Sometimes, some nights, her hands fumble, she drops the matches and then she has to stand for a moment, regroup and then, slowly, carefully open the box, grip the new match tightly and light the candles, until they are all glowing inside the coloured glass jars.
And then she feel the children, her children, feels their presence, feels their breaths, warm on this cold night and for the first time that day, she is calm, able herself to breathe without feeling that there is not enough oxygen in the air.
She knows now, that if she is very still, very quiet, that she will, if she concentrates, be able to see them both, just out of the corner of her eyes and so, she stands and waits, willing them to come to her.
Her son is the first, his hair sticking up at impossible angles, face grubby, in need of a good scrub, a soak in the bath and afterwards wrapped in a towel, carried, a bundle of warm, still slightly damp small boy, to bed, his head, suddenly to heavy for him to hold, lolling against her shoulder….she pushes the thought away and instead feel his hand, almost holding hers.
She knows now, not to grab, sudden movements frighten them, send them away, but extends her fingers, one by one, feels almost the touch of his hand in hers and she sighs, risks a look down.
He is not looking at her, his eyes are fixed on the candle light, mouth open, his face glowing in the soft light and they stand together in silence, waiting.
Her daughter is still louder, still more, more drama, more presence, just as she was….before.
The candles flicker and then she is here too, standing next to her mother, face turned away, staring at the flickering night lights.
The pink t-shirt, new that day, seems too thin, inadequate for the chill of this autumn evening.
She wants to gather her up, warm her from her own body, but knows that this will send them away, will leave her here alone, with just the candles for company.
” look” she says into the night air ” I have brought you something” and she reaches, slowly, carefully into the carrier bag hanging on her wrist and brings out a small pink bear, glitter in its’ fur, sparkling in the candle light.
She places it on the ground and reaching into the bag again, she pulls out an impossibly large black plastic spider.
Before, before, she knows her son would have laughed, grabbed the toy, chased his screaming sister around the house, waving the spider in her face.
But now, the children stare straight ahead, all their attention focused on the lights, the movement of flame in glass.
She places the toys in the little pile on the ground.
Somedays, some evenings when she comes, a toy or two is missing and she needs to believe that the children have taken, to where ever it is they are now, have taken some comfort from them.
She shivers, her skin cold, knows she cannot stay much longer, knows that her husband, waiting for her in the car park, head resting on the dashboard, hands at exactly ten to two on the steering wheel, will, soon, appear on the other side of the street, no nearer, a mute presence and that it will be time to leave.
He has started talking about taking the candles, the toys, the coloured night light holders down, stopping this nightly vigil, but she allows the words to wash over her, floats through her days, waiting for darkness.
She looks down again at her children, their faces rapt, eyes shining, but not on her, never on her.
Carefully, she fans the fingers of both hands, almost, but not, touching theirs and then she leans forward and starts to blow out the candles.
She feels their howls of protest
“Not yet, not yet, we’re not ready”
And so she waits, leaves one candle burning,as she does every night and empty carrier bag flapping on her wrist, she crosses the road to join her husband.
The children do not acknowledge her leaving, they stand, close together, hand in hand, all their attention on the final, remaining flicker of candle light in the dark.