Last May for Short Story Month we were fortunate enough to publish a story by Ben Loory titled, “The Candelabra.” This flash fiction piece is just about five hundred words, but it conveys the ways in which we take those we love for granted, down to the smallest detail. If you’re inspired by this wonderful short story, consider submitting to our Flash Fiction Contest, which closes at the end of this month.
The grandmother starts staying up later and later, long after everyone else has gone to bed. She sits in the living room, in the dark, with her hands folded in her lap.
One night the mother—her daughter—finds her there. She’s on her way to the bathroom.
Mother, she says, what are you doing?
She reaches out and turns on the light.
Don’t, says the grandmother.
She holds up a hand.
But what are you doing? the mother says.
She waits for an answer.
No answer comes.
You can’t just sit here in the dark, she says.
The next morning, the grandmother gets up early and goes out for a walk.
She looks through the shops that line the street.
In one of them, she finds a candelabra.
How much is this? she asks the shopkeeper.
That old thing? he says.
He names a price.
It’s mine, she says.
He wraps it up and hands her the bag.
The grandmother puts the candelabra in the closet. Late that night, she sets it up. She puts in the candles, one by one, when everyone else is fast asleep.
She strikes a match to light the candles, but just then the mother appears.
Oh! she says.
She rushes forward.
You’ll burn the whole house down! she says.
The grandmother sighs. She blows out the match. She sets it down on a tray.
I’m sorry, she says.
She takes out the candles.
What’s gotten into you? the mother says.
The next morning, the grandmother doesn’t get out of bed. Instead, she lies there, staring at the wall.
Somewhere around noon, the mother looks in.
Are you feeling all right? she says.
The grandmother nods, but doesn’t say a word. The mother stands there for a while. Then she turns and walks off down the hall.
The grandmother passes on.
The family is stricken. They arrange the funeral. They put on their mourning clothes. They go and stand and watch as the grandmother is lowered into the ground.
For weeks afterward, they don’t know what to do. They get dressed, go to work, come home.
One night the mother decides they should put things away, clean out the grandmother’s room.
They go into her room and start to clean. They look through photo books, old clothes. They handle the jewelry and leaf through old letters.
They find the candelabra in the closet.
They take it to the living room and set it up. They put all the candles in. They go into the kitchen and find the matches and light the candles, one by one.
Ben Loory’s stories have been published in The New Yorker, Fairy Tale Review, and The Antioch Review, among others. His collection Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day was published by Penguin in 2011. He is also the author of the children’s book The Baseball Player and the Walrus. Ben attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the American Film Institute. He lives in Los Angeles.