By Jeremy Nathan Marks
Chanukah typically falls in December, the same month as Christmas. I love looking at tiny lights during a dark season, so I decorate our front window with a small electric menorah. But my taste in illumination, the glimmer I seek at this time of year, is overshadowed by the display across the street.
For years, our neighbors piled lights on top of lights and displayed them from Halloween until the New Year. We gaped at the amplitude of their display and invested in thick black drapes. Every December, they hired an electrician to find them more power. The birds, dazed by the departure of darkness, did not sleep, and bounced off cars.
Red and blue, charcoal, and gray avians lay on the asphalt. The feathers of rufous raptors and the piebald breasts of little woodpeckers (even turkey tails) lay in the road, creating a mosaic more colorful than the fluorescents our neighbors prized.
I tried talking to them about the carnage. I told the wife I found a snowy owl in the street. “You’re a vegetarian; surely, you notice the dead piling up every morning?”
“No,” she said.
“I can show you right now.” Within minutes, I’d filled six boxes and brought them up to the porch.
When I came home from work that evening, I was met by a policeman who told me I was to stop making threatening gestures against my neighbor. I said that I had not and explained what I had done; I spoke of the birds and the all-night lights; and the fact that no one was getting any darkness. He told me I should be thankful for so much brightness at this time of year and not trespass on her property again.
One night later, there was a blackout on our street. The night was mercifully dark.
I knew my neighbors were to blame for the outage; they had overloaded the grid, at last, sending a shock wave across town.
It is rare, even in winter, for the night to be black. I went for a walk, needing to revel in the surprise gift of actual darkness. I walked for miles across a blind city. No Don’t Walk signs obstructed my stroll; no streetlights revealed my face. Even the hospitals were in the dark. I didn’t find anyone with a working flashlight.
When I returned home, my neighbors were standing in their front yard telling my wife that the blackout was my fault.
When they saw me, they started shouting that I had cut the power. My wife said, what’s your proof? And they pointed to the menorah in our front window, its tiny lights a pariah in the darkness. Our menorah is lit by candles, she told them.
“That’s not the point,” the woman’s husband said. And his wife turned to him and screeched, “I’ve been saying for years that we have to get off this street!” Before asking me, “What gives you the right to make us stare at your strange lights?”
But before I could reply, an owl landed in her hair. It stood perfectly still, my menorah glowing in its eyes.