Ten Seconds to Ignition

Submitted into Contest #74 in response to: Write a story that takes place across ten seconds.... view prompt

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Creative Nonfiction Sad Inspirational

Ten Seconds to Ignition


She’d found the last candle stuffed inside of an old box of Christmas items. It was left over from a candlelight service that happened a few years ago. She took a match, lit the candle, and breathed. The candle still had the drip protector wrapped around it to keep from getting hot wax on her hand. She gazed intently at the bright light that shone forth. The candle’s flame flickered ever so slightly from the air in the living room. The memories flashed through her mind. Her memories and the memories of others that helped ignite the spark. It was a lifetime of struggles but took all of ten seconds to light the final flame.

~

She remembered Anne’s story…

“We should have never married if you couldn’t have children,” he said.

The words were spoken with a calm, matter of fact tone, but they struck her to the very core of her being. She found it difficult to breathe. She gasped for air, wanted to run, but felt frozen. She hoped she would be able to someday make things better, but her husband’s words sliced through her heart. Her mouth went dry and she couldn’t swallow.

Essentially, I am worth nothing to you unless I have children. I guess I’d better hope this actually happens soon. Couldn’t I just be completely loved because of who I am? Am I not whole?

She counted to ten, but her candle had been snuffed out by the blow. She looked at her heart and realized she’d been burned.


~

She considered Bonnie’s story…

“How could you come home with a new set of tennis rackets when we can’t even buy milk for our children?” she asked incredulously.

He looked at her blankly and replied, “Water is fine. They aren’t babies anymore.”

She looked dumbfounded and thought, Well, I guess he has a point, but still. That is very selfish though, isn’t it? This isn’t just about buying milk. When I say things, I am accused of being an ungrateful and grumbling wife. I guess he is right. He works hard and deserves something nice for himself. We are eating peanut butter crackers almost every meal. There’s never enough food. Should I get over this feeling? Isn’t this wrong? When I question his motives, I feel that somehow, I am in the wrong. He wins. I should let it go though. I must care for our three children.

She held the lit candle, counted to ten, but then realized her candle had been quenched by the setback. She looked at her heart and realized she had another burn.


~

They were having dinner with another family at the local country café. After a meal of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and green beans, the husband pulled out his wallet and paid for his portion of the dinner.

He looked at his wife and said, “Okay, now for The Wife. Your turn.”

“You’re not going to take care of this?” asked Cindy, taken aback.

“You have your allowance. That was the agreement. Use it,” her husband retorted.

The words were spoken without gruffness, but glimpses of shock flashed across the faces of the other members at the table. She reached into her purse and pulled out an allowance envelope labeled, “The Wife’s Spending Money.”

She paid for her meal and her husband grinned saying, “Now, that’s a good woman.”

The Wife. He doesn’t even call me by my name anymore. I might as well be ‘the dog’ or ‘the fish’.

That night, she held the lit candle, counted to ten, but then realized her candle had been doused again. She looked at her heart and realized she had another burn.

~

“Don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking!” he exclaimed raising his voice to a thundering bellow.

Diane turned her head and looked blankly out the window. Tears threatened to escape, but she willed her eyes to focus outside. Maybe if she concentrated closely on the traffic, she could forget how her husband embarrassed her so often. Maybe she could forget he continued to deflect and logically explain the points he was making. He blamed others for his misfortune and justified his actions. He didn’t want engagement from her. He wanted her unwavering respect and devotion. She knew better than to question or try to hold him accountable for his actions.

It’s just a few harsh words. He feels disrespected. I should know better. He’s done this before.

That night, she held the lit candle, counted to ten, but then realized her candle was burned out. She looked at her heart and realized she had another burn.

~

“You don’t need access to the bank account. I am taking care of everything.”

“I think we both need to have the passwords for the bank and credit cards in case of an emergency,” replied Ellen.

“I really don’t think it matters. I mean, if the worst happens you will have enough life insurance to take care of everything.”

So he only wants me to see our finances if he is dead? That’s comforting. He is hiding something. This is ridiculous. What is he hiding? Do I even want to know? Things have been great so far, why is this being used as such a point of control? Is this normal? Or am I overreacting?

She went on a mission to uncover the truth. After persisting, she discovered the truth was that things were in bad shape. The idea that things were “being taken care of” meant they got deeper and deeper in debt. It was bad. When he told her they didn’t have enough money to get her a manicure it was because he spent too much on gambling.

