Surrounded by the dark of the year, I am suddenly filled with longing; so I say to him, "Oh, I want a story."
He laughs. "Okay," he says, and with no more preamble than that begins:
"Once there was a woman called Aisa, whose hair was black as the Dark; but her skin was very pale, the color of ice, nearly. Like ice, too, were her eyes, which were a milky pale blue; and she was blind.
"But her blindness was of a peculiar variety, for, despite being without a doubt physically unable to see, she had an uncanny knack for maneuvering through the world, never tripping over or bumping into things. For she had the ability to see the Shadow World, that world which runs within and underneath our own. And she was greatly gifted in this Sight.
"But it made her a rather uncomfortable neighbor, and though she was quite pretty in a Gothic sort of way, people avoided her, if only because she tended to stare at the space next to them during conversations.
"Not that she was much of a conversationalist, really, all told; and so she lived, quite alone, in a little house on the top of a hill, and did not have much congress with others.
"And one day Aisa found herself pregnant."
I raise my eyebrows; though having finally learned not to interrupt him when he's telling a story, I don't say a word. He shakes his head. "When Ereshkigal gave birth, was there any talk of a father? No. This is like that. The child was hers, and hers alone.
"As her belly grew she drew into herself more and more, in fear, or in preparation; and the time came, as it will, when she felt the pains of labor.
"But it was like trying to give birth to a stone, and the pain and the blood were very great, enough that she feared for her own survival. But, finally, after a very difficult time, the baby was born. And it was dead.
"With great effort then she brought the baby, still covered in blood, to her breast. And she held it to her, though she could feel the warmth slowly going out of it, the warmth given it from her own body.
And as she held it there, worn out and weak, she passed entirely into the Shadow World."
He pauses, as the story stands still a moment; and I, knowing this, wait.
"After a time she woke, as it were, and opened her eyes; but though she was in the Shadow World, she could See little, for it was very dark.
"And Aisa was surprised, and frightened; for in all this time her Sight had never failed her. And she held still for quite some time, not knowing what to do.
"But then she remembered why she had come, or, at least, what she meant to do there; and she stood up, though she was truly blind for the first time in her life. And she resolved to find what she sought, the Soul of her daughter, who she knew had lost her way.
"But she could not See. And so she sang.
"She stood there in the dark and sang a song of warmth, a mother's song of comfort to her child, a calling-home song, a song of welcome and safety.
"But she was alone.
"She stood there in the dark and sang a song of light, a song of the starry way, a song of illumination and recognition, and the path found.
"But still she was alone.
"She stood there in the dark and sang a song of restoration, the Soul's song, a song of unity and wholeness, of longing and love.
"And she was not alone.
"For there beside her stood a woman, with hair red-gold as the sunrise. And but for the hair she was a mirror image of Aisa; 'Ah,' said Aisa, understanding.
"And she took her daughter's hand.
"Not long after Aisa found herself lying in bed, back in the living world; and at her breast she held her tiny newborn daughter, who, though weak and still covered with blood, was alive. And Aisa could See by the light about her that her daughter would live. And she named her Sivil, for the color of her hair.
"But Aisa could also See that she would not herself long survive the birth; and gathering up what strength she had, she bundled the baby up and took her outside, out into the night and the cold. And she set Sivil down on the ground.
"Then Aisa gathered up as much dry kindling as she could manage, which wasn't much. And she slowly leant it against the outside wall of her house, and took out tinder and flint; and with great care she made a fire.
"And when she was sure it had caught, she laid herself down, her body already growing cold; and she died.
"The townspeople, of course, when they saw the house burning, came to put it out; and so they found both the dead mother and the living daughter; and as Aisa had Seen, they called the baby Sivil, for she was found on a night of fire.
"That's a pretty dark story," I say.
"It's what you needed to hear," he says softly.
"It always is," I say, and he nods.