All at once someone’s eye caught the clock, and there was a great bustling and a rush for coats and hats and scarves. Last pieces of pie were quickly eaten and they were sweeter for the quickness. The boy found dishes from around the room, even ones hidden behind piles of books and in corners, and brought them to the sink, where a monumental cleansing was taking place.

            When the house was cleaner than they had found it, but with the furniture in new places that did not fit their shapes, and they all had thicker skins because of the coats and scarves and borrowed gloves, they went out into the snow.

            There was no moon and the only light came from the street lamps. The snow was deep now and the people in front pushed through it slowly. Each foot made the path wider and flatter and the boy thought that they looked like great solemn whales moving along the ocean floor, all in a line, migrating somewhere along a current they had followed since the beginning of time. The trees and houses were dark and tall except where the street lamps were, and the boy began to measure time not by steps but by the interval passing of the lamps overhead. He walked behind in the smoothest part and his brother followed him, with a hat too large falling down over his eyes. His brother reached up and took his hand in his own small hand.

            No one laughed now. Everything was silent.

            When they got to the church the boy looked up. It was a huge, massive thing. On the top was a great dome, made of white and gold bricks, and a gold cross perched like a strange bird on top of that. On clear days the dome could be seen many houses over, reflecting the sun. Then it seemed all covered with gold leaf, beaten out with tiny hammers to trembling fragility over the whole half sphere. Now it was covered with snow.

            A priest stood by the door and received them. His smile was quiet and unexpected, and when they sat in the pew, all together, the boy turned and watched the priest.

            Somewhere high up on a balcony behind them a choir sang. The whole place was half lit and statues stood quietly in shadowy alcoves along the wall. People came in and dipped two fingers in the basin of holy water that hung on the wall and knelt deftly to the cross at the front.

            Two priests walked down the middle aisle, swinging incense out to either side, over the people. Two boys carried crosses after them and counted their steps. Each of them knew what he had to do and where to go and they went there, together but also far apart. They didn’t need anyone else but themselves and the crosses they were carrying and what the crosses meant, and the angles they held the crosses in front of their bodies.

            The boy looked up at the ceiling. It was covered with intricate patterns of tiles, and the boy thought he could recognize, from what his mother had told him years ago, the four apostles. One was a man, one was a winged lion with a great golden mane, one was an ox, and the last was a fierce eagle, all sharp edges and feathers. The boy imagined climbing up onto the back of the lion and flying into the snow and out over the city. The houses were small and dark below them, and the turrets and windows and gables and porches and doors and bricks and mortar turned into streets, then grids, spread out and dark, with pinpricks of light here and there scattered throughout, then the grids disappeared and the earth was completely black, and the boy buried his face in the warm, sweet golden fur of the lion’s back, and the stars came out and made the clouds all silver. The stars began to sing with bright silvery voices like thin gossamer or white spider’s thread, going between things, and the boy thought that this was very beautiful, the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and heard, and he wondered if this, perhaps, was God.

            Then the lights in the church came on blazing and warm, and the choir, which had waited for this, began to sing triumphantly, like thousands of brass trumpets, and everyone stood up and the clock struck midnight and it was, at last, Christmas. 

Literary Conspiracy

It is a delicious feeling to be reading a book in which it has just begun to rain, and to look out the window and find that for you, also, it has begun to rain, as if you were the center of some mysterious and impishly grand conspiracy, the middle cog around which a hidden plot is unfolding, the happy victim of a secret group of aesthetes and literary weathermen, who hold in one hand meteorological charts, graphs showing the movement and consistency of clouds, maps of storm systems and layers of sunshine, and in the other grasp a copy of Paradise Lost by the spine; to find the droplets running down the gray pane of the glass like the round, singular characters of some indecipherable, perhaps asemic, alphabet, falling downwards diagonally as if on the smooth surface of a tilted page.