“I never directly lied to you,” he said almost proudly.

“This was hiding information from me,” she replied quietly, still in shock.

So this was my fault. It kind of was. If I had been more proactive then it wouldn’t have gotten out of control. This was used as an aspect of control. Not anymore. I can’t change the past, but I can move forward.

She felt ashamed, embarrassed, and like a fool. Her flame from the candle was smothered, but not before it had burned a piece of her heart.

~

“Hey, so I am only allowed the one phone call so listen up,” he said curtly.

“What are you talking about? What’s going on?” Francesca asked concerned.

“Um, so I kind of got busted for having pot and I got arrested.”

“Kind of had pot? Seriously? You’re kidding me, right?” she asked as she felt her face flushing with anger.

Silence. Her infant son started crying in her arms. It was time to nurse him again.

It was difficult enough to deal with recovering from birthing a baby and trying to manage her hormones through the phases of postpartum. Now she had to find a way to answer her husband’s cry for help because he wanted her to post his bail. She was enraged. How could he do this to her?

What do I do? I have to get him out because he has to work. I’m not getting paid for my time off with my baby. I’m not due back for another three weeks.

She sighed and tears trickled down her face as she called her mother-in-law. She wasn’t telling her own mom though. No, her mother had warned her about this guy who was now her husband. Her mother must never find out or she would suffer blame and hear the dreaded, “I told you so.”

She walked over to the window and lit a candle. She sat down and breathed a shaky sigh and sobbed. The candle flickered for a moment before fading. She was burned.

~

           Galila told herself she didn’t look like a fairy princess and had accepted the first person who paid attention to her. She sometimes wondered if she was settling, but he seemed nice. He was kind to her, and they shared common interests. They liked playing board games and video games together. Life took a turn for the worse and married life wasn’t what she’d imagined.

           She noticed some problems when they started communicating about tough issues regarding intimacy. He made jokes about it and said he didn’t like discussing things that were that serious because it was depressing to him. She decided to push the issue forward until a later time.

Later was never a good time. Every time she brought up the subject, he walked out of the room and started playing a video game. Sometimes he walked out of their home and didn’t return for a few hours. She gave up trying to text him to figure out where he was or how they could work on the issue.

He became more and more withdrawn. He barely lifted his head when she came through the door after work. Next thing she knew, he quit his job without even talking with her. She explained how this hurt her and they need to discuss these important issues before acting on them, but he shrugged it off as if it didn’t matter.

A few weeks later, she discovered information about past sexual encounters. When she confronted him, he said it was over when it was over and not to worry about it anymore.

           I’m in my 30s. I might not ever find someone else. I made a promise. I should stay in this commitment. Right? Or is this too much? Should I worry? I am worried. I feel like when we talked about things that he lied to me. He says he didn’t directly lie, but his withholding of information is a lie. How do I cope with this? Or was it truly in the past and do I just need to get over it? Still, I asked about his past girlfriends. The thought never occurred to me to ask about past encounters with males... What do I do now?

She counted to ten, but her candle had been suffocated by the shock. She looked at her heart and realized she was burned.

 ~

“I wasn’t cheating on you! I never had intercourse with her!”

           “You sure sound like one of the former presidents right now. Do I have to define all the aspects of cheating? Let’s go over the list in full detail. My list! Yes, having cybersex with someone is STILL A FORM OF CHEATING. Whether or not that is in your book of definitions, it is DEFINITELY IN MINE!”

Hannah was shaking. She wasn’t used to raising her voice, but she felt justified in the moment. She was glad she was taking a stand. She was glad she let out some of the anger. It wasn’t finished yet. It took multiple conversations of prodding, tears, frustration, and anger.

Life had not prepared her for this type of thing. Marriage books hadn’t prepared her for how to handle this type of issue either.

If only I was smart enough. If only I didn’t trust so easily. I’ve moved my entire life to be with him. We have a new life in a different state. I knew things would be difficult, and I figured we’d fight about stuff. Now he says he wants to change, and he doesn’t want to lose me. How do I hold him accountable without constantly looking over his shoulder? How do I let go of the doubt and rebuild trust? Is it even meant to be rebuilt? What’s my final breaking point? Is it this or can we manage to work through it?

She lit a candle, counted to ten and realized the flame had disappeared, but not before she had acquired another burn.

