Charlie’s Candles / by Nina De Silva

“What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?”
~ The Riddle of the Sphinx ~

June 11th, 2010 at 7:00 PM
The sun didn’t wait for an old man like me, y’know. The closer I got to the sun, the farther away it seemed. My position at the top of the hill of Moon Lake Park and the sun’s setting into the skyline invited this uncomfortable dissonance to the scene. I wanted nothing more than a view of the sun, shining bright, as my birthday gift. This uphill battle, however, with my cane in hand, proved to be fruitless in its aim. The sun had begun to set and the sky had begun to darken.
The sun shed light on this complicated world, its population, these people at Moon Lake Park. It granted these pale inhabitants their doses of Vitamin D to carry on with their daily activities. They drove their machines, they took their calls, they ate their food, they washed their bodies, they tied their shoes, and so on. They continued to be followed by this light throughout their pursuits, whatever and wherever they were. 
This illumination is not permanent, just as life remains a temporary experience. Their machines only ran for so long. Their calls ended with goodbyes. Their food became consumed. Their bodies became dirty. Their shoelaces became untied. And so on. 
Time. Time went on forever, but life did not. My birthday, an additional year to add to my name, was yet another reminder of this fact. Time was believed to continue even when humans could no longer do so. It was funny how that worked. 
As I got closer to the sun from my hilltop view, the light became dimmer and dimmer, a candle just waiting to be blown out. I feared for the day that I would finally become encompassed in a complete darkness. I would never again observe my surroundings through the lenses of my black-rimmed spectacles. I would never again feel this warmth, this simplicity. 
I’ve spent my whole adult life studying the stars. They too burn out and invite the shadows to conceal any visibility. A simpler time was what I longed for. The past is what I sought.
    “Grandpa Chuck!” Mark Jr. exclaimed as he sprinted to the top of the hill, his enthusiasm as his source of fuel. He reached my white, exposed arms, raw from age, in seconds flat. 
“Grandpa, what are you doing up here?” little Mark Jr. asked with those bright circles of innocence. He had these golden-brown eyes that were so grounded in simplistic thought and acceptance. These are the brown pools that I wished I could immerse myself into once again. This is the appreciation for brevity and innocence that I missed more than anything. 
    “I’ve just been watching the sunset from the top of the hill. Grandpa loves to look into the sun and feel the warmth,” I said with a proceeding sigh. “Grandpa needs his sun.” 
    “Grandpa, you’re silly,” this wide-eyed child said as he plopped down on the lifeless, crunchy grass. “You can see the sun just fine from the bottom of the hill,” he said. He then paused to brush his sweat-matted hair from his eyes. “It’s still warm down there. You have to hurry though! The sun’s going down soon. Don’t you know that, Grandpa?”
I chuckled at the ignorance of the young boy. Or was it ignorance? Youth embraced the observation that men outgrew as they sought out their loves, their careers, and their families. Perhaps the bottom of the hill had the perfect amount of sunlight. Perhaps the further I moved from the sun the closer the sun would feel. It was a perspective that I was no longer familiar with. Unfortunately, it was too late now to investigate any validity in the boy’s talk. The sun was almost gone.
My heartbeat was in sync with the rhythmic ticking of my pocket watch and picked up its pace as I pondered the rapidity of time. Oh, how it was always taken for granted!
I let go of my walking stick and instead grabbed onto the faded, crunchy blades of grass for stability. I sat down next to this child, this embodiment of youth, and awaited the sun’s departure as it set due west in the slightly darkened evening sky.
“In the absence of light, only darkness remained.”

June 11th, 1970 at 12:00 PM
    I trekked halfway up the hill at Moon Lake Park for my traditional birthday extravaganza. I took a moment to catch the sun’s rays on my leathery-textured cheek. Arm in arm with my sweetheart, I learned to appreciate the sun’s warmth from a comfortable and reasonable distance.
    “Dad, go long!” my son shouted, interrupting my thoughts, as he soared the Frisbee up the hill to be received by my calloused hands.
“Mark, my legs need to be rested. I’m taking a break,” I said with a moan as I longed for the energy I once had, the energy that my son now possessed. I toppled down, next to my wife, to lay my two legs on the cooling surface of the grass. “We’re taking a break, son!”
    “Charles, go play another game with your son,” my wife encouraged. “Come on, you old geezer! Pretty soon you won’t be able to play Frisbee with your son anymore. Don’t let thirty-six be that year. Once you’re fifty and middle-aged, your complaints will be justified. Until then, go play Frisbee with Mark,” my wife said as she gave me a reassuring shove down the hill. Down the hill she pushed me, where the noon sun conveniently beat strongest.
    “Dad! Come on! Just one more game,” Mark pleaded as he started to journey up the hill. As he noticed my immobility as a denial of his request, Charles gave up and turned around to revisit the bottom of the hill. He then hurled the Frisbee across the green, sun-soaked plain where it was to be received by no one in particular.
    She didn’t understand. My son didn’t understand. I needed a break. I found my love, right beside me. I started the family. I supported my family through a steady income. I studied the stars. I received my degree as validation. I have accomplished it all, but I was so stupefied with exhaustion that my triumphs now seemed vague and distant. 
I needed to pause and enjoy the sun without any more interruptions. I wanted to observe the sun from the top of the hill and not have this constant push towards the bottom. Until I would climb to the hill’s peak, I would remain in the middle, an embarrassing half-measure. Someday I would hopefully graduate to the coveted full-measure and happily rest my legs at the hilltop. Then I would absorb the benefits of a hard day’s work. My hair grew thinner with anticipation. The future is what I sought.
    The sun, now blindingly intense, reflected off the glare of my black horn-rimmed glasses. I was forced to shut my eyes in defeat. My eyes, tainted by those days of staring into the sun until the unbearable burn, are now blurred around the edges. There was this constant tilt-shift, an ambiguity that just barely prevented me from recognizing my surroundings. 
My tiny pools of insight, wrought with age, were now emptied and dried out. Their contents were evaporated. The distance became less and less apparent. The sun, placed in the sky as a lighted guide, instead provided cloudy perceptions and age. It gave and took. 
I needed to take a second to recover from the burn. I needed a brief moment to shield my eyes from everything that occurred all at once. There was this frenzy that was as chaotic and disorienting as the sun’s gaseous state.
    I wanted to experience peace, candles lit all around me.

