The Candle Maker's Daughter
Author’s Note: I always wanted to write this chapter of Union, but I just couldn’t find a place where it fit. Devin was closer to home and family, so he got to be the Epilogue, but this little girl wouldn’t just sit in the corner and be quiet, oh no. She was jealous of the boys getting their time and wanted her day. When I was asked to be a part of WFOL, I knew this was her opportunity to get out into the world. I hope you enjoy…
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” – John Lennon
The heat in Jerusalem could be a god unto itself, Brigit thought.
The people of this part of the world seemed to fear the wrath of heaven with a piousness unknown even in Ireland, and no wonder, if God could make a sun as bright and burning as this. Even the sisters of her primary school couldn’t conjure visions of hellfire as proper. The sun, a relentless force in late afternoon, chased you from the streets to lie still and sweating in the scarcely more tolerable shade.
Brigit was staying about fifteen kilometers outside of Jerusalem, in the cooler country near the mountains, but cooler was a terribly relative term. Even with her patio doors thrown wide to let the slight breeze dance through, she still felt weakened and wilted, like a picked wildflower.
Their morning in the book store promoting the simultaneously published Hebrew and Arabic editions of 300 Days, lunch and then meeting with the interfaith widows group, had left her knackered and unraveled.
The widows hadn’t warmed to her right away, even though she was giving part of the profits to the School for Peace,[i] the interfaith academy where some of their children actually went, so the chilly reception was exceptional. They had held back, polite mostly, but dubious, and a few openly cynical. It was hard to see these women, young and old, their eyes filled with the same bitterness that Brigit fought so hard to keep at bay. Here in this ancient land, hostility and resentment were worn proudly, nearly badges of honor. They had sat in the basement hall in a circle of chairs, some with wee ones running about them, some murmuring in the rolling languages of the land, unconvinced they, or Brigit, belonged there.
There had been little discussion and no communication between her and the group until a middle-aged woman, who would have looked just as right selling fish on the docks of Bangor Pier, raised her hand and had asked Brigit point-blank why she’d come.
The woman didn’t have to explain. Her tone matched her face, harsh and rough as the sandy soil the ancient city was built upon.
Brigit could only think that this was a land of conflict. Layer upon layer of broken lives, the conquerors and the conquered built a holy city as a monument to war and invasion.
Waiting for their driver on a busy Jerusalem street she’d seen it. Two men, not five steps away from her, quit their walking to argue. For long minutes the young men, dressed in sweat-drenched button-down shirts, tried to shout each other down, gesturing and pushing at each other all the while. Thomas stepped in front of her, causing one of the young men to finally notice the scene they were making. He grabbed the other man’s arm.
“Sorry. He is … my … cousin,” the young man explained in barely comprehensible English. They stomped off, still fighting as if they’d be doing it till kingdom come. If that’s how they felt about family here…
Still, why was this woman acting like her enemy? Who was she to demand Brigit’s reasons, her motives?
Doesn’t my work speak? Isn’t my heart broken enough to gain entry into this terrible society?
But then, through a quickly rising and raging haze, she saw…
It was herself before her.
This suspicious woman was the one Brigit kept seeing in the mirror, no matter how much she tried to stuff her away—the resentful, defeated, lonely widow who missed holding her husband at night, kissing him in the morning, laughing with him about the day. It was a constant struggle to put on hope’s mask, to beg for peace for all those who had lost and would continue to lose. There were days she simply couldn’t accept that the world was cruel enough to take her man away and leave her with only words to console herself.
Perhaps this woman was having that day, that month, that year, or that life. From a place of understanding, Brigit’s angels whispered her the answer.
Well, I can see why yer askin’. Before I came, I admit, I didn’t know much about this land except what I heard on the news. I was too involved in the wars up north, but … us Catholics are really just the first reformed Jews, ya know. And Our God asks a lot of us, maybe not prayin’ five times a day, but if you ladies had to listen to Father Lynch sing “God is the Tower of My Strength”, as many times as I have, I think you’d agree I suffered for me faith.
The entire room had burst into laughter. The tension would not be supported or fed, at least not by Brigit. There was too much binding them together.
Our faith isn’t at issue, for I am sure and certain we have more in common there than we do not. We must talk face-to-face, we must see our enemies as us, or they’ll be more here every day. All of us in this room are the same. We are the ruins of hatred, not of love. We are the wives, the mothers, and the daughters—the ones left after the bombs and the guns of righteousness have done their bloody work. Our religion isn’t the reason we are here. It is the excuse.
After that, the women had just talked to her, about their lives, their wishes for their children, their wishes for peace. It had been good work, but still work, to draw in all that sadness and commiserate, but they had done it for her too. They had understood in a way few people did. They appreciated the struggle that just getting out of bed could be. They, too, had felt the shock of death, the gnawing of sleepless nights, the thoughtlessness of those who hadn’t been touched yet. She loved them for that.
