The Roman Candle

by Elizabeth Hession

The remembrance of this first encounter was ingrained in his memory. It was wrapped in shimmering bronze ribbons and lace, flowing tendrils of a head of fiery hair, ripe with the smell of exhaust fumes. Its sound was the din of screeching trains pulling away from the station; but voices, once let free, echoed high above anything that threatened to extinguish it from his mind. To touch it was impossible, for she was tangible only in memory.

Whether love can be found in the instance of a glance, or if it has simply always been a fragment of the wilful imagination of those of us desperate to find companionship, no soul has ever proved it possible nor impossible. If there ever was a picture of unusual beauty to question encounters of such a sort, she could well have been it. 

A blanket of snow had engulfed the hills and stretching fields throughout the countryside. The sun's morning belt lay stretched beneath crimson clouds, accompanying the late dawn chorus with a peachy glow. Sitting on the last carriage of the early morning train to London, nose deep in page, he already knew he'd be late for his first lecture.

The train chugged to an icy halt at the next station and her head of tumbling ginger curls came bounding through the doors, a pale complexion burning a rosy tint, green eyes scouting the only vacant seat on the carriage. Making an almighty clamber with lofty suitcases, she took her seat opposite his bewilderment. Taking a worn, red leather diary from her bag, she caught sight of his obvious distraction. She smiled and held out her hand to introduce herself. He was not altogether tall, slim with hair neatly cropped in places, artfully distressed in others. 

It wasn't hard for the two strangers to become acquainted. She ensured such an encounter with her sonorous laugh, swallowing the morning quietness, and he with his witty comedic expertise. They talked and talked, the pair blissfully unaware of the time passing.

He poked the fire and added more coal to keep the flames going through the night. The floor boards winced as he shuffled, bones creaking with each slow movement. An autumn chill whispered through the cracks in the door frame. Older now, his hair had long since turned grey, features now creased and leathered, eyes sitting behind foggy glasses. The silence was thick and heavy, broken only by the crackling of the flames dancing together beneath the mantelpiece. The cottage was never the same once she had left. There wasn't much that hinted of her having ever lived there now, but for the few lonely possessions she had forgotten, and the way that the menacing, deep-chested silence seemed to mock the heartbreak of a man who had been left behind. 

"Aren't you going to tell me your name?" He asked as the train chugged through the rising countryside. 

"What, and ruin the sense of mystery?" she smirked. They talked. He noticed the way her eyes lit up when she told him the stories of her travels across Europe, and how one day she had left home to see the world and hadn’t looked back since. He had never met someone who could ignite his interest with such ease – like striking a match. Hair burning in the morning sunshine, mind wild and alive like a hornet’s nest, her thoughts never took a moments rest.

In an animation of excitement, coffee spilled across the table, drenching the diary she had kept for years. She laughed and sighed, mopping up the soggy mess; how she could ruin a treasured possession without seeming to mind. 

They married on a Sunday morning after a courtship spanning 97 days. Neither sets of parents were present. She has lost contact with hers long ago. His didn't agree with their son marrying such an odd girl; they eloped in secret. She wrote down every memory they made together in her diary, since having become a treasure trove, shared together over years and years. Rimmed red wine stains adorned the inked pages with pride, decorating glued photographs with evidence of a life begun together.

Their journey ended as the train came to a halt at King's Cross Station. She scribbled a note, tore out a page, and handed it to him on departure. She rushed toward the end of the platform and he watched her disappear. "Don't open it until I'm gone!" She shouted to him, before she was swallowed by the crowd of morning commuters, extinguished within a symphony of whistles and train conductors, booming salutes through the platforms. Everything seemed to fall shy around him as the flickers of her red curls ran through a crowd of strange faces. 

She left him just the same as she had arrived; a firework that erupted into his life. She wept and cried and told him it was something that she had to do. He always knew that she was a star, a flame of wonder that filled his life with a joyous light. Their love was a candle that burned and stifled when there was no wax left to melt. Her bags were packed by the door. There was no time for explanations, and in one swift movement, she was gone. Older then, too, her ginger curls had turned grey like rusted wires, just as his had thinned and receded. Her eyes still shone a bright shade of green that hadn't aged since the first day he laid his sights upon her. Years passed and he had gotten used to being alone in an empty house. She was only with him now when he closed his eyes. 

The torn piece of paper was sprinkled and damp with the aftermath of the coffee spill. The exhaust fumes from the train circled and tangled in between his legs, dancing in a glissade of grey smoke as it pulled away from the station. The note read: "My name is Jane. Do you believe in us, together, love?”

The diary had been stored in a cardboard box in an attic and some years later when the pair had long since passed on in their separate ways, the house was cleared and the diary was found. On one page, she had written him a final note: 

"Isn't it funny, how it all happened so fast? But it's sad too."