night alone. She had a shift at the hospital on Boxing Day, and the train fare seemed too costly to return home for just one day. At the beginning of fall, she’d learned that she hadn’t been accepted into medical school; this was the empty time when promises and dreams hung suspended.
She had clung to her childish belief in the magic of Christmas for so long. This night, she decided, she would watch Christmas arrive, so that she could see for herself, with her own eyes, that there was no magic. She would see that it was just another night, like any night, without reindeer bells or epistles from stars or whispers of angel wings.
No better time than now, she felt, when all her dreams lay folded within her, for her to put aside, too, her childish trust in miracles, once and for all.
She placed her chair before the window so that she could watch the day come. It is the revolution of the earth, she reminded herself, that brings day, not the hands of the clock nor the turning of the page in the calendar.
She had sat vigil before, but always with someone or for something. As a nurse, she had spent long nights waiting for a life to depart–and sometimes, even, for a new life to arrive. Tonight she sat with no one and for nothing–that is, not to bring about anything, but to face nothing. If she could feel that there was no magic, once and for all, she could learn to live without a dream. And if she could live without a dream, then she could learn to move through this empty time. This was the pragmatic course–let magic die, for it had never existed in actuality anywhere except her imagination.
The first few hours of vigil were interrupted by carolers, festive guests on their ways to the homes of family and friends, and renegade children, waging campaigns after dark. In spite of her resolution, she had to smile at the laughter, the chatter, the singing. But in the long hours before midnight, she settled into the chill and faced the dark frozen spot within her.
It was dark indoors and out–a little starlight, the full moon, the liquid sliding of streetlight–just enough hint of brightness to emphasize the shadows.
In her, the shadow felt darkest–it spread itself throughout her, starting from the spot where her dream had been and then filling all the space within her. Sitting there in the quiet, she became curious about this darkness inside her. Would it be there always?
The bells chimed–midnight on the darkest night.
As the ringing bells faded, silence wrapped around her. She felt the silence within join the silence without; the darkness within merge with the darkness without.
She sat, and all of her attention settled into the silent darkness.
Darkness and silence were not empty–not a void but a fullness. There was no nothingness. Everywhere was something. Even sitting in stillness, the moment was full. What was it full of? It was full of her–of this sense of listening, waiting, wonder.
She looked down the empty street.
As her gaze fell upon a tree, an icicle, sparkling frost, the dark lines in the sidewalk, a frozen blade of grass, a star, a bright cloud, a window laced with ice, she noticed that even on the darkest night, light sparkled.
Where did the light come from?
Inside, her sight rested in the shadow. Her mind fell quiet.
The space inside, where the dream had been, filled with quiet patience.
There would be more, even though tonight she felt that Nothing was enough.
As the moon set and morning slowly spread through the street, she rose and turned toward the sun.
She slept all Christmas day, while the low winter sunlight slowly traipsed across the bed.
When she woke, she felt the peace which surpasses all understanding, and she carried her silence with her through the late afternoon, the evening, through Christmas night, and into the next day, when she brought this silence to her shift at the hospital.
“Someone had a merry Christmas!” said her friend Sonia. “You look positively radiant!”
Dr. Jasmine smiled at her memory. That had been such a long time ago! She had found her way through that, to the path that lay waiting for her, so she could greet others after their dark nights, which, she knew, they could only face alone.
Every Christmas Eve since, no matter how many friends and neighbors would fill her house, she always stole a few moments alone, at the window, to face the dark again, and to remember.
The doorbell rang, and she bustled down the stairs to welcome her friends.
Diane Oh burst in.
“It’s Christmas!” she shouted. “We’re here! It can begin!”
And Dr. Jasmine chuckled.
“You can’t have Christmas alone, can you, Dr. Jasmine?” Diane Oh asked.
“Oh, my dear friend,” said Dr. Jasmine, “I remember Christmas best alone. But now that I’ve done that, I am happy to make new memories with you!”
We think of Christmas as light, friends, family, and warmth. Yet it is alone, in silence, wrapped in our own darkness, where we can meet the fullness of our own brave spirit. And for Dr. Jasmine, that was the true magic of the season.