I wrote this short story today. I haven’t wrote anything in a while. It felt good. Enjoy.
It was cold and Mara had not paid the gas bill. In fact she had not paid any bill for months now, the only reason she had not been kicked out yet was because she was sleeping with the landlord. She wondered if there was anyone she could sleep with so that her electricity and heating would always stay on as well. Mara wondered how normal people coped. She felt like she walked through life with both her hands freshly cut off, nothing to stop the bleeding and no fingers or hands to hold a pen with or pay a bill or wash herself. She was beginning to think she needed glasses too, either that or it was she was spending too much time in the dark, reading her books, squinting so hard she gave herself a headache. There was a knock at the door and Mara looked down at her hands to check they were still there so that she could open it. They were, so she got up and turned the handle. The landlord stood in front of her, hands into his pockets, jacket zipped up to his chin. She stood aside without saying anything and he walked in.
“It’s freezing in here Mara.” He pressed the light switch on and off, on and off, as if it would eventually turn on.
“I know. I haven’t paid any bills.”
“Jesus. Don’t you even have any candles to light? It’s darker in here than it is outside.”
“No.” Mara tried to make out the expression on his face in the dark, “I’ve never bought a candle in my life.” To Mara, buying candles seemed like a self indulgent and wasteful thing to do, for most people would not be using them for light but rather to burn. But then Mara imagined herself surrounded by candles as she read. She imagined herself holding an elaborate candelabra in front of her as she padded around a mansion in a silk nightgown.
Now Mara wanted a candle.
“Well come here then. Let me warm you up.” And so she went to the landlord and tried to think of him as a candle, for, at this moment in time, he was the only source of warmth in her life.
The next day, Mara went to work. She smiled at everyone as she scanned their food, made small talk about the weather, about how cold it was, about how she hoped it would warm up. Her smile did not become forced until an hour before the end of her shift. She stopped making small talk. She stopped being agreeable, now she told people she wished it would get colder. And it did.
Mara walked to her bus stop and stood underneath the streetlight like she was a sleepy moth. The orange-yellow light made her skin look perfect, tanned, like she had just came back from two weeks in the Bahamas. It’s hard to imagine a tanned person being cold. But her skin only looked warm, the light did not actually warm her.
A man wearing a long black coat approached the bus stop. He looked like a shadow.
“Cold night, isn’t it?” The man did not turn his head to look at her, instead gazed out into the road as if talking to a ghost.
“Yes.” Mara did not know what else to say. She had used up all her small talking abilities earlier. Her voice and her brain wanted to rest from saying things that did not matter.
“Do you want a cigarette? You look really cold.” Once again the man did not look at her.
“No, thank you.” The smell of tobacco made her sick. It reminded her of her father, it reminded her of dirt, it reminded her of decay. Instead she took deep breaths and blew out the air, watching her self made smoke float up and dance like dry ice.
“How long have you been waiting?” The man did that thing people do when they inhale smoke and speak at the same time. Like he was only using half of his lungs to talk and had to force the words out through the back of his teeth.
“Not sure. About fifteen minutes.”
“Would you like to come back to my place? I can call us a taxi instead.” The man had still not looked at her.
“Do you have a candle?”
The man looked at her.
“I might do.”
“Okay then. My name is Mara.”
He called them a taxi and they went to his place.
His place was an apartment. It was clean and tidy and warm and average. The man took her coat and hung it on a hook with his. He had left every light in the apartment on. Mara hoped she wasn’t the person to leave lights on when there was no need. But of course, she didn’t know, it had been so long since she had them.
“Do you want a drink?”
“Tea, please. If you have it.”
He walked into the kitchen and switched on the kettle. Mara closed her eyes and listened to it boil, the water rumbling in it’s belly like a thunderstorm under the sea. He called for her from the kitchen.
“Do you want sugar? Milk? How much?”
She realized he was the type to always ask questions. She supposed that meant she was the type to always answer.
He brought out her tea in a small grey mug. She held it tightly with her hands and it burned to the point where her hands were not hot or cold but just burning. Mara took a gulp, the strong tea burning her lips, her tongue, the back of her throat, the bare gums at the back of her mouth where teeth should have been. She felt it slide down into her chest, burning like the core of the earth. She put her hand over the spot and pressed down.
“How old are you?” The man was sitting on the sofa, staring at Mara drink her tea.
“22.” She almost asked him the same question until she realized that was not the role she was playing. He asked the questions. He had already made that clear.
“Come sit next to me.”
Mara did not move. She took another gulp of her tea.
“Can you find the candle first, please.”
The man looked at her blankly. For a moment Mara thought he was going to ask her ‘Why?’ but instead he got up and started looking through a set of wooden drawers. Eventually he found a cream coloured candle and walked towards her.
“Do you want me to light it or something?”
“No. Can I have it?”
He was closer to her now, close enough that his chest touched the mug of tea, pushing it farther into Mara’s chest. The burning was still there.
“You want the candle?”
“That is what I said, yes.”
“Okay.” He set the candle down on the side table next to where Mara was standing and removed the mug from her grip and put that down too. He put his warm hands on her frostbitten cheeks. Burning again.
“What ethnicity are you?”
“Will you sleep with me?”
“Do you want to know my name?”
Mara and the man went into the bedroom. Afterwards, Mara got to take the candle home.
The next night, after she had finished work, Mara came home to her candle. She had set it on top of her pile of letters she had read and not done anything about. They all were asking her to do something or pay something or they told her she had not done something or all three. Mara appreciated the irony of the candle sitting on top. It only dawned to her that night that she had not got anything to light it with. Mara felt sadder than she had done in a while. In fact, Mara realized she had not really felt anything in a while. Just cold. And tired. And now sad.
The next night Mara waited on the bus stop for the man in the black coat but he didn’t come. He smoked cigarettes, she thought, he smoked cigarettes and so he will have a match or a lighter or something that makes fire. She waited the next night and the next night and the next night but he never came.
And then the landlord came again. Outside the door, hands in pockets, jacket zipped to his chin. She let him in and for once, spoke first.
“Do you have a lighter? Or a match?”
“Still no electricity, eh! What do you spend your money on, Mara? It’s not like you’re even paying me rent.”
“It’s not that I cannot pay it, it’s that I don’t.”
“But why?” He stressed the word like the very thought of her existence confused him. The landlord began rubbing Mara’s arm like he was trying to start a fire with his hand and the hair on his arm.
“I don’t know. I haven’t done it in so long it just seems like something I do now.”
He leaned in towards her, his lips hovering by her right eye. She could feel his warm breath against her skin, smelling of coffee and decaying teeth.
“So do you have a lighter or a match?”
He kissed her softly like he was afraid to mark her skin.
“No. Why don’t you just buy one?”
The words hit Mara like an avalanche of snow on top of her head. Why had it not occurred to her to just buy one for herself, she did not know. And it hurt her and confused her deeply that she did not think to do something for herself. She had been waiting for the man at the bus stop for days, freezing in the cold, when she could have walked into any store, even the one she worked at, and buy a lighter for herself. She could buy a blue one or a red one or one with a naked woman on it if she wanted.
Mara let the landlord have sex with her on the floor. She only thought about the candle, it’s glinting flame, and how beautiful and how warm it will be when it is lit.