~

One day, Irina was driving home with a car full of groceries. She’d dropped her son off at his grandmother’s house and was ready to have a relaxing weekend. As she drove past the local park, she spotted her husband’s car. She drove up next to it and felt a knot form in her stomach. Her heart started racing and she felt her hands turn ice cold as she looked. Inside the back of the vehicle was her husband and one of her son’s friends.

Suddenly overcome with rage, she hit the car window and shouted, “How dare you! She isn’t even in her right mind to be able to make these kinds of decisions. Do you realize what you have done?”

She reached for her phone. 

“Who are you calling? This was consensual. She said it was okay,” shouted the husband.

He tried to justify his actions. He was angry and she was afraid he might jump out of the car and strike her, but she stood her ground.

This time, the burn wasn’t snuffed out by his actions. Instead, the flame grew inside her. Yes, she was burned, but she lifted her head and said, “Enough is enough.” She took her son and walked away for a year.

Then he tearfully apologized and said he changed. He agreed to go to counseling with her. A year after their separation, they were back together. He promised it wouldn’t happen again. It was a onetime moment of weakness. He said it wasn’t predatory, but merely a mishap. She moved back into her home, but things weren’t ever the same.

That night, she held the lit candle, counted to ten, but then realized her candle had been extinguished. She looked at her heart and realized she had a larger burn than all the burns before.

~

“If you don’t do this for me then it might cause me to do something worse later.”

Her hands shook as she reluctantly relented. Josie didn’t want to oblige, but she didn’t want to lose everything good that she had.

Surely, this isn’t wrong. We’re married. I’m okay with this, right? I can protect myself. Besides, this isn’t about me right now. This is about meeting his needs. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do? My mama always said a godly wife will submit to her husband because that’s what the Bible says to do.

She tried to rationalize things in her mind. She tried to make herself feel okay with everything. It was over soon enough. It was easy enough to put up with things when it lasted less than ten minutes. Then it was over and done.

She stumbled through the rest of the day feeling like she was haunted by a bad dream. It did no good to think now. Thinking hurt. It was over until the next time, but the thought of next time made her want to run and hide.

She counted to ten, lit a candle, but the spark had been destroyed by the cruelty. She looked at her heart and she realized she was deeply burned.

~

She lit a candle every time she read about how to deal with mistreatment and abuse.

The flame in her heart grew stronger.

She lit a candle every time she spoke with her therapist.

The flame in her heart grew brighter.

She lit a candle every time she learned the difference between normal relationship setbacks and patterns of abuse.

The flame in her heart grew sharper.

She set boundaries and sometimes confronted her abuser.

The flame in her heart grew wilder.

She built a support group.

The flame in her heart grew lighter.

She sought legal counsel.

The flame in her heart grew clearer.

She learned that to protect her loved ones, she must also protect herself.

The flame in her heart grew tougher.

She realized she could share her story without shame.

The flame in her heart grew richer.

She found peace in her heart and life.

The flame in her heart grew happier.

She realized she was not trapped.

The flame in her heart grew fiercer. 

Suddenly, light rushed forth from telling her story. The light started illuminating her friend’s lives. They realized they found strength in sharing. Some set boundaries to stop the mistreatment and abuse. Some relationships were reconciled after changes were made. Some sought counseling. Some decided enough was enough. She knew it wasn’t up to her to judge other’s life’s decisions, but she was called to be an advocate and give glimmers of hope.

She shared her story.

The flame in her heart grew radiant.

~

These things passed quickly through her mind. She was back in the living room holding the candle from the candlelight service. Light was meant to illuminate. Light was meant to shine in the midst of darkness. It was supposed to brighten an area. It was supposed to provide warmth and comfort. It wasn’t meant to be used as a weapon. It should never have been used to repeatedly burn her.

She stood looking at the last candle. The candlelight from the single candle was subtle enough to be just a flicker in the room. She turned around and gazed at all the candles she’d lit. They were burning intensely. All together they shone brightly and caused warmth, happiness, and peace to flood her entire being. Her mind, body and spirit were whole. Yes, she had scars and it would take time to continue healing. Her scars were remnants of verbal, emotional, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.

She escaped through the flames.

She was strong.

She was enough.

She embraced truth, love, and justice.

She took one more breath before she set the candle down on the table. Scattered across the rooms were the names of the women who shared their stories with her. They gave her courage.

For just a second, she pondered how quickly it might take to engulf the entire room. She counted…Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…

She was all of these women and none of them.

She walked out the door and didn’t look back.

She was free. 

December 30, 2020 01:51

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