On this Winter Solstice, here is another of my Goldberg Variations. I've long been fascinated by the idea of our ancestors gathered to watch for and measure the returning of the sun - at least here in the Northern Hemisphere.
And, when a place like Newgrange was built in Ireland, there might still have been a racial memory of the time (in the ice age) when the sun did not return.
And what would happen to us all, were we to cause our own such Winter...
"Mamma," said the child, "I'm cold."
Ruth nodded and gathered the thin bundle that was her daughter into her arms. The child was thin, as she was herself. There wasn't much warmth she could provide, but the little one snuggled against her nonetheless.
A smile, an equal mixture of pain and pleasure briefly crossed Ruth's pale features.
"Mamma," the child said.
"Yes, little one," she answered. "What is it?"
"A story, Mamma. Tell me a story."
"And what story should I tell you, child?" Ruth asked, already knowing the answer.
"About your Mamma's father, the stories he would tell, about before."
Ruth nodded, rocking her child gently in the cold, in the dark.
"I will, my child. Listen and I'll tell you as it was told to me, by my Mamma, and by her Mamma before her. How many, many people there were then. And how some men brought the sun down to us, but it burned them all. It burned everything.
"Then the sun went away. It hid behind the sky. And all grew cold.
"And my Mama's father would tell of the ones who knew of the tall stones, who would watch the sky, for the sun's return."
Her child snuggled closer to her, gathering what heat there was in her body.
"But the sun didn't return, Mamma," she said, with a child's urging of the storytelling.
"No," Ruth answered. "The sun did not come in those times, nor in these. It was long before then that it did."
Her child looked up at her, dark eyes in so pale a face.
"What was it like then?"
Ruth looked down at her. "Bright," she said, "bright and warm and people danced and ate and drank their fill. And there was food and plenty for all. And the sun's light shone on everyone and all were happy."
"How many people, Mamma?"
"They say there were as many as the stars in the sky, little one."
"Stars?," her child asked, as Ruth knew she would, as she always did. "What are the stars, Mamma?"
Ruth smiled at the ritual between them. "Lights in the sky, child. Up above the sky as we know it. They stretched over the sky like sand by the ocean."
She repeated the words even while the meaning was long lost to her.
"When was this, Mamma?"
Ruth looked at her child. "Long, long ago. So long it can't be remembered." She shook her head. Time was hard to measure anymore, in the half-dark they lived in. She shrugged. It was even some time now since she knew the months as they came and went.
"Can I see them, Mamma?"
Ruth shook herself, back to the present. She reached into her clothing and drew out the faded pictures. They looked at them together, their ancestors frozen in time, staring at them from once-shiny paper.
The child pointed and Ruth nodded.
"Yes, Annushka," she said, "there is the grandmother of my mother. You bear her name, Anna."
"That's what these marks mean, isn't it Mamma?"
Ruth nodded again. "Yes. The marks mean Anna Goldberg. That was her name, and yours."
Anna nodded and Ruth felt her snuggle closer, felt the child's breath against her skin.
She sat there a long time, rocking gently, and the dark grew around them. Out of the cave mouth she could see a sliver of sky. Dark, clouded, forbidding.
The cold was seeping into the cave where they had made their home. Ruth hugged her child closer to her, feeling the small body begin to chill. The child would not last the night now there was no warmth left in the world.
She sat rocking, rocking, as all around her grew dark.