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short stories

Candle

I was handmade. I was dipped and shaped and formed through my earliest memories, then tested and scented and packaged. I sat on display with my brothers and sisters until a woman bought me, who wore the drabbest of clothing and sadness in her eyes.

She kept me on her desk, in a brass holder so my wax wouldn’t drip. The scratch of matches always excited me, for a second later, my flame illuminated her humble abode. Masks and miniatures lined her walls, from automatons to music boxes to little bits of broken glass bottles that shimmer in the light. Every night, when the sun had long retired and the moonlight was too weak, she ignited my spark and worked on her latest project. Sometimes she sang when she worked, in a tune always slightly off-key yet lovely all the same. The wind sang with her when she worked, yet always stole my flame from my wick as well.

I don’t remember when she started crying. It felt like months had passed since she bought me, and more of my siblings were strewn about the worn wooden surface. We all stood in mismatched holders, some made of ceramic and others of tin. Our voices were hushed as she entered, and the silence that followed almost suffocated our flames. Tears were dripping down her face, tears that splashed onto the wayward papers and extinguished some of my family’s flames. She sniffed and wiped her cheek with the back of her hand and set to work on a small piece featuring two masquerade dancers. Her hands shook as she molded their forms from lifeless clay, so she worked until the sun began to bid good morning to us. A few of my siblings had sacrificed themselves for her arduous and toiling night, and we all paid our quiet respects to their lost flames.

My wax was halfway gone when she came into the room crying again. More masks and more statues lined her walls, and her work had turned out even more heartbreakingly beautiful than ever before. Strange people wandered through this room in search of the perfect object, occasionally, and she always provided them with exactly what they needed. Now, as she painted the masquerade dancers with a clear coat of polish, tears threatened to dilute the shiny paint. Her hands trembled again, and more of my siblings slipped quietly off in the night, only ever offering a slight hiss and thin trail of smoke as they ascended.

I was the only candle left when she stopped making the masks and the miniatures. Grief spells grew more frequent, and more and more tears stained her wood. If I could trace their path, it would tell the story of our past few months together. Her art didn’t disappear from the shelves, but people stopped coming into the room. At times, when it seemed that I couldn’t fight off the darkness, she would begin to talk to her statues. Always light chatter, a soft murmur in the ever-present silence. Perhaps that’s what gave me the strength to continue my vigil, even as the melted bodies of my family lay around me, hugging the holders in a last plea for life. Tears continued to stain the masks and the miniatures.

My time was soon. I could feel my wick shortening with each passing day, as she used me for longer and longer periods of time. Statues began to collect dust on the shelves, even as she made an effort to keep them alive with conversation. What turned from idle chatter was now a diverse web of a family, from the laughing cousins to the solemn uncles and aunts. She spoke of her day, asked of theirs, made jokes, bantered, yet never laughed. And her smile always made my flame wane. As the last of my wax melted, spilling onto the holder and tarnishing the polished brass, she laid her head down with me. Brown curls obscured her face, but even as we drew our last breaths together, I knew she was still crying. With the last of my strength, I allowed my flame to burn brighter than ever before. Light just barely touched the edges of the room, but in one corner, I found a wooden cradle painted the way all the miniatures were. A fine coat of dust desecrated its simple beauty, and inside of the cradle, there was a single pair of baby shoes and a bib, both never worn. With a quiet hiss, my flame extinguished. She never woke up.

***

I started with a beginning line, then progressed from there when I wrote this short story. A bit of my inspiration pulled from Ernest Hemingway’s extremely brief tale “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” While I have very little experience in tragedy, it made it easier to write this piece from the candle’s rather apathetic perspective. However, despite the candle’s apathy, it is my hope as the writer that reader can feel empathy towards the poor woman in this story.