On Saint Martin’s Day in Germany the children would go into the dark woods carrying their lanterns in long snakes of colored lights, orbs in the darkness bobbing up and down on unsteady arms, held and reached by their mothers. I stuck in close to my father’s rough coat, felt the cold melting into his pockets where he kept his tissues and plastic spoons and sugar packets. Inside of that coat was his warmth and his belly and the belt around his black jeans. I clung to his body at night when I walked into my parents’ dark room to escape the darkness of my own, where the faint light cut across to where my brother lay on the other end of the long dark open wood floor, sleeping.We walked through corridors of woods, past columns of trees behind and around, which the darkness continued into the underbrush and further columns were placed together in menace. All of that empty space inside of those buzzing bushes brushed by my ears, the air growing so tight I thought it would rip at any moment and some giant spirit would come through and grab me into the veil of those woods. In a clearing we formed a circle of lights and sang. From the treetops we were a spot of color and light and around us the forest rushed out in all directions in its circular black, pushing back. Finally returned to the parking lot of the Siedlung. I could let go of my father. The cars sat still on the glistening pavement and the apartments were stacked up upon each other inside sheer yellow walls and the rectangles of windows glimmered or were bright like lanterns. I was free and felt lifted as I ran over the slick damp pavement, lights gleaming from it dully. No bushes, no arms from the darkness, just light shadows around cars that I could stay away from, nothing from their shadows that could come through and snatch me up. The pavement was solid and black and I jumped on it.Up the brightly lit stairwell we ran in stepped echoing rhythms until we tumbled into the apartment, kicking off shoes and flinging coats. Flailing about in the safety of home my quiet returned to me: the magic of the lanterns, the sweet soft glow of my red light, and the other lights of the children moving through the darkness, whose large hand had never reached out and smacked them dark. I collapsed my lantern, asked my mother to relight the candle. “Turn off the lights! Turn off the lights!” The kitchen flickered to life, glowing red, the table catching the light and sliding it, the teakettle and the pots bending it on the stove, and the hanging metal baskets of onions and fruit turning to hanging shadows.I walked slowly into the living room, steering my light ahead of me to the large window that looked below. I held it up for the children beneath, to light them, to see them safe from the fields to the lot, to the apartment doors, where they disappeared and the little orange and yellow and green lights were extinguished and new yellow ones opened in the windows. I held my light high and it caught fire against the window glass. My father came running. “Matthew!” He grabbed the little stick, tore it from me, ran wildly to the bathroom, his black hair flopping. I felt a shocked quiet emptiness as the fire blew up my father’s forearm.Running to the bathroom I saw the grey and blue flower pattern shower curtain open and the shower on. My father was standing under it in his clothes and the fire hissed. Smoke and steam mixed together and my father became a pillar half-hidden inside of all the noise and movement. His warm body, forearms lifted, held the black skeleton of my lantern, scraps of red paper hanging to the sides, while my mother twisted the knobs of the shower off and the water did its final work. He turned to us in his dripping clothes and I didn’t know whether to go to him or to stand away.

Author: Matthew Zanoni Mṻller