Ribbons and Candles – this month’s theme for the WEP/IWSG flash fiction. Every other month we get a prompt from Denise at Write…Edit…Publish, and then at the beginning of the publishing month we link up at her blog. This month Denise has asked us to post early for Christmas, so mine is now out on the 12th.

Check out the linky list, and get your own out straight away!

Ribbons and Candles

ribbons and candles wep iwsgIt’s a lovely theme, well-suited for the holiday season – although I’m not sure they play such a part in the southern hemisphere celebrations.  I remember Christmas Pudding ice-cream under the canopy in the garden for my only foray down under for Christmas!

This story may not be quite as upbeat as you might expect for Christmas flash fiction, but it reminds me of lots of people – although the outcome is fictitious.  I notice that many of my Christmas stories (such as this one) have a slightly warped element to them.  Maybe it’s because I’m ambivalent about the whole season of goodwill and excess to all men.

The story is just under 1000 words, and you’re welcome to comment in a friendly way, but you don’t need to review it!

Silent words to my daughter

My grandmother grew up with candles, all around the house. The way she told it, it reminded her of her youth. They didn’t have gas in the cottage where she grew up.

By the time I reached secondary school I got around to asking her: why didn’t you just turn on the light?

“In those days,” she said, “there was gas lighting in the towns. Electricity came later. So everyone who had gas didn’t want to pay for electricity. Then the gas men came round and explained that they wouldn’t be doing gas lighting any more. That was after the war. I was still small then. But my mother, your great-grandmother, she never trusted the gas after one time when her friend’s wall lamp exploded. So we didn’t have the gas lights. We stayed with candles.”

So it was from grandmother that I learned the wise use of candles. Always have a solid, stable base for them. Don’t put them near paper hangings, or under shelves, or near curtains. Make sure you pinch the wick when you’ve put them out, to stop the afterglow.

My brother was an expert at putting candles out. He would pinch the wick through the flame to extinguish them. “It doesn’t burn you,” he said. “You just have to be quick, and go in right at the bottom. It’s the yellow flame that burns, not the blue at the base.”

Of course I learnt at school that’s not really true, but it just feels that way when you do it quick. Do not put a finger in a blue bunsen burner flame, for example. It’s super-hot. My friend Jerry did that, and had to see the school nurse, who bandaged his finger up. He couldn’t use that hand for weeks. Our teachers made sure he did his work, though, so that other kids didn’t get the idea they could slope off if they did something equally stupid.

Did your schooling include carrying candles around the corridors for ceremonies, learning not to get the dripping wax on your fingers? Yes, it hurt, but only for a moment. We learnt in so many ways. You didn’t have the chance. Health and Safety stopped all that.

Candles were all the rage when I was at college. We weren’t supposed to have them in the halls of residence, but everyone did. The fashion was to stick one in the neck of a pretty bottle, mostly the Portuguese rosé wine, which had a lovely squat base, or a champagne bottle if you’d had one, just to show off. Then you’d get another candle and make drips running down the side. I think it was because swish Italian restaurants had them on their tables, and of course we couldn’t afford swish Italian restaurants, but most of us could put together a fairly decent spaghetti bolognese. That reminds me of Timothy… but you don’t want to hear about him.

The next rage was for those American candles, all thick and colourful. When you lit them, they’d burn down leaving the tower of wax on the outside, and the flame glowing inside. I had one for ages, that my friend Angela gave me one Christmas. I gave her one the same year. That was how it went with Angie and me: we’d get a bright idea for something the other might like, and we’d end up buying the same things in secret for each other. We still send each other Christmas cards. I wonder how it would have been if I’d married John instead of her? You shouldn’t have the same tastes in everything as your best friend.

After you came I stopped having candles around the house. There was a danger from the fumes, they said, as cot deaths rose. There was a danger from everything, according to the cot death ‘experts’ of the time, but eventually they narrowed it down. 

I didn’t go back to using candles though. Except at Christmas, when I would put real candles in the table decoration. So much prettier than anything else with the lights down low, sparkling best tableware, and a bronze turkey sizzling on its platter waiting to be carved.

