I’m stuck wherever I’m placed, but where I’m placed is always important. I came into this world with a spark from a cigarette lighter, pulled out of a womb of plastic and cardboard, set down in a small, tin wax catcher to sit on an end table. I had a perfect view of the festivities.
“Happy birthday, Hannah.”
The den was full, standing room only. People gathered around a young blond woman, who sat in front of a white cake, speared with thin, colorful candles that ran the spectrum of the rainbow. “Can I blow them out now?” she asked, shifting in her chair.
“No, no way. We gotta sing.”
Everyone laughed before taking in big gasps of air. They belted out a song, and I danced about, my back against the wall. Shadows danced with me, on the walls behind their owners. We had our own little party, me and my projected friends. Hannah blew out her candles, and people cheered, as if she had completed some great feat, or more likely because they could eat. Someone set a stack of small paper plates and a knife onto the table, and murmurs rumbled through the collective about how good the cake looked. Hannah’s brother leaned in, setting a hand on the birthday girl’s shoulder.
“Hey…where’s Terry?” he whispered.
Hannah’s eyes jumped around the room before settling on an empty plate. She turned her head slightly to her brother. “I don’t know Mart.”
The subject had been dropped when someone passed her a plate with a slice of cake. As the night went on, people laughed as I continued to sway, until someone asked to turn the lights back on. The den light outshined me in an instant, flooding the rooms with fluorescent light, as it tended to do in its quick and brilliantly showy nature. The shadows I cast were minimal now, limited to the curios on the end table with me. I watched as Hannah mingled, lithely sweeping through the room to have small conversations about how “We should hang out more,” and “What a lovely place you have here.”
The night grew later, and I grew a bit shorter. People began wrapping themselves in coats and scarves to brave the cold Midwestern evening. You could smell the crispness whenever someone opened the door. The home cleared out quickly, and it was just Hannah, me, and Mart.
“You want me to stay for a bit?” Mart said as he slowly shoved his hands in his pockets, watching Hannah shuffle away from the door.
“No,” the girl sighed, gathering up plates from their resting places, conceived out of pure laziness. “I’ll be fine. I think I just want to spend some time alone.”
“You shouldn’t have to. Why wasn’t Terry here, like, at all?”
Hannah dashed by me, and for a moment I was caught up in her swiftness. She stopped at the trashcan at the end of the counter, dumping her refuse into its open mouth. “Wish I could tell you Mart.”
“Going out for like three months and he can’t show up for your birthday? Swell guy.”
“Might not be for much longer.” Hannah grabbed a scarf from the rack near the door, and swung it around the back of Mart’s neck. “I’m a big girl – I can take care of myself.”
“Alright then, just…keep me posted,” Mart slid his arms into his coat and turned to the door. “Don’t leave that candle burning. You wanna set your new house on fire?”
“Yeah yeah, get going. Drive safe.”
Mart closed the door quietly behind him. It was just her and me now. Hannah took a deep breath, setting her hands on the end of the counter as she stared off at nothing.
I’m sorry Hannah. I’m here though. Just…notice me.
Hannah looked my way, and I swayed to get her attention. Her head tipped to one side, and her shoulders sank as she drifted away into thought. Her cell phone rang, and she checked the display. She let it ring for what felt like a year, we could have celebrated another birthday.
“Hello?” she answered. “Yeah. No, everyone’s gone already.” She listened for a moment. “No, I want to be alone tonight.”
Oh, you want to be alone.
“Don’t bother. Good night.”
Hannah clapped her phone shut with one hand and threw it into the room, onto the couch next to me. She continued to clean up, and I just flickered. When she was done, she shut off the lights to the kitchen and noticed my light brightening up the room again. She walked over to the end table and bent down, looking at me. I could see myself dancing in her eyes.
Don’t worry about it, Hannah.
Her hand reached up behind my head, and she pursed her lips. My first kiss goodnight.
The next time I woke, it was just Hannah and me. I flickered and danced, my light bouncing off the bevelled tiles on the bathroom walls. She set a smoking match down onto my tin base, and then turned away, sinking deeper until water reached up to her bare shoulders. She let out a relieved sigh, brushing the water up onto her collar, the thin sheen reflecting my light on her soft neck. Seems it was a time for relaxing, and I figured that would be fine.
Let’s just enjoy a night to ourselves, Hannah. You deserve it.
Hannah dried her fingers on a towel draped over the edge of the tub, and then she lifted an open book from a tray next to her. Her head leaned back against the wall, and she raised the book to my light. Over our time together, Hannah’s legs swept up from under the water’s surface before slinking back down, leaving one knee, glimmering with a watery veil, just above the water. She swept through the pages of her book with the blade of her finger.
Are you liking the book? I don’t read as fast as you, so I only catch some of what’s going on, but I like what I do get to read. Heh, sorta sounds my like my life – I spend it sleeping so much of the time, only getting to see you and what’s going on when you need my light. I don’t mind though, coming out for special things likes birthdays, dinners, love-making sessions, and relaxing bath times. I get to be there for the fun. But Hannah, I hope things go well for you when I’m not there to give you my warmth.
In some respects, it was strange to see her like this. Hannah was surrounded by people, but seemed distressed about one person that wasn’t there. Now, though, she was happy, relaxed even. I hope she can hold onto that feeling.