Hope was such a fragile thing to these women. Peace grew, even here, in this land so different from Ireland. The winter of war—and it was a war, going on too long and costing too many lives to be just a conflict—was thawing in places. The flowers of friendship between these Palestinian women and their Jewish cousins bloomed in patches, but they could easily fall to the tramping boots and bombs.
…and then the wars started all over again.
Brigit didn’t know if spring would ever come to Jerusalem, or to Derry.
Lately she wondered if she knew anything.
“Ian, my love,” Brigit sighed to the empty room, “what’s a Bogside girl doing in this land of heat and heartache.”
I Imagined we would make a home, raise a family. Instead you’ve sent me around the feckin’ world. I don’t think I can thank you, and I know I can’t damn you, but I wish we’d found another way.
Brigit had decided to take as cold a shower as the small hotel could offer, when a knock startled her from her melancholy thoughts.
“Brigit, it’s Thomas.”
“Thomas,” she sighed and picked herself up from the bed. “I was just thinkin’ of gettin’ a shower in,” she called to the other side of her door. “And I swear to ya, if you and Yehuda are going ta check fer bombs again, I’m gonna undress right in front of your daft eyes!”
She opened the door to Thomas’ pathetically sunburnt head, a shade of red Brigit had never seen previously. It was his fault for not wearing a hat, but, poor man, he was less accustomed to this ferocious sun than she.
“No, nothing like that, Brigit. Talal checked right before we got back, anyhow.” Thomas said with the pride of someone who was on top of things and liked the feeling. “No, there was a letter that was forgotten when they brought you the rest of yer mail. They asked me at the desk to give it to ya. Seems to have lost its way…”
Brigit took the letter from Thomas’ thick fingers. It was a bit crumpled about the edges, having been forwarded once from her home in Boston, then to Paris, and finally here. There was no return address, just lovely handwriting—a woman’s for certain— and a cautionary square requesting, “Please do not fold, photo enclosed.”
“Well, it’s found me now.”
Brigit opened the envelope with her pinky worked under the flap. Encased in heavy paper, there to ensure the envelope was indeed not folded, rested a photo of a wee, precious babe along with a letter.
I hope you are well. It has been a very long time since we have talked. My last letter was a brief condolence over the death of your father. Again, I am sorry that you had to lose him so soon after your reunion, but I know you made the most of your time together.
As to why I am sending you this letter now, well, the truth is, I was thinking of you so strongly the other day in the Park, I could almost hear your voice, and I have learned to follow my instincts. Something, maybe the spirits, maybe just my heart, told me to send you this note.
This is not signed with my real name, but I think you will remember who I am, one owl-woman to another. I hope you remember. We met on a beautiful and bewitching fall evening, when the walls between worlds grow thin. You also met my husband that night when he came to thank you for your work. He helped you escape a party wrapped in his cloak. He was then only my friend, my “very special friend”, but, I believe, he is not someone likely to be forgotten.
I know it has been a few years since that bittersweet Samhain, and I never followed up my condolence letter with any others, even after your kind reply. For that, I am sorry. Life got in the way of many of my good intentions. I hope you do not think there is a statute of limitations on gratitude.
So much happened for all of us during that magical night. My husband went to your party to ask you how to proceed in love. He felt a kinship with you from your work. We both did. I cannot tell you how he cherished your time together. Not only for your counsel, but seeing your bravery in the face of hatred gave him courage to follow his heart despite the obstacles in our path. Thank you for that.
We fought hard, loved despite all sense, and lived moment to moment. We took what we were given, just as you advised.
It has been a struggle. Creating a new world takes time and isn’t without setbacks or pain, but I think, looking at the picture enclosed in this letter, you will agree that struggle has been worth it. Our little boy has his father’s eyes and loving heart, but, sadly, also his sleeping habits. The picture was taken by our friend Lin a few days after our son turned a month old. How she caught his smile on film, so fleeting in those first days, I will never know, but I am grateful to her for giving me something to share our joy with you.
Through your books and with your words, you pointed us towards love, never away, and my husband and I promised each other to follow your guidance until the end of our days. Thank you. You had a hand in our little boy being in the world, and we plan on reading him your Owl Woman storybook often and with great joy and reverence for your talents.
My husband and I thought you should know.
Sincerely, and with much affection,
The Candle-Maker’s Daughter
The Candle-Maker’s daughter…
Brigit laughed, her knowledge of old names and the specifics of the letter quickly conjured the modern version, Chandler, to mind. Brigit would never forget meeting that beautiful owl and her laoch[ii] suitor, on the night when magic and modern life mingled and brought her father’s love back to her.
Married and with a bobs[iii] of their very own.
Now that was a story she wished to know, but with no return address…
Brigit sighed. If they made a fuss of her going back to New York, if she made her presence known, then she might be lucky enough for the sídhe[iv] to open once again.
“Ta Thomas,” Brigit said with open gratitude. “It’s good ya brought it. I didn’t realize, but I’ve been waiting for this letter for an age.” Brigit tried to keep the tears from her eyes and voice, but her guard’s concerned crouch as he tried to catch her eyes made clear she hadn’t succeeded.