June 11th, 1940 at 9:00 AM
    I ran and ran and ran around the sun-drenched field of Moon Lake Park, right below the hill. The pale skin of my cheeks freckled in response to the sunshine. My ankles were little white stubs that were completely hidden by the itchy blades of grass. The grass was so tall that it reached up to my protruding kneecaps, which were partially concealed by my khaki shorts. I giggled at the tickles as the green, green grass brushed my smooth and unblemished skin. I liked the feel of it. 
I laid my body down and looked up at the morning sun, this star of the morning. It’s this funny, big ball of yellowy-orange that only shined in the daytime. It burned hot and scorched my skin even from its unreachable distance.
    “Daddy, I learned about the sun at school. It’s a funny star. Did you know that you could fit one zillion Earths in the sun even though it looks so small in the sky? Isn’t that cool, Daddy?” I asked my Dad as he sat on the nearby picnic bench. “I also learned that in a jillion years the sun will no die and the world will go black. Isn’t that weird? Huh, Daddy?”
    “You’re right, son.” my Dad said. “The sun is a huge star that luckily will still be burning bright when you’re my age.”
    “Ha ha ha. Sure, Daddy. I just turned six years old today,” I said. I contemplated ever resembling my Dad. I didn’t want my skin to get wrinkly, dark, and have to wear funny glasses. I wanted to run around in the field and not get tired. I wanted to be in the field, not sitting on the picnic bench like Daddy. “I’m going to be a trillion years old when I’m a Daddy!” I shouted with a following fit of giggles. 
    My laughter started to fade away when I thought about the sun and why I didn’t want it to burn out. I liked the feeling of it as much as I liked the feeling of the grass on my skin. The sun was bright and was there because, if it weren’t, everything would be dark. Then I’d need glasses and I definitely did not want to wear glasses. I wanted to still see the sun when I lied down in the grass. I wanted to continue to see the grass’s bright green color and feel it against my skin. I wanted to laugh at the tickle. 
My Dad liked to go on the hill and watch the sun as it was about to go down and the moon started to poke out. I didn’t know why. My Dad looked at the sun, but I didn’t think he liked the feel of it like I did. The sun made me happy. It’s what made me not scared of the dark. I wanted to hold onto the day so that the sun still shined in the morning. If there were no sun in the daytime, I’d have to light a bunch of candles and bring them with me wherever I went. I liked to see everything with clarity, just like I do now. The promise in today is what I sought.
    My Dad started to call me to the picnic table as he shouted, “Charlie boy! I have a surprise for you. Get over here!”
    I got on my knees and started to haul myself up to an upright position. I noticed the grass stains that formed on my new khaki shorts as well as the bottoms of my bulging kneecaps. It was the result of crawling around in the grass for so long. Shrugging it off, I pumped my little legs through the tall grass and felt the tickles again. I reached the fire-engine red picnic table in six seconds. 
One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, I counted in my head as my Dad’s face became clearer and clearer. “Four Mississippi, five Mississippi, six Mississippi!” I screamed as I finally reached my Dad. His body covered my sight of the surprise he had for me on the picnic table. As Dad stepped away from the red table, I started to catch sight of these little lights, these tiny glowing suns.
    “Happy Birthday to you!” Dad sang. “Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday, dear Charlie! Happy Birthday to you!”
    There was a birthday cake smeared with a dark brown icing, the message “Happy Birthday Charlie!” scrawled across in blue lettering, and six candles illuminating the cake’s surface. Each little light represented a year, a source of light that was representative of an increase in time. 
Each tiny sun waited, longed to be extinguished.
I placed my grass-stained knees on the picnic bench, settled my hands on the picnic table, and bowed my head over the luminous chocolate-frosted cake. I puffed my cheeks with air as I inhaled the cotton breezes, blue skies, green, green grass, and brilliant sun. As I exhaled…

June 12th, 2010 at 12:00 AM
    I laid my body down in the grass of Moon Lake Park for the last time and closed my eyes. Clock kept on ticking. Heart stopped beating. Darkness.