Candle Matters

Candle Matters
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Picture Credits: S. Hermann & F. Richter

My son is serene, soft-smelling, and glowing – especially in the evenings. He has a smile like a croissant, but really his entire face is a bakery; all cheese danish and guava empanada in the eyes. I carry him in a basket with a warm, fresh cloth wrapped around his frame. He is small but slowly filling, collecting like yeast and sugar, lively and sweet, rising and freshening the air around him. And he has all my favorite parts of a child, bones and skin and teeth and hair. This boy is something to behold. And for that reason, I am careful with him – though I have no choice. What do we have if not each other, us little midwestern corn kernels, the world all hot oil and butter.

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In the evenings, I light a candle and press my palm against my child’s stomach. There is a mutual warmth between us, not to be confused with heat. One soothes the skin, the other oppresses. My boy coos out small animal snores.

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We sit in the living room and listen to the birds singsong to one another through the window. I tell him what each bird is – cardinal, whip-poor-will, warbler – even though he’s too young to carry the information. This builds character, I assume, but I’m not sure why.

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I drop my son on the floor and he shatters. In desperation, I sweep pieces of my boy into the center of the kitchen, but his shards tear at me and I recoil in fear that this child, my only son, has fallen victim to my clumsiness and is now scattered all over the place, speckling the tile with his remains, and all I can do is stand and bleed from my hands. What a fragile thing he is, was, would’ve been. Look at my boy, bones and skin and teeth and hair and glass and glass and glass. I cannot help but stare at the way his broken body shimmers like a pond in summer. I wish he were a pond in summer, as ponds do not break, only fill the container they inhabit. Ponds do not shatter on the floor.

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I light candles in every room. Candles that smell like lemongrass, vanilla, cardamom. These are for guidance. Freshly-cut grass, chlorine. These are for strength. Fermenting apples, brown sugar oats, ocean breath. These are for memory. Candles that smell as filling as my loss. Candles that burn to the bottom of the wick, absenting themselves, fleeting as heartbreak, making the house smell rich and full in all the ways it is not.

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The evenings are hot, sticky, and empty, but I still light my candles. I dip my fingers into their hot wax, watching how the liquid islands each small flame. The scalding sensation livens my fingertips, and the wax hardens around my skin before I can consider what I’ve done. I sit on the floor and pick the molding from my fingers like a child tears sticky glue from their own small, gazing hands. I eat the candle matter. Sometimes I dip my fingers and place them directly into my mouth, trying to drink the oily mixture down before it hardens in my gullet. It’s a race, one to keep my throat from clogging, one to see who will harden first.

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While fetching water for the plants, I feel a sharp bite in my heel. It is a shard of my son, one that had been swept into a crevice in the tile. I love him, but he has hurt me again. The blood pouts from my skin in small purses. I take the speck of my poor boy and sweep him into my palm. He is so small in my hands, not at all how I remember him. There must be a way to preserve him, my child, my truant glow. There are so many candle jars lining the shelves, I choose one and drop the speck of child into it. If I am quiet, I can hear him softly clink against the glass. He had always felt like a candle; small and brightly beaming. I have often felt like whatever the opposite of a candle is – a sprinkler, perhaps.

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The wax I’ve been eating has hardened within me. There is a candle in my stomach now. I feel it when I’m sitting on the toilet, the way it protrudes from the flesh beneath my belly button. My fingers can’t help but poke at it, to coddle the waxy pulp trapped in my viscera. I drink scorching tea to melt the stomach-wax down, make it a stew rather than a spear. Any flavor works, black or green or herbal. I’d drink the boiling water plain if called upon. I adjust my posture while waiting for my bile to re-mold itself, trying not to preference a side.

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I pull at strings of myself in search of a wick to light. Geography would suggest one would be on top of my head, but nothing flammable exists there. Nothing that would hold flame. I light cotton swabs on the stovetop and swallow them like a circus act, seeing if they take hold in my esophagus. I pinch and yank at parts of my body looking for the most likely entry point to burn myself down to a stump. To chase the warmth rather than the heat. I knock candle jars from every table and countertop in the house until my floor is a well-trimmed lawn of shattered glass, including the jar holding the last remaining piece of my boy. This is what I’ve done. I cannot tell him from the rest of the pieces. I cannot tell my son from shattered glass.

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Tucker Leighty-Phillips

About Tucker Leighty-Phillips

Tucker Leighty-Phillips is an MFA candidate in Fiction at Arizona State University, where he is currently the Managing Editor for Hayden's Ferry Review. His work has appeared at Cutbank, Smokelong Quarterly, Hobart, and elsewhere. He can be found on social media at @TheNurtureBoy and online at tuckerlp.net.

Tucker Leighty-Phillips is an MFA candidate in Fiction at Arizona State University, where he is currently the Managing Editor for Hayden's Ferry Review. His work has appeared at Cutbank, Smokelong Quarterly, Hobart, and elsewhere. He can be found on social media at @TheNurtureBoy and online at tuckerlp.net.

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