Title: A Flickering Candle
Length: 978 words
Rating: T for one curse at the end.
Summary: A conversation between two people in a restaurant both highlights and exacerbates the fragility of their relationship.
The large grandfather clock in the front lobby of Caraway’s Restaurant began to strike nine. At a table for two in the center of the restaurant a girl stared at the candle that was the centerpiece of every table. Her warm brown eyes looked as though they were used to smiling. Now they looked troubled.
“What don’t you like about it?”
The girl started. “No, no. I think it’s great that you want to do it. It’s really brave of you, and if that’s what you want to do, I’m behind it, I am.”
The young man opposite her sighed and began to swirl the ice in his water glass. A waitress passed by the table with two elaborately dressed steaks on a tray. “Paula, are you sure? You know I love you, I’d do anything for you. It’s just that- I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and since Grampa died, I really think it might be the right thing.”
“Why? Going into the army’s a huge commitment, and you could get sent God knows where.”
“I know, I know. But it just- Grampa was always telling me about what it was like for him in when he was in the army and how-” the young man smiled thinly, “he’d been to hell and back and come out the stronger for it.”
“What’s the point of that, though?” The girl laughed halfheartedly and began to toss a lettuce leaf on her fork. “Don’t you want to avoid hell? Isn’t that generally a good idea?”
The young man reached across the table and covered her hand with his. “Come on, Paula, you know there’s more to it than that.”
The girl sighed and stared listlessly at their intertwined hands. “I don’t. If you want camaraderie or something, why don’t you join a club baseball team or something like that? You have a good job here in Altoona, your dad’s landscaping business is doing really well and everything…”
Her voice trailed off. The young man leaned back in his chair with a sigh. He looked around for a moment at the red-brown walls and the gold lights that glowed cheerfully at regular intervals along the wood panels near the ceiling. The rustling murmur of chattering diners rose all around them, transforming their table into a pool of silence.
At last the girl’s voice dropped like a stone into the pool. “What about us, Eric? How long would we be apart, if you were sent overseas? I’d never get to see you, and I bet I wouldn’t know where you were. How long would I have to sit not knowing about what was going on with you? And why do you even want to be a part of this war? It’s bad enough without you getting involved in it too.”
“It’s not like that- I just feel like I owe it to Grampa, okay? I feel like I owe it to him, I think he always wanted one of his sons to go on to the army, he felt like it was something we owed our country.”
The girl sighed bitterly. “So you’re letting your Grampa decide what’s right for your life?”
“Paula, I wouldn’t be thinking about it if I didn’t agree with him on some level!”
The girl slid her hand from beneath his. The pool of silence formed again. An elderly couple just beside the table glanced at the pair of them. The old man adjusted his glasses and leaned towards the old woman to mutter something. She glanced at the girl and nodded darkly.
Neither the young man nor the girl looked at one another. Several seconds passed.
The girl’s voice came out a soft whisper, like a leaf falling into a pond. “I’m sorry Eric. I am. I shouldn’t be talking like this to you. It’s just that- well, I did hope that maybe later- we could, you know, move on a bit. Be a lot- a lot closer. And now it seems like that won’t happen.”
“You don’t know that, Paula.” The young man reached out to cover her hand again. “Sometimes- what’s that old saying- ah, my grandma loved it- ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ That’s it. That could be us.”
She looked him in the eye. “My mom always used to say ‘out of sight, out of mind.’” As the words slipped from her mouth, she seemed to catch herself. “All right. I just- I’m sorry. I’m being a bitch.”
“You’re not. It’s not an easy thing to hear. I know that, Paula, and I’m sorry, I really am. It’s just that I really do think this is right for me.”
Once again the pool filled with silence.
At last the girl withdrew her hand. Creases formed along the smooth white tablecloth as she did so. The light from the centerpiece candle flickered on her bronzed arm as she raised her water glass with a wide smile. “So here’s to you, Eric. To good luck in the army.”
The young man’s smile did not reach his bright blue eyes. “To good luck in the army.”
They drank, the girl taking a small delicate sip, the young man gulping. His hand slipped on the condensation of the glass, and water splashed against his nose. With a sound of exasperation, he set the glass down and reached for his napkin. The girl smiled fondly.
For a moment the blue eyes met the brown ones.
“Paula, are you absolutely sure that you’re okay if I decide to enlist?”
The girl stared at the tablecloth for a moment and began to fiddle with her salad fork again. “Eric, if enlisting is what you want to do, and if you think it’s right for you, I’m one hundred percent behind it.” Her lips clamped together hard after she finished speaking, and the young man sighed.
A/N: I have rather mixed feelings about this. The bulk of it was written several months ago and I like some bits and pieces, but find it rather unsatisfying. I was trying to write something that felt complete in a thousand words- and as yet still haven’t succeeded. Therefore any feedback and suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you for reading!