Down the row, she looks at me with a tremendous smile. Bright points of light slide along the curved bronze gleam by her chest, and the lip casts a glow against the bottom of her chin.
I smile back, as the two ringers between us upturn their own golden cups, and we all focus on the conductor, our eight white-gloved hands, poised.
The organist powers the music through the pipes and the choir sings. We stand behind the singers, spaced apart so that, when the time comes, we’ll have room to swing broadly and produce a full, round tone.
Though hidden in the dark, I can feel the congregation looking up at us. They are expectant at the sight of four, blue-robed ringers, tucked into a corner of the choir loft, patiently holding our sparkling chimes until the news is heard that, in Bethlehem, a savior is born. A savior has been born in Bethlehem, let there be a joyful noise.
The wave rolls toward me and my right arm circles low and outward and the hammer snaps forward and the note sings out, deep and rich. It descends from the choir loft and shakes the candle flames. It enters the congregation and pours into the pews, shimmying through the children’s egg nog bellies.
After my right arm, my left arm swings and fills out the peal which is then re-born by her ringing again at the top, and up and down we go, left, right, high, and low, a shining ladder of sound.
Finally, when it feels like even the stones of the church have joined us in sympathetic vibration, the conductor signals, and we don’t damp, but let them ring and twirl them and shimmer them all over the church, and the overtones gallop forward and backward, prancing on the heads of the children and leaping off the backs of their ears.
The conductor signals again, and we bring them to our chests and feel the tingly buzz as they fall silent and silence is what is needed because the whole world has heard the good news and now, if it were wise, it would be still and ponder.
After, as we’re putting them away, she finds me and kisses me on the cheek and she has to run because she’s got a plane to catch, but I’m a lifesaver and she owes me one big time and she’ll call me as soon as she gets back and we’ll get together for dinner and it’ll be her treat, ok?
Outside, flakes are lightly falling. Everything has that peaceful, muffled sound that happens after a fresh snowfall. The sidewalk is an unspoiled carpet and the windows are rimmed with white. In front of me, a black, triangular building rises toward the sky and the stars peer and disappear behind the purple, flowing clouds.
I had been dreading this thing the whole day, but now that it’s over, I can admit that I had fun. She had been right. I know that you’re an atheist, she had said, but there will be Bach and, even if you don’t believe in God, I know that you believe in music.
Behind me, a giggle. I turn to see a young couple step out onto the church steps. She is unsteady, and holds on to the rail with a pink mitten. He stands next to her, supporting her around the waist.
I recognize the boy from the choir; we had been introduced earlier in the evening.
My friend’s a lawyer, she’d said. He squinted at me.
A Christian lawyer, he asked.
Once she safely makes it down the stairs, he runs to the corner and hails a cab. He opens the door and she walks to him. Snow settles into her brown, curly hair.
I can’t believe that you found a cab this fast on Christmas Eve. She kisses his neck.
It’s a miracle, he says.
The cab idles for a moment, red lights shining, windshield wipers winking. The couple shares the back seat and I know that he is listening to the driver’s question.
Even though I’m not a Christian lawyer – even though I’m not a Christian – I know his answer. I know that he believes what we all believe.
I know that he believes in true things, like good friends, and good music.
And I know that he believes in life things. Real things, which are also true. The rise of a woman’s nipple beneath your palm. Her open mouth by your ear.
I’ll give you an address, driver, but you don’t need it. You already know it. Everybody who enters this cab – Christians and heathens alike – knows it, and seeks it. It’s the place of salvation. It’s the calm, solitary place where she and I can be together.