“Said you’d give me light
But you never told me about the fire”
“Rhiannon rings like a bell in the night…”
Saturday, May 7, 1983
Horace had bought his mother a candle for Mother’s Day, every year for the last 14 years, but always something basic, from Wal Mart or K Mart. He was in college, now, and it was time to do better. Pier One Imports would, he was sure, have something classier.
The place smelled of strange foreign spices, and the light came from the sunroof in the middle of the ceiling. The store was an eclectic collection of items from anywhere other than Maine. There were strikingly beautiful statues, and there were cheap, tasteless trinkets. He walked through several aisles before he found the candles. He studied them, but none of them stood out. There were a few layered candles, with colors bleeding from one layer to the next, but there was nothing unique. They were all variations of each other.
“Did you figure it out?”
Horace turned around, and his eyes widened to see a singularly beautiful woman standing in front of him. “Rhiannon?” he said after the moment it took him to recognize her.
“You’re… Howard, right?”
“Horace. But close enough.”
“God, I’m sorry. It’s been a long time since last I saw you.” She looked him up and down. “You’ve changed a little.”
“I got my shoelaces to match.”
She laughed a little too hard. While Holden would have found it appalling and phony, Horace found it appealing and charming, nearly enchanting. “Were you funny in high school?”
“I thought I was. But, I’ve always been unreasonably arrogant for someone entirely lacking in social skills or physical attractiveness. So, maybe I wasn’t.”
Her laughter rang like a bell throughout the store, and Horace expected someone to come and see what was wrong. No one did. And that’s when he realized the store was, other than the two of them, empty. “Isn’t it boring to be here with no customers?”
“Sometimes it can be.”
“You should hire someone to come and talk to you when you’re bored.”
“Want a job?”
“No.” He was too frightened to give any other answer, but he was determined not to show it. “I want a unique candle. I’d love one of those weirdly shaped ones you had years ago.”
Her face darkened for a moment. “You won’t find one of those here.”
“Pier One is too commercial?”
“Well, we can’t make everyone happy, so we just avoid hurting anyone.” She smiled again. “None of these candles can be seen as offensive.”
“Or interesting.” He looked around. “Have any artistic ones?”
When he looked back, he saw her head turning as she scanned the entire store. She looked back at him, and he couldn’t help but notice the way she brushed her hair from her forehead.
“We have a carved candle that really is beautiful, but it’s incredibly expensive.” She walked toward the front of the store. Inside a glass case at the front counter sat a candle that must have weighed ten pounds. It was rich, dark green, and there was a cottage, in a forest, in a glade carved onto it with exquisite detail. He could almost see a light on in the attic.
“That’s… incredible…You could never burn that. It would almost be a crime against the Art.”
“If it has a wick, Horace, it wants to be burned.”
He couldn’t keep himself from staring, and he knew it, and he hated it about himself. She didn’t seem to mind. Her eyes were like a singer’s asking if the audience had any requests. He looked back at her like a regular patron asking the bartender for “The Usual.” And, for a moment, she slid her fingers lightly through her hair.
The door opened, causing a bell to ring, and Rhiannon looked away to see who it was.
They were two lost hippies, women who were out out of their time. They wore their very long hair down, they each had a straw hat, long necklaces, and bracelets that jingled whenever they moved. They wore plain gray skirts that nearly touched the floor. “We’ve come for chairs,” announced the taller one.
“Wicker chairs,” said her companion.
Horace watched Rhiannon scamper off toward them.
An old man in a black hat moved behind the display case to which Rhiannon had led him. “May I help you?”
“I want to buy this candle,” said Horace pointing. He pulled out his very first credit card, an American Express, and couldn’t help but watch Rhiannon and the women discussing the comfort of wicker, in its natural state, as opposed to processed material.
When The Man In Black handed him the receipt and the boxed candle, Horace nodded to him and walked toward the door.
Rhiannon was behind a high backed wicker chair, and as she heard the bell ring when he opened the door, she looked around the side of it, smiled far too broadly, and waved to Horace. She was a woman who knew how to wave from behind wicker.
“She is like a cat in the dark and then
She is the darkness”
“She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead”
Rhiannon was beginning to take shape in the flickering candlelight of the 3 AM darkness, as she often did while Horace was half conscious. She wasn’t the 16 year old girl with whom he had been pointlessly in love 40 years ago, but she wasn’t the woman in her current pictures, either. She was a lovely, if foggy, combination of those two memories, and he was beginning to smile without being aware of it. The cat crawled across his slowly rising and falling stomach, laid his head down on Horace’s chest, and yawned wide and long. The bell around his neck tinkled softly.
They both jumped when the banging on the door began. “What’s wrong?” He pulled his covers down. The breeze from the motion blew the candle out. Rhiannon retreated to the depths of his misted brain, and Horace rolled to his right and flipped on the bedside light.
“I need you to get Christine out of my room,” came Rita’s not entirely coherent voice.
Horace frowned. “My sister’s in your room?”
“She’s on the bed. She won’t leave.”
Mr. Brown jumped from the bed to the floor, his tail high. “I really don’t think she’s there, Rita.”
She was almost crying outside the door now. “I just told you she is. Make her go away.”
Horace sighed and got out of the bed. He pushed his feet into his slippers and walked to the door. When Horace opened it, Mr. Brown scampered out of his room and across the hall into Rhonda and Rita’s room. Rita nearly collapsed onto Horace who supported her the best he could.
He walked her back into her bedroom. Rhonda was sleeping deeply on her side of the bed. There was no one else there. Horace pointed that out to Rita.
“Where did she go?” Rita was genuinely surprised by Christine’s absence.
“I really don’t know. Maybe you could go back to bed.”
“I wanna have a cigarette.” She started down the hall toward the library, and its backdoor to the patio. Horace glanced at Rhonda, still completely oblivious, and decided to follow Rita. He found her on the best chair lighting a cigarette.
“Was she really beautiful as a little girl?” Rita asked as he stepped outside.
“My sister? Yes, I suppose she was. My parents said as much. I never found her beautiful, though.”
“She looks like she must have been a beautiful little girl. She has the prettiest hair. When she was young, I bet all the boys loved her.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever met her, Rita.”
“Duh. Just now? She kept playing with her hair. It was almost spooky. And she didn’t seem like she was where she meant to be. I think she got the wrong room.”
Horace took a cigarette from his pack. “You talked to her?” He sat down across from her.
“No. I just freaked out when she woke me up and came and got you.”
He watched her silently as she took a drag from her cigarette. In another moment, her eyes drifted shut. He got up, took the cigarette from between her fingers, set it in the ashtray, and then went to wake Rhonda. It was evidently time to change Rita’s meds again.
He locked his bedroom door.
Rhiannon didn’t return that night.