candles

A Well-Lit Christmas
by Jane Laube Boch

“Can you build a fire when we get home?” I ask. “It doesn’t feel like Christmas without it.” I’m like my kids, a string taut with excitement.

Mark laughs. “Tomorrow.”

People fill the church and spill out onto the front steps. The tree is decorated with symbols and white lights, while rows of poinsettias add red and green to the music of hand bells, piano, and organ. We take our white candles and find our seats.

Nearing the end of the service, the lights dim to the strains of “Silent Night.” We pick up our candles as the ushers light theirs at the back of the church. The members of the congregation pass the flame along their candles, turning darkness to light, until the whole church is glowing and flickering. We swell our song to match the climbing melody, when I feel something warm at the base of my neck.

“Kathryn,” Mark blurts out. I swat at my neck, trying to cool it down. The kids’ eyes are wide, their faces frozen. I smell burning, and everyone looks at me—and my hair. “Don’t move,” Mark says. “I’ve got it.” He uses his jacket to put out the flames, and a coldness smelling like smoke takes their place.

Smoothing my singed locks, I ask, “Does it look bad?”

Mark chuckles and shows me the burns on his jacket. “Does this look bad?”

I groan, then laugh. The mother behind me looks sick. “I’m so sorry. Harry reached up and grabbed the candle, and . . .”

I took her hand. “It’s okay. Christmas is full of surprises.”

When the music ends, we turn in our extinguished candles at the back of the church. Mark leans toward me with a grin. “Do you still want that fire?”

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The inspiration for this piece came from a childhood memory of a Christmas Eve service, which ended at midnight with the congregation lighting their candles and singing “Silent Night.” While serving as an acolyte, I had a perfect view of a member of the congregation when a candle behind her caught her hair on fire.

Boch

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jane Laube Boch started writing in first grade, when she won a Young Author contest for a story about an ice cream cone and a roller coaster. Her flash fiction has been featured on the Silver Birch Press blog and Press 53’s 53-word story contest. She spends her days taking care of her two boys and a three-yea- old Labrador retriever.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: On December 25, 2002, my fiancé and I posed for a photo with our first joint Christmas gift, a TV. We weren’t married yet, he was finishing college, and I was living at home, but at least we had a TV!