Illustration by Linor Kuighadoush
“It’s that time of year again,” Anna croons as she pulls my elbow, leading me down the darkened streets of the city, the fairy lights strung from the telephone polls shining on our dark figures.
“What? Christmas?” I say as she responds with an exaggerated sigh and a pout.
“No! It’s Chanukah, the most wonderful time of the year, haven’t you heard?” she smiles with that winning grin of hers as she gallops up the steps to her condo.
“No, I’m pretty sure that’s still Christmas. I think there’s even a song using those same words.”
“It’s so magical, you know? There’s light everywhere and gold coins being tossed around and lots and lots of gambling…” she trails off, looking into the moonlight romantically.
“Oh yes, gambling is the most magical thing I’ve ever seen,” I try to stifle a laugh, but end up just snorting awkwardly. Anna’s not paying attention anyway.
“You just don’t have the Chanukah spirit, do you?” she sighs again, twice as dramatically as before. “Well I still think it’s magical, even if you’re little miss pessimism.” Then she flounces, twists and shuts the door behind her.
I chuckle as I walk backwards down her steps. She’s always this way, even when it’s not a holiday, but I have to try harder now to quell my glee because, if I don’t, she might realize that I know exactly how magical this time of year is. I know because I have magic. Magic that comes around for only these eight days. And I can’t even hope to understand why or how.
I mean, I know the story of Chanukah, and it’s all about miracles, but that doesn’t make the whole ordeal any less mysterious or bizarre. But it doesn’t matter, because I can’t tell anyone, especially not Anna. She’d think I was crazy. I think I’m crazy, for God’s sake. And anyway, eight days from now, it’ll be gone. So, taking a shaky breath, I slide my fingers into my pockets and bound down the street, but not before bright gold embers jump from my fingertips. Almost like the sparks from the candlelight. Almost.
* * *
The glowing adhesive stars on the wall are definitely moving. And it’s not just because I’ve been staring at them for so long. I think they’re actually glimmering. My mom insisted that I get to sleep early so that I’m ready to help her with all of the Shabbat getting-ready-work tomorrow, but who can sleep when there’s magic around?
It’s happened every Chanukah for a few years now, but I still don’t get it. I’ve practiced it, sure, but I can’t show it to anyone or they might call me a witch and hang me on the scaffolds in Salem. And it’s the showiest of magic too: sparks! They just pop off my hands like firecrackers and usually with no warning. So every day of Chanukah, I have to keep my hands in gloves like a creep and stay out of people’s ways.
I crack my knuckles against my left hand, sending embers across my bed sheets, singeing the pretty floral pattern.
The Christmas and Chanukah lights shimmer outside my window, almost beckoning me to join them. I’ve already got my fire, so I’m basically a light. They’re entrancing, shining so bright that when I squint, they’re like kaleidoscopes.
But then I feel a heat on my hands, something I’ve never felt before. I tear my eyes from the window to the blaring stars my hands have become. They’re blinding, reflecting white light all around my room, pilfering all of the brightness from the stars on the wall.
“Well you’re certainly making a spectacle,” I nearly bounce off my bed as a deep voice comes from behind me and a little figure hops onto my hands. With a sudden burst, the light fades from my fingers and as I blink away the spots from my eyes, a little clay-colored person becomes visible on my palm.
“What the …“ I sputter, but the clay thing interrupts me before I can say anything else.
“You are supposed to be more private when you have magic, otherwise you’ll have the whole city coming after you for shutting down all the electricity!” The clay man, who looks kind of like a cross between a pumpkin, a dwarf and a pixie, steps off my hand and falls to my blanket, pacing from flower to flower.
“Who are you?” I get out between his muttering.
“What do you mean who am I? I’m your golem. I’m here to guide you in your magic.”
“What in the …“
“The name’s Lera and I expect that you’ll remember that. If you don’t, I’ll be sure you get a new and less professional golem.”
“But I …”
“Stop protesting, I’ve heard the whole act,” he looks at me for the first time, giving me a once over with the little holes in the clay that must be his eyes.
“I don’t know anything about you,” he says, imitating some sort of screechy female voice, “What do you mean, golem?” then transferring to his deep voice again, “Listen Ella, you’ve had magic for a while now and you clearly haven’t gotten the hint about the magic world or the whole Chanukah connection, so we’re just going to have to get you up to speed.”
In the moment he takes a breath I say, “Uh, what exactly do you mean by magic world?”
“Don’t give me that. I’m so tired of the ‘You mean I’m not alone?’ thing you teenagers are so obsessed with. What a cliché!” Before I can open my mouth he holds up a finger, “Alright, you clearly know absolutely nothing so get comfortable and listen up. This is important. It just may define the rest of your life. Whatever, no big deal. Don’t be dramatic, you teenagers are always so dramatic. It’s only life and death.”