The Candle

By | November 5, 2020
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The Candle

He left the candle burning, just as she had asked him to do. Though it had been seven years since she went away, every evening at nightfall he would light a candle. Every night while he tried to sleep through his pain and his loneliness, the candle flickered silently casting dancing shadows upon the walls in the quiet hours.

He lit the candle again and wiped a tear from his cheek and fell into bed exhausted. Yet he knew that this night, like most other nights, sleep would not come.

He lay awake watching the ballet of shadows – again. Some nights he’d listen to the wind breathing in the boughs of barren branches of the tree she had planted outside their bedroom window -one spring day long ago and now, so far away. Other nights he’d watch the shivering shadows dance while a concerto of raindrops, rhythmically pounded on the roof and ran in little rivers and rivulets and raced to the ground below. He’d watch the silver shimmer of the rain and think lonely thoughts in the quiet hours.

He left the candle burning.

He was always thinking – as if thinking would ease the loneliness or fill his empty days. He found the quiet hours of the night inspired pensive thought. If only she hadn’t gone away. If only he’d have known, perhaps he could have done something differently.

If only. If only. If only.

He felt as if his entire life was an unfinished list of “if onlys”. If only he could just close his eyes and fall asleep, he could find respite from this rapacious loneliness. If only sleep would visit him, he could seek refuge in the numb and thoughtless world of sleep. If only he could close his eyes and drift into the solace of sleep.

If only.

All the quiet hours he had spent since she went away had not been good to him – or good for him. He withdrew more and more into the world of shadow dances and concerts of rain and wind. He spent his days reading through volumes of books he had once read with her. There was a pile of magazines, several feet high in the corner that he had saved because she had circled articles in them for him to read and then discuss with her.

They shared everything. Then she went away. They had shared everything from ice cream cones on hot and humid summer nights to snowflakes on frigid winter mornings. They shared so

many sunsets and sunrises and walks through woods in all seasons – he couldn’t possibly remember them all. The folded into and onto each other – all special parts of a special life together – now blurred by time, dimmed by and seasoned with longing and loneliness. Holding hands and sharing themselves with each other, life was dreamy on steamy summer nights and warm and soft on white winter nights. Life was a gift to him then, a gift to be shared. And he shared it with her. They had a love for all seasons. He loved her for all the right reasons.

He tried to drink it in and savor every minute with her as if each one would be his last. His eyes filled with tears as he thought of her and those silvern days of love and conversation, those beautiful days of sharing and caring. He tried to savor and save every second – like a solitary mountain man stocking up supplies for a long and brutal winter. But no one can savor something so good and special quite enough. He was left wishing he could have savored more and saved it all up inside so he could relive those magic moments again and again.

Life isn’t fair. You can’t bring back what has gone. You can’t turn today into yesterday. You have only the present – this one speck of “now” to live. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never be.

Now while the shadows danced on this wall, all he had left of her were the memories dancing in his mind. He was using up his store of memories as he reflected on darting shadows and mused to the rhythm of the strange, amplified sounds of the night.

The tree outside the window is barren, its life sucked out by the howling winds one stormy night – and by this unusually early and unseasonably cold autumn. The branches scrape against the siding of the house in a cascade of strange and moribund moans.

Sleep would not visit him this night. He knew that sleep would never come easily anymore. The longing grew deeper and loneliness turned to despair. Yet, every night he kept the candle burning because she has asked him to. He would keep the candle burning for her for as long as he had life running through him.

The shadows danced and the flame flickered, and the branches rattled and moaned – and fleeting glimpses of memory tormented him.

He picked up a tattered, folded piece of paper that he kept on his nightstand and read again the words she had written to him, just a few weeks before she went away.

Leave the Candle Burning

Leave the candle burning
Don’t let the fire die.
Memories are yearning
In my love’s sweet lullaby.

Leave the candle burning
Until I come home to you.
Keep the candle burning
For the love that we once knew.

Leave the candle burning
And keep it burning bright.
Keep the candle burning —
I will return one night.

Keep the candle burning
For our love. For you and I
The flame of life may flicker
But our love will never die.

It didn’t seem like seven years had passed since she went away. Time had always passed so quickly when they were together. These last seven years seemed like twenty and each sleepless night seemed an eternity and each day seemed like an emptiness of yearnings and longings and memories.

He thought often about the beginning. He thought about the unlikely way they had met as if fate had touched him at least once. He never felt he was a lucky man, but that night must have been an anomaly. He was the luckiest man on Earth at least that one time in his life. His life had been enriched far more by her than it ever could have been by millions of dollars. Yes, he had been a lucky man at least once in his life.

He thought about the first couple of years as they grew closer to each other. Sometimes they both were amazed by their closeness. He thought about the disappointments, rough times, harsh words – the betrayals, and missed opportunities. How meaningless they all seemed now. The years had washed away the hurts, disappointments, and tears. There were doubts and fears too. Doubts and fears – always the monsters that love struggles to conquer. The good times, the loving times, the wonderful times, and years of smiles, laughter, and love between them had made those early disappointments, doubts and fears seem almost risible.

If only we could see so clearly what lies ahead as we can see that which has gone before.

If only. If only. If only.

If only he had seen the end coming, he might have been able to do something to keep her from going away – he might have been lying here with her listening to the music of the night, instead of riding these sad shadows of loneliness.

He used to watch her sleeping and listen to her breathing – such a peaceful feeling. Such an enchanted time. The melancholy strains of a song drifted through his mind: “To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn, and a time for every purpose under heaven…”

What mattered most to him was gone. She went away seven years ago on an autumn night much like this one – while winter waited at their door, she left him without saying goodbye. She left him with only a soft sigh and whispered words he could not understand. She took a breath and then she went away.

The candle is still burning. The fire will not die.

The candle flickers softly in the sullen, silent night. Watching the shadows dancing on the wall, he waits for her return. Tossing and turning he waits for sleep to come but knows sleep will not come tonight. He knows she will not return tonight or any night.

He left the candle burning. He won’t let the fire die. In the dancing shadows, the glow of hope flickers — but the memories and the love live on.

5 thoughts on “The Candle

  1. Pearl

    A touching story but all I could think about was that burning candle and the possibility of a house fire.

    Recently widowed after 55 years, I can relate to the long lonely days and the nights without sleep while your mind races through thoughts.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Ruth Van Horne

    How beautiful! Having just lost my husband 7 months ago during covid so I couldn’t even be with him, this brings tears flowing, once again. Your writing is poignant, an insightful man indeed with a precious gift for writing essays. Thank you so much.

  3. Reta Aronson

    That was so very special and your word had a resounding effect to all of us at this time who want to slow down all the chaos that is swirling about us on a daily basis and like Ruth, Don has been gone for 7 years and to be able to Thank You for a beautiful thought that made the day brighter.


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