That was when I used to make the decorations from natural objects like fir cones, and sprigs of holly. Collecting those was fun.  I’d tie a ribbon round the base, too, and sometimes press leaves into the sides of slightly warmed wax to make it stick.

I should have taught you how to make those. Taught you properly, not just left it to your memory of times past.

I’m sorry I couldn’t come to stay this Christmas. Maybe I’d have realised, if I had. Maybe I’d have noticed all the ribbons round the candles, and done something about it. You’d have told me I was making a fuss about nothing. I often do, apparently. But I feel I should speak up when I see something I think is wrong. It’s just that these days, so many things I think I know aren’t relevant in the modern world. Times have changed. I don’t know why you thought candles have changed. Pretty metal stands. Embossed with tracery and petals. Just a variation on a theme, you know. Ribbons have changed quite a bit. Sometimes they aren’t even made of cotton, or satin. Maybe fabric ones have flame-retardants applied, for Health and Safety, of course. The paper ribbons obviously hadn’t. I did say last year. You probably didn’t listen. You probably didn’t listen to me saying you shouldn’t put candles under the Christmas tree, or among the Christmas cards on the mantleshelf.

All I know is what the coroner said; the fire probably started with the home-made decorations catching in the candle flames.

I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to warn you.

Christmas will never be the same.

Ribbons will never be the same.

Candles are banned from my home, forever.

© J M Pett 2018


#WEP Ribbons and Candles | Christmas #Flashfiction
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48 thoughts on “#WEP Ribbons and Candles | Christmas #Flashfiction

  • 12 December, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Yes, you’re right. Not happy but sad and poignant. A tragedy told not with violent emotion but with deep regret. Well done.

  • 12 December, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    This was very touching and so well-written, Jemima. The mother’s story about candles lead quite naturally into end where we feel the mother’s grief and guilt.

  • 12 December, 2018 at 11:45 pm

    Oh, this is such a sad story. The poor woman – I feel for her.

    • 13 December, 2018 at 10:49 pm

      Sorry, Olga – I hope not for too long.

  • 12 December, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    Hi Jemima. Loved it. I like the matter-of-fact way this is told, building up to a huge ending. Poignancy. Regret. An emotional read. There is so much pain unstated.
    Thank you for coming up with this flash incorporating ribbons and candles.

    Merry Christmas!


    • 13 December, 2018 at 10:46 pm

      Thanks, Denise – and a merry Christmas to you too.

  • 13 December, 2018 at 1:30 am

    That was a beautifully told tragedy! The pain of the mother who feels like she should have been here to do something about it, should have protected her kid, taught was she (he?) needed to know.

    • 13 December, 2018 at 10:47 pm

      Thanks, Rebecca. Who knows where these things come from, although a friend’s tragic loss last summer was in my mind during part of the writing.

  • 13 December, 2018 at 2:04 am

    Oh my heart!!! Lovely and poignant and so damn sad! Beautifully done.

  • 13 December, 2018 at 4:16 am

    I’m glad you warned us that your Christmas stories tend to have a warped element, so I was kinda prepared for the turn this story took It’s very well-written in an understated and matter-of-fact way, which makes the tragedy turn even more effective. Nice job!

    • 13 December, 2018 at 10:51 pm

      Thanks, Susan. I’m glad I warned you, too!

  • 13 December, 2018 at 5:52 am

    Gentle and almost understated, which conveyed that permanent lifelong ache beautifully.

  • 13 December, 2018 at 2:13 pm

    A sad and thoughftul story of guilt and grief. I think this is a fitting story for this time of year. While it is a time of cheer for many, we can’t forget that some people are dealing with matters we can’t relate to. The grief of a mother losing a child is not something I can relate to, but I can respect it and accept that being cheerful during this season may not be so natural for everyone. Thanks for sharing this story.

    • 13 December, 2018 at 10:53 pm

      I’m glad it found something for you, Toi. Thanks for your comments.

