"Candles. She put candles in the bathroom."
"Right by the tub. There was wax on the tile, porcelain, the floor. Even the shower curtain, for god's sake."
David toyed with his pen, cleared his throat. "I see."
"That's not all. They were in the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room, the closet..."
"Wait a minute - you said the closet?"
"In boxes. Big boxes." Jack straightened his tie, looked at the floor. "Drove me crazy, it did."
"I see." David pushed a few buttons on the phone, hoping desperately it would ring.
"She has candles of every colour; even big black ones. There's candles with names of places she's been in strategic spots, and, get this - she has a Jesus one too."
David tried to picture these candles, poised in strategic spots. He began to imagine candles perched upon a formidable bosom, and stifled a giggle.
"This isn't funny!" Jack responded, pounding his fist on the desk. "Think of it - a goddamn Jesus candle, praying hands and all, eyes looking towards heaven and he's got a bloody wick in the top of his head! It's obscene I tell you!"
David covered his mouth, pretended to cough. "I have an aunt who had a Mary candle once..."
"I don't care about your aunt! This is serious I tell you."
"Sounds it." High heeled shoes clicked down the hall. He pondered over which long legged beauty was attached to those heels. The light staccato rhythm made him think it was Alice. Or maybe Jean. He wished he'd left his door open so at least the passing traffic would provide a diversion.
"Well anyway, I told her they were a hazard. They are you know. Our insurance company would have a fit if they saw all those candles. I bought a fire extinguisher so she'd take the hint. Didn't work."
"So now I've got one in every room. Even the closet, just in case."
"Really Jack, I think maybe you're going a little overboard aren't you? I mean, what's so wrong with candles anyway?" He struggled to keep a solemn expression, a look of intense boss-hood.
"Oh come on! This is my home we're talking about. And my wife. She lights them you know."
"Well I'd suppose she would."
"All at once."
"Oh." He turned his back for a moment, pretended to drop something in the wastepaper basket. Jack could see his shoulders shaking, but when David swivelled back he appeared quite serious.
"Should take something for that cough."
"Should quit smoking. But what the hell. You were saying?"
"Didn't know you smoked. Helen smokes. I keep telling her she's killing us both. She doesn't listen. Just says the candles clear the smoke out of the air. Scientific fact she says."
"Interesting. Can't see how it would work though. Does it?"
"Try it for yourself."
"Don't have a candle."
"Course it wouldn't have the same effect if you tried only one. Helen must have a hundred. Whole apartment looks like a goddamn conflagration at night. A veritable holocaust."
"Must save on the heating bills though." David couldn't resist it; he choked out a chuckle. "Sorry."
"Look, I'm serious, okay? Let me finish!"
"As I was saying -"
"Before I was so rudely interrupted -" David interjected.
Jack glared daggers. "As I was saying, well, we had it out last night. Knock down, drag-em-out fight."
"How'd that happen?" David assumed a concerned countenance.
"Well, I'd finally had enough. Went to bed early - tired from this project of ours - and, uhm, I woke up."
"Yah, I went to bed early too. Watched t.v. for a bit though."
"Yes, but I awoke. And, and then there were candles by the bed."
"Thought you said there were already candles by the bed."
"This time they were surrounding it. Must have been fifty of them.
All lit too."
"The lights were still out, and I had a carnation in my hands."
"That's a bit odd, eh?"
"No kidding. So I asked her what she was up to. Did I mention she was standing there stark naked, wearing only a black tie?"
"No," cough, "you didn't."
"Do you know what she said?"
"Uh, no, I don't."
"She said she wanted to see what I looked like dead. That's what she said." Jack blushed then, his tired eyes trained on his right shoe.
"You alright Jack?"
"Fine. Just fine. Now. Like I said, we had a fight. I left her then. Stupid thing was I only took my tennis racket with me. Imagine. Showed up at my mother's door with just a tennis racket. I went back at lunch for my clothes. She wasn't there. I checked first."
"Sorry to hear that. You'll work it out, I'm sure."
"Are you kidding? The woman's nuts."
"Then maybe it's all for the best."
"That's what my mother said. Look, I'm sorry I took all this time, laid all this on you. I just had to tell you so you wouldn't wonder if my work suffered a bit..."
"Don't worry about it. Such a shame though. Helen seemed like a really nice lady when you had that party...when was it?"
"Last January. It all started with that candle she got from one of the guests. Seems like half a lifetime ago." His eyes bore a wounded, faraway gaze.
David stood up, walked around the desk, grasped his shoulder. "Look, I'm glad you talked this one over. You want to go for a drink sometime, talk, just tell me." He gently led him to the door, patting Jack's upper arm. "You'll be alright, you'll see."
Jack quietly closed the door behind him. As his footsteps receded down the hall, David leaned back in his chair and bellowed a guffaw. He checked his watch. 3:15. She'd be back now.
He picked up the phone, punched in the number he knew so well. It rang once, twice. A purring voice answered. Her voice always made him think of tangled sheets and warm scented beds.
"Hi. It's me. Just had a visitor."
"Who could it be I wonder?"
"Wouldn't you like to know. Care to hazard a guess?"
She giggled. "5'8", bit chubby, stubbly cheeks and dark rings under his eyes from lack of sleep?"
He grinned. "You got it." He pulled open the bottom desk drawer with his toe and chuckled. "Do you know what I have before me?"
"No, tell me. A present?"
"A really good present. Really, really good present. Want to know what it is? Or would you rather wait 'til later?"
"How about eight o'clock?"
"Great. Be dressed for dinner; we'll go to this quiet little place, candles on the tables, red tablecloths, that sort of thing."
"See you later love."
"Bye now." A soft click. He reached into the drawer, pulled out a container about the size of a shoe box, a little bit heavy. He placed it on his desk, opened the lid, pulled out her present and stood it up before him.
He had to laugh; couldn't help it. She'd get a great kick out of this one. A twelve inch, three pound, flesh coloured Buddha, complete with requisite wick protruding from his gloriously bald pate.
Helen has a terrific sense of humour, she does.
C.M. Harris Davies - first published by The Toronto Star, 1990