Bitter Flame


Valerie Zhang '24


The candle, stoutly set against the window, burns low and well into the night. Wax rolls off like tears of gold as the little flame smolders within a cage. I pay it no heed and continue to scour over weathered love letters, each piece a eulogy and a half, filled with praises that cram the pages with wiggly characters—” infrangible spirit” was commonly used, as well as “my everything”, and then “eyes from the finest spool of green woven with bruised fingers and a practiced mind”—odd but admirable. Enraptured as I may be, dull idleness hangs off my aching shoulders, and I rest my head on my desk, scrawled lines blurring into one till my eyes close; but not even for a minute before an impetuous roar jerks me out of my daze. Silhouettes of lightning linger alongside sudden pelting rain, as the crashing of thunder rings across the sky. I gather the tails of my disoriented thoughts to string them together in a desperate notion and then I see it—the flame within the candle winks. A boom shakes the desk, the candle tipping as the little flame springs free—inhaling once, twice before an infernal blaze erupts. I beat back sweet, musky smoke and the drunken, lashing tongues of flame that leave a blazing trail in its wake, sending letters and panic flying astray. My flailing efforts are not in vain, however; in steady time as all do, the heart of the Empire falters. It slows, crumbling into blackened scraps whirling down a descent towards demise. In spite of its seemingly lasting glory, the hissing of the flames grow quiet and cold, and I stand there, holding the burnt remnants of the letters and the weight of my regrets, watching the glowing amber ebb away amid piles of ash.