  • 13 December, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    I absolutely loved this! It’s a quiet and heartbreaking story. I love how the narrator told us of her history growing up around candles, and how she can never have them around again after this tragedy. Her sadness and regret felt so powerful and real.

    • 13 December, 2018 at 10:54 pm

      There were a lot of my memories of candles in there. I used to love them – but I don’t have them around now except during power cuts (outages).

    • 13 December, 2018 at 10:59 pm

      Yes. I’m looking forward to a time when I feel like writing happy endings again.

  • 13 December, 2018 at 11:48 pm

    Very sad. I used to have candles on my mantle during the holidays. The mantle was brick on a stone fireplace. All was well until one year when I was using wooden candle holders, left the room to do something in the kitchen and came back to find the candle holder on fire. Luckily I put it out. Maybe I threw it in the fireplace. I don’t remember. I don’t use wooden holders any more.

    • 23 December, 2018 at 10:13 am

      I may have said this to someone else, but I have candles for use in a power cut, and one is in a very nice ‘plastic’ base that looks like glass, with a tall cylindrical cover to protect the flame. It’s both decorative and functional, and very useful when the lights go out!

  • 14 December, 2018 at 12:14 am

    So sad, but apropos. So many fires during this time of the year. Horrid, especially those caused by decorations – trees. We have no candles, only LED lights. Much safer!
    Wishing you and yours a very Happy Holiday season!

    • 23 December, 2018 at 10:15 am

      I’ve been paranoid about a funny smell near a ceiling light, so I got the electrician in for a safety check – something I’ve never done in nearly 40 years of home ownership. There was a sliver of wood in the ceiling space lying against the light fitting, and it was scorched. Very glad I checked!

  • 14 December, 2018 at 12:26 am

    OMG. This made me cry. My aunt died in a fire so this hit hard. I can’t imagine being a mother and having to deal with this. Very well done.

    • 23 December, 2018 at 10:18 am

      I’m sorry to bring it all back, Lisa. I had a friend whose husband died in a fire. I heard far too much about it on the day, since she was with me when she got the emergency call. Maybe that’s where this story comes from.

  • 14 December, 2018 at 8:27 am

    Tragic and very well crafted. There is always the prospect of disaster in every celebration that involves flames, captured consummately in this story. Really liked this take on the prompt.

  • 14 December, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    I felt your story. Traditions that she loved and adhered too left when she died in the fire. A touching story of coping with change.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

  • 15 December, 2018 at 11:05 pm

    This evoked so many memories from putting candles in Portuguese rosé wine bottles to finding the right candleholders with ribbons for my Christmas trees. And that sad ending and warning. Excellent and timely (unlike my contribution,)

    • 23 December, 2018 at 10:21 am

      Mateus Rose – how did we cope without it? And remember that Blue Nun? I think she’s still around, but in hiding!
      Happy Christmas, Roland.

  • 16 December, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    It’s almost unbelievable how something can have so many different meanings and memories.

    Nice piece.

    • 23 December, 2018 at 10:21 am

      Thank you, Bernadette. I love seeing how differently people interpret these prompts, too 🙂

  • 17 December, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    One wrong move and that is all it can take with something like a candle. Wonderful thoughts to loathing for candles. Great progression indeed.

  • 20 December, 2018 at 2:45 am

    Very delicately unfolded and an extremely sad tale told with great restraint.

    • 23 December, 2018 at 10:23 am

      I was away, and your comment was the first inkling I had when I saw it! Thanks very much. Happy Christmas 🙂

  • 21 December, 2018 at 8:12 am

    Congratulations – your story was superb.

  • 22 December, 2018 at 10:15 am

    The tale unfolds in an understated manner. I love the stream-of-consciousness approach as it ambles along with a balance between a hint of fragility and yet practical too, and it tugs at the heartstrings. I sensed it was going somewhere sad… but the end caught me by surprise. I didn’t expect that.
    Congratulations on your award! This is a wonderful and poignant tale.

    • 23 December, 2018 at 10:25 am

      Thanks, Michelle, and congratulations to you too! Great work 🙂

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