Lamplight
Copyright 2013, Linda Rigsbee
HOMEDEAR TALESShort StoriesFlash FictionSeasonal

  Zelda pushed the pumpkin pie into the oven and glanced out the kitchen window. There were other houses out there, but they had been invisible in the blizzard all day. She shut the oven door. That was the way she had felt since Paul died - invisible. It seemed that no matter what she said or did, the children didn't hear her. It had been a shock to all of them. Paul had seemed so healthy. He jogged, ate sensibly, and didn't drink or smoke. And yet, he had died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 38. He had left a wife and four children behind, struggling in the void. Two weeks ago it had been one year, but it didn't seem that long. It felt no more like Christmas this year than it had last year.
She wandered absently into the family room, where the children sat staring at the television like zombies. The Christmas tree sat in the corner, undecorated, the ornaments still in boxes on the floor around it. It was Christmas Eve and no one was in the mood to decorate it. The storm prevented any guests from arriving, so that meant another Christmas with just the five of them.
The lights flickered and the TV went black for a second, bringing a chorus of groans from the children. She would have sworn they weren't even watching the Christmas show. When the current became steady, the TV resumed and the children slumped back to watching it.
Zelda knelt in front of the fireplace. The logs had been in place all day in case they lost electricity. She struck a match and set the starter log on fire, watching as the flames grew and spread. When the sap in the wooden logs began to spit sparks, she drew the metal mesh curtain across the front of the fireplace. Crossing her legs as she sat on the floor, she gazed at the fire, oblivious to the TV.
When little fingers gripped her arm, she was suddenly aware that Wendy had joined her. At six, Wendy was still sucking her thumb. Zelda put an arm around her daughter and brushed the blonde curls from her face. Gradually, one by one, the other children joined her, silently watching the fire. Like moths, drawn to a flame.
Without warning, the electricity went out. In the blackness that followed, they sat together in the circle of light provided by the fireplace, each comforted by the presence of the others. Zelda stood and lit the hurricane lamp on the mantle. Lifting it, she turned to find the children standing around her.
They followed her into the kitchen and silently watched as she pulled the pie from the oven and set it on the table. She glanced at the children. Now that the TV could not distract them, she had their full attention. Everywhere she went, they followed like four shadows.
Standing there in the light of the lamp, it occurred to her that they had been following her all along. As she moped, they moped. Where she lacked interest, they lacked interest. Like a moth drawn to the lamp light, they were being pulled to a spiritual doom. How could she expect them to get into the Christmas spirit when she didn't?
"I've got an idea," she said, injecting as much enthusiasm into her words as she could. "Let's decorate the tree in the lamp light."
They looked at each other and shrugged. Since they had nothing better to do, they all began decorating the Christmas tree. At first they were methodical, but eventually they began to look interested. When Zelda began to sing Christmas songs, they joined in. The first giggle wasn't far from that point.
They didn't have to be in the Christmas mood to decorate the tree. Decorating the tree put them into the Christmas mood. All it took was the lamp light - someone guiding them out of the darkness. She had not been invisible after all.

This story available in the collection of flash fiction Christmas stories "Christmas In A Flash." Also available as a miniature book Christmas tree ornament.
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