Once upon a time, there was a cute little reindeer candle. I have no idea who gave him to us or on which Christmas, but we accepted him with open arms into our diverse family of Christmas decorations. Unlike other reindeer, he was white and chubby, but no one made cruel albino jokes or excluded him from reindeer games. If anything, he reminded me of me. Like many other candles, he was made of wax and topped with a fuse. Perhaps he was made to chase away the dark, but to us he was too cute and innocuous to light up.
When I retrieved our Christmas decorations from the attic last week, during the unpacking phase I discovered to my dismay that the attic’s complete lack of environmental controls had taken an unkind toll on the little reindeer candle. The summer heat had jump-started the melting process, no open flame required. His hooves and horns were now deformed. A homemade yarn-and-popsicle-stick from someone’s childhood had melded with his poor, softened, formerly rotund face. I yanked it off as delicately as I could, but several strands and dog hairs were stuck fast, leaving him with a scraggly, patchy, mountain-man countenance. He didn’t look very happy to be rescued.
Poor little reindeer candle. He was too misshapen and wounded to display with pride. He wasn’t cherished enough to be filed with the reserve ornaments in the abyssal Tub of Happy Memory Castaways. He evinced no warm reminders of other relatives or special occasions. He wasn’t even intact enough to abandon on Goodwill’s doorstep. But we couldn’t just leave him like that.
We who rule the house unanimously decided it was time for him to burn.
While my wife and I adorned our Christmas tree and listened to Christmas specials on DVD, the little reindeer candle anguished and shrank in his makeshift crucible, fulfilling his ultimate purpose with no outward signs of joy. We checked on him every few minutes to chart the results, to ogle flammable entropy in action, and to make sure our candle bowl hadn’t tipped over and set the tablecloth ablaze. We doubted it would, but we didn’t know what harm it was capable of doing if left unsupervised.
If you look closely at the background, you can see other Christmas decorations, loitering idly and doing nothing to intervene. The little reindeer candle was in the middle of a total meltdown, and they couldn’t care less. All they could do was watch.
The little reindeer candle liquefied slowly, his remains dripping into a stalagmite of spent wax. His was no speedy flame-out, but a methodical slow burn we could’ve stopped if we had changed our minds and decided to show clemency after some damage had already been done. No such second thoughts were voiced. Events were already in motion, and no one could think of a reasonable way to turn back time.
By the night’s end, all that remained was the headless abdomen of a former little reindeer candle and a useless pile of ugly wax. The flame having snuffed itself for us, we considered the spectacle completed and threw it away. The remains were passed on to our garbage men, who in turn likely forwarded it to one of our city incinerators.
And what was left of the cute little reindeer probably didn’t live happily ever after. The End.
The horrific morning events of December 14, 2012, all but demanded that I bench my original writing plans for tonight. In its place is the true story shared above, which represents one or more of the following concepts, to be noted or discarded as you see fit:
1. A candlelight vigil of sorts, utilizing a cartoon-shaped candle to underscore the magnitude of a tragedy involving so many victims young and younger.
2. A metaphor for the life-gone-awry and/or inscrutable mindset of the shooter, except lacking a necessarily apropos climax in which the candle detonates and takes out nearly three dozen other unlit, previously undamaged candles with it.
3. A bad metaphor for bad metaphors about indescribable tragedies, and the earnest but frustrated helplessness with which they’re often constructed.
All I know for sure is that somewhere out there is a candlemaker who surely had much higher hopes for his creation than this.