I woke up to Can’t Let You Go by Matchbox Twenty playing from the speakers in the cabinet. Hannah was rushing around with her usual swiftness, the hem of a floral skirt following closely behind her. I caught a glimpse of my form in wine glasses on either side of me. The oven beeped, and Hannah darted back across the dining room. She cursed under her breath trying to put oven mitts on when her cell phone rang. She wrestled a dish off of the top rack and set it on the stovetop, pulling the mitts from her hands as she made her way to the table, where her phone sat, ringing.
“Hey, are you almost here?” Hannah answered. She leaned against the table, her hip pressing on the edge. “What? Stephen…”
I’ve heard that tone before. Her weight shifted, her nice skirt bunching up on the table.
“That’s not fair. We’ve had this night planned for a week.”
That phone, it’s nothing but bad news Hannah.
“No, fine. Whatever. Have a good night.”
Hannah clapped her phone shut, and clenched it in a trembling hand. She slapped it down onto the table, and the silverware clanked as it hopped on the wood.
The girl pushed off the table, grabbing one of the plates as she left. After a few moments, she returned with a plate full of vegetables and a marinated chicken breast. The smell was delightful, us fires, you see, we do good work. She poured herself some wine, and my bright form was more pronounced against the red in the glass. She left the bottle unstopped as she set it down, and then sliced into her chicken breast, my light glaring off the blade of her knife.
You seem upset, again.
I flickered, and she glanced at me as she took a bite of her dinner. She exhaled sharply as she chewed, and it almost blew me away.
Careful, I’ll stay as long as you want me to.
Hannah ate the rest of her dinner in silence, every once in a while checking her phone and tapping on the number pad. Sending passive-aggressive messages, if her expression was any indication. By the end of her meal, her nerves had calmed considerably, but she didn’t have that same content look to her like before. She set her fork down on her plate in such a way that it produced no sound. She looked at me again, and sighed.
See, I’m still here. I haven’t disappointed you, have I?
Hannah leaned toward me, cradling my swaying form in her cupped hand. I saw myself swinging in her eyes, but they trembled as tears formed.
Don’t cry, Hannah.
She blew me another kiss.
“Yeah, the power is out in the whole neighborhood,” Hannah said, speaking into the phone pinched between her ear and shoulder.
She shook her hand, putting out the match and tracing a thin ribbon of smoke through the air. My light was the only in the room, or even in the house for that matter. Rain battered against the window, tiny wet fingers tapping against the glass in indiscriminate waves.
“It’s okay. I’ll just read here with a candle. The power will probably come back on before I wake up.” Hannah set the pitch-tipped stick on my tin base, before sitting down in the couch next to me.
Things seemed much more different in this dark than they did in the dark of the birthday party. Hannah was the only one in the house, and I was the sole light source. I was responsible for all shadows that swayed on the walls. It seemed like a monumental task, but I felt more than up for it; I was still tall, still bright.
Just the two of us, right? We’re not waiting on anyone else?
“No, he’s gone – we’re done.” Hannah replied.
Done? So you’re alone then. Are you upset?
“No…y’know, it’s good. It’s better that I spend some time being happy with myself.”
You think so?
“Yeah. I should focus on myself.”
That’s a good idea, Hannah.
Hannah turned her head and watched me sway in the dark. “Yeah, I can’t keep clinging to garbage relationships just to have someone there. I’ve noticed I’m a lot less stressed when I’m alone.”
Alone with your candlelight, right?
“Yeah, exactly.” Hannah chuckled. “It’s better this way, for now at least.”
That’s great to hear.
“No, no I won’t burn the house down. I’ll talk to you later. Have a good night, bro. Stay dry.” Hannah closed her phone and let it drop into her lap.
She reached forward to the table in front of her, sliding a small, hardcover book into her hands. A flash of light outshined mine from the window for a brief moment, before relinquishing the darkness back to me. Hannah turned her head from her book and looked out the window, the night and the rain making the outside a glossy black. She began to count, whispering the numbers with a timely pause between. By the count of eight, a low growl moved over the house, rattling the window in its sill. Hannah nodded, turning back to her book.
“We’re gonna be here for a while,” Hannah said, looking at me.
We? I danced happily. That’s fine, we’ll just relax here.
The sound of the rain was soothing, mixed with the intermittent flaps of the pages Hannah turned. Thunder continued sparingly, and Hannah ignored the lightning, keeping her attention to the book. It was nice, not having to worry about a call from someone to disappoint her, I was happy to see her in genuine contentment, after the trouble at the end of her birthday, as well as the trouble before her dinner.
It wasn’t long before Hannah had fallen asleep, her open book resting on its pages on her chest. The rain had subsided, all I could hear was her breathing. In this darkness, there truly was nothing but her and me. I had grown shorter, there wasn’t much left of me now. My wick was on its last inches, the oil of my wax drying up. I flickered.
Hannah, it looks like I’ll be going soon. I’m sorry to leave you, but at least we got to spend time together without that phone of yours disappointing you. I suppose, in a way, I’m just like those boyfriends – we had some good times, but in the end I’ll be leaving, sure as the sun rises in the morning. At least with me, you knew I wouldn’t be around forever. Even then, I never let you down, and I enjoyed this time with you. I shouldn’t have cared so much about getting your attention. I should have realized that I was important enough just because you chose to have me there. My existence, though short-lived like all lives, is brilliant in its own small way.
Hannah turned in her sleep, her head leaning toward the end table where I sat. Down to the last of my wick, smothered in melted wax, my fire shrank. Yet, as my light disappeared, sunlight began to pour into the living room from the front window. A small beam moved between the branches of the tree in the front yard, and landed across Hannah’s lips. The tip of my wick dulled from orange to black, a silver ribbon of smoke rising from it, swaying like a hand waving farewell.