“Ach, Off with ye, I’m grand, over-the moon, just … exhausted. It’s been a day, it has…” Her voice broke, but she swallowed and tried again waving the picture. “My friends are happy, and I am pleased for ‘em.”
“Aye,” he said, with a sensitive sadness. “I know ya are, Brigit. C’mere…” he whispered and gathered her in.
For a few moments he held her as she cried, asking no questions, expecting no explanations. There was no better man of the world, she believed, for that favor.
Brigit smiled at him through the tears, mumbled another thanks, and walked back into her room, knowing he would close the door quietly to allow her time. She headed to the patio and rested against the edge of the door frame, the warm breeze ruffling the heavy paper as reread the words. She turned the picture and examined the wee one’s name, written in an even more elegant hand than the letter, writing that came from another age, another world.
She gazed at the smiling cherub, longing and happiness filling the same space in her heart.
When she couldn’t look at the picture anymore, she lifted her eyes to the mountains, to the pines, allowing her thoughts to move in and through her mind. Minutes passed uncounted.
Brigit, lost with the fairies, decided later the horse must have been watching her for a good while before she noticed it. The beautiful creature stood at the edge of the hill that sloped away from the hotel, not twelve meters from her back door. The lovely thing could have been from home, although she was far too elegant to be someone’s racing pony or cart horse.
The mare looked into Brigit, her soft black eyes speaking in their own way.
Brigit’s Da might have told her tales of history, of pride, but, before she died, her Ma taught Brigit tales of her own.
Ach, they’re everywhere, pet, the old ones, the aos sí[v]. Wherever you go, they follow. All they want is for you to keep your eyes open, to be thoughtful of ‘em. If you are wise, and careful, and listen to what I tell ya, they will bring you gifts…
The horse stood, her mane fanning across her withers, while her straight and graceful legs stomped in the brown grass, as if she were saying something in a language that Brigit should know.
Oh my dear thing, my vision, were you sent to me? Could I have called ya all the way from home, or was this your home as well?[vi]
For the time of a few deep breaths, Brigit and the lovely animal just stood contemplating one another in the deepening afternoon sunlight. Then, a wee girl, her black and shining hair in pretty contrast to her mare’s creamy white, crested the hill and called out.
The horse turned to the little thing, who could have been no more than eight or ten, and stilled while she strode up with about as much worry as if she was coming upon her kitten. The golden-brown child stroked the horse’s muzzle, and then slipped a rope around her massive and stately neck. The girl turned, smiled—and in an open way that reminded Brigit of the best of home—waved before she led the horse back down the hill and out of sight.
There was good in this land, in the children, in the people. Love could bring light and make an old land new again.
Maybe it wasn’t always easy to discern, but when did the Irish ever take the easy way?
A river can still flow unseen, underground….
Brigit looked back at the photo in her hand, just a babe … a lad who needed stories, tales of magic and loyalty and love…
A candle maker’s daughter…
brave girl … brave woman…
A noble creature far from home…
Both of them lost, then found…
Brigit placed the photo on the small table where her notebook lay.
She and Ian never had a chance for that type of creation, but one could be fertile in other ways.
Brigit searched, finally found her pen at the bottom of her purse, then tucked the picture carefully inside the front pocket and opened to a clear, new page
She didn’t stop writing until well after the sun god had given in to his darker sister. Brigit reread the children’s story she had written in those warm and mislaid hours, her first children’s tale since Ian died. She smiled at beginning of her little creation, remembering the fearless woman, and the caring and magical man who inspired it.
A fine title, she thought, The Candle Maker’s Daughter…
Brigit gazed out into the night and the stars that would shelter souls in peace … and even in war.
How could I forget you, Catherine Chandler? I will always think of you, and your Vincent and the love that made you brave…
…and now the wee lad created by that love.
You may be the Candle Maker’s daughter, but you bring a light to the world that’s your very own.
[i] The School For Peace, Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam (NSWAS) was established in 1979 as the first educational institution in Israel promoting broad scale change towards peace and more humane, egalitarian and just relations between Palestinians and Jews.
[ii] heroic warrior
[iv] The world of the fairy
[v] “people of the mounds”, thought to be pre-Christian deities or spirits of nature
[vi] Macha – whose symbols included a horse, a raven, and an acorn, among others, was thought to be an aspect of the triple goddess. She was a war goddess, but also one of fertility and a guardian of the land. In a later story, she was married to Crunnchua who was heard jesting that his pregnant wife could beat the king’s horses in a race. The spiteful king forced Macha to run despite her pleas to him and all the men assembled to allow her to bear her twins first. When he refused, he demonstrated how Ireland had become proud and cruel instead of concerned with the health and well-being of its people. Macha won the race, but cursed the men of Ulster to weakness in their time of need, thus allowing them to be conquered. Macha—like Rhiannon and Epona—is one of the many European horse goddesses of the Pre-Roman world and as part of the triple goddess she recalls the cycles of women—maiden, mother, crone and of birth, death and rebirth.