The Flame // a short story

I have just now come from a party which I had imagined would be the most fulfilling of the year. She was there. And I was certain of my character. But something happened and I left. Quite abruptly I did – and now, I want to shoot myself.

The party had begun some time in the evening. There were lots of people. The hubbub of sentiments could never take its seat. I too had contributed to that hubbub – I was disposed to. I knew so many people that whenever I closed a conversation with one, another would immediately spring into view and make a decorous inquisition. Politely, I would reply and then inquire, as the person had, about the person’s self. And from first bricks of preamble would be slowly constructed an edifice, whose architecture and significance will naturally beg further discussion. That was how most of the conversations proceeded. Mechanically.

I had been listening to a lepidopterist’s passionate ramble on the butterfly that inspired his career, and which I distinctly remember for the aptness of its name, The Flame, when I caught sight of her.

She was gliding across the hall, a plastic cup in hand and the tails of her black dress fluttering in delight, as if indicating her inner jubilation. I watched as she glided from person to person, presenting at every stop a smile no less heartening than the previous. I watched as she folded her arms and leaned in closer whenever the conversation appeared to meander toward some less frivolous matter. I watched as she tipped her head back in delicate laughter. I watched as she swayed gently, both eyes to the ceiling, pondering an invisible thought. I watched as she took an occasional glance about the hall. I watched till she finally departed from the crowd.

She stood at the buffet table with a contemplative finger perched on her lower lip. There was the opening, I immediately exclaimed to myself.

I ironed out the creases in my confidence and sauntered to where she was. I made some casual remark about how we can imagine a taste better if we shut our eyes and moved our mouths in a chewing motion. I asked her to try it. She laughed and refused. Then I closed my eyes and began chewing on air. The souffle is incredibly tasty I finally said. She laughed and took a a cup of it.

In the next moment, witticism was streaming excitedly from my lips. And there she was, seated across me; laughing, smiling, then laughing again. We shared about ourselves, about our families, about our baptism, about the blueprints of our dreams, the sources of our sighs, the distant glory of our futures, the potential overshadowing of that glory and our living in cram apartments, our joining in the unavoidable march of the working, our fantastical adventures at the top of a beautiful mountain, in the colorful splendor of coral reefs, in the lively jungle with Bambi and Bimbo, at the toe-tip of the great sphinx or in boundless cavity of the sky. How surreal that moment was; like skating on the rings of Jupiter. And how dearly would it please me to live forever in that fleeting frame of life.

The night soon aged and the crowd gradually thinned.

I had hoped from the outset that she would be going home alone, and then I would offer to accompany her. When better to foster romance than in the quiet charm of the night?

So I turned to her, ready with the words that I have glazed over and over again in my mind. I was nervous of course. What if someone else were already sending her home? What if that person had the same intentions as I? What if she already fancied someone else and I were really pursuing this to no fruitful end? What if our conversation dwindled into an uneasy silence because we were both so languished by the party and the socializing? What if this walk home ruined everything the majesty of all that was built just now?

Departing from that abstract place of anxiety, I returned to standing before her. She was looking at her phone. She must’ve noticed me looking for she lifted her head and peered quizzically at my vacant gaze. And at that instant, something came upon me. I didn’t know what it was or where it came from. But it fell upon me with such weight that I could no comprehend my motives. It inverted my thinking, and my bearings were thrown into confusion.

There she stood so pure and jubilant, and in her friendliness so unaware of my intentions to win her heart. Was it not criminal of me to prospect every contingency, to attune myself to her jovial nature, to revel in advancing my motives rather than in the spring of friendship? And what love that would arise from this endeavor would be no genuine love forged in the fires, but a wrought love hammered into shapeliness by a contriving smith.

No, I could do no such terrible thing to one so lovely as her.

And that was when I left.


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