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We’re not candle people, never were. Candle people wear saris and other flowing garments, eat vegetarian, smoke weed. We are incandescent people. Occasionally we are fluorescent people.

But now we have a candle, and there is nothing to do with a candle but light it, no matter what kind of person you think you are. If the candle is a gift, as this one is, not to light it would be rude or contemptuous, at least ungrateful. And we are not that kind of people.

So we banish the electric lights, let the candle do its thing. It gives the living room a jittery, Christmassy feel. The air moves more than you think in the rooms you spend your time in.

We’ve talked before about fire, how there’s nothing that fire really is. Light and heat, but no real thing. Transformation only. But somehow here it is now, a thing that really isn’t, in the room beside us as it never is: the stove is electric, we don’t smoke, and I’m realizing nothing has ever burned in here.

“I love you,” he says. We never say this. It’s true, but never spoken, almost never.

“I love you, too,” I say, and stroke his hair.

He strokes my hair and says, “Do you ever wonder if maybe we’re wrong and our parents were right and God is up there pointing down and hurling thunderbolts and—”

“It would have to be lightning bolts he was hurling.”

“—separating the wheat from the chaff all the time?”

“Sometimes,” I say, although never, almost never do I wonder that. His facial features appear to be moving in the candlelight, his nose growing and diminishing, cheeks hollowing and puffing. His eyes look shifty.

“I wonder sometimes,” he says, “if I’m the only one who understands things.”

“What things?”

“How the world is made, what people are afraid of.”

“I never wonder that. I know you are.”

“Shut up. I’m serious.”

I shift position and we adjust our weight against each other. What I wonder is why he’s talking to me like this. I want the light back on, to see him as I’ve always known him to be, but we sit and stare and time goes by, and he lets it burn and burn and burn.

Copyright © 2007 by Buzz Mauro

"Candle" was originally published in Salamander, 2002


Buzz MauroBuzz writes:
It was actually not a candle but a beautiful little oil lamp that "sparked" this story. It was a Christmas gift from a friend many years ago, and we really did light it in the dark, but the story really is fiction, even though it was incorrectly labeled a memoir for some reason when it was originally published.

Buzz Mauro is an MFA student in the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. He lives in Annapolis, MD, and works as an actor and acting teacher in Washington, DC. He is co-founder and co-director (with Deb Gottesman) of The Theatre Lab, Washington's largest theatre training institution. His fiction has appeared in Columbia and is forthcoming in NOON, and he is co-author (also with Deb Gottesman) of three books on how to apply acting skills to real-life situations, all published by Penguin Putnam.

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