By Kip Robinson Greenthal
She steals from her parents’ house. Twelve porcelain plates with cobalt trim, a dozen wine glasses wrapped in her polar fleece jacket, and two gold lamps with painted roses on their bases. Her hands sweat holding these things, as she rushes from the house worrying that the front door will slam shut before she comes back for the second load. The wind blows over the lake and into her lungs with a watery sweetness that doesn’t mix with what she is doing. Last week she took three waste paper baskets, a small brown wood mirror, a box of silver forks, spoons and knives, and paintings of flowers and crickets.
Night is the best time to steal, when the neighbors can’t see her put these things in her car. She puts them carefully on the soft seat and places towels around the china and glasses and picture frames that might break. Also she takes things a little at a time, so that way it feels manageable. She tries to mix up the soft things with hard things—trays, comforters, porcelain china, pillows, crystal. Her routine is regular. She goes to the house and does some work: pack up boxes of books, discard old calendars and files, go through her parents’ clothes and bags them for the community services. Then, later, she looks through the dark rooms and her breath rises up into her head until her eyes hurt because she knows these objects too well. They’ve been here over fifty years.
Tonight she will steal the silver candlesticks from the dining room table. These are the candlesticks that watched her learn to strike a match. She remembers standing at the dining room table when she was ten years old. Her mother and father would not let her sit down to eat dinner until she had struck the match to light the candles.
“Light the candles,” they coaxed her. “What are you afraid of?”
The walls of the room ferried around her, she did not understand why it was so important that she strike the match. Light the candles, they said, and the world became the candle and the match and the voices of her parents. She watched the candle rise up from the silver candlestick, tall and soft and white with a small wick coming through its center. Its beauty made her cry. She stood in the dark vacuum that was the dining room and her mother and father. Paralysis seized her fingers, and the matchbook slipped, and she could not strike. If she did, there would be the explosion of light, the door crashing open in the middle of the night that ripped up her sleep and her dreams. The explosion was her mother and father: her father yelling from the center of her bedroom, her mother following him with blood on the corner of her mouth. It was the bad blazing light. They could destroy each other in front of her if she let them, but she always begged them to stop. She was in a tryst with them when they came into her room in the dead of night.
She didn’t think about this when she tried to light the match. She only stood, terrified, staring at the tall candle. Somewhere deep inside herself she knew how quickly beauty can be destroyed. She knew the near death of love.
Now, years later, she reaches for the silver candlesticks. As if for the first time she notices the decorative arbor that climbs up their stem from the base. She remembers that she did finally strike the match against the surface of the book with her parents watching. She remembers the blaze exploding, and lighting the candle, and the flame reaching up like liquid gold from the wick. She remembers the smell of phosphorous in her fingers, and that the wax of the candle was as gentle as skin with a milky hue. The sound of her parents clapping still snaps in the room.
Lifting the silver candlesticks from the dining room table, they shed a sour scent of raw metal in her hands. She’s always loved these candlesticks, she thinks. Shoving them into her book bag, she turns off the lights, and rushes through the rooms of her parents’ house to the door. The wind still tries to slam it shut as she goes out. The lake still spills its watery sweetness inside her lungs. Making as little sound as possible, she takes her careful steps down the path to her car.
©2008 Kip Robinson Greenthal