“Come in dear, come in. Take a seat.” Said Mrs. Furtum, the portly and elderly owner, opening the door the candle shop. I held a flier in my hand, one that had found stapled to a telephone pole three blocks from the shop, with a red HELP WANTED written by hand on it with large block letters, and a burning candle flame underneath. It’d been four months since I’d been laid off from my position as a flight attendant, and the rapid decline of my bank account made me seek even the most desperate of positions.
“Saw your flier,” I said, folding it and placing it into my pocket, “Are you hiring?”
“I’m always in need of help, young man”, she said, offering a smile, “But first, I’d like to conduct a casual interview. I’d like to make sure you have the, well, proper experiences for the position. Tell me, what have you done?”
“Flight attendant for ten years with-”
“My dear, my dear- no, that’s not what I’m interested in. Tell me of your experiences. Your life. What you hold dear.”
I paused, peering around the shop for inspiration, somewhat insulted that she was making me undergo an interview for a mere retail position. Hundreds of candles lined the walls, each one unique, a bottled rainbow that surrounding me in every direction.
What the hell, I thought, frowning, as I read one of the labels, How is Baby’s First Words a smell? Or Love’s Passionate Kiss.
“We’ll I’ve traveled frequently.” I said, meeting her eyes as she nodded, “Been to over a hundred countries, and all of the states. Not just the airports- I make it a point to try to experience them first hand. It’s why I wanted to be an attendant in the first place.”
“Ah yes,” She said, smiling, “I see. And are you a family man?”
“Yes, three children.”
“My goodness, three of them? And a wife, I presume? A happy marriage?”
“Yes, never divorced. Under a little bit of financial strain, though, which is what brought me here.”
“We’ll see what we can do about that.” She said. “Ah yes, you’ll do just fine. Better than fine. Now tell me, what was the airline paying you? I’ll match it.”
I stopped peering around when she said that, studying her. There no chance she could afford my previous salary. And there was no chance I’d be able to actually earn it with menial labor.
“I smell doubt on you young man,” She cackled, “But I’ll manage just fine. This is a specialty shop. We have many special customers, customers over the globe, who pay dearly for the scents I produce.”
I told her. And my first paycheck backed up her word.
Mrs. Furtum made each of her candles by hand, and after a few weeks of work she allowed me to begin helping her with each preparation.
“Mix it like this, young man. Give my weary bones a rest.” She said, holding a large spoon over a pot of wax. I’d seen her pouring ingredients to infuse the wax just minutes before, and the concoction bubbled up toward my nostrils as I mixed.
“What was that you just mixed in?” I asked, one day as she watched me stir.
“Oh just something special. Only the best of ingredients for my candles. I always inspect them thoroughly.”
“And what type of candle will this be?”
“Nuh uh uh.” She tuttered, “I never tell until they’re finished. Now go on, young man, tell me a story of your travels.”
I obliged her, speaking as I mixed, and where I was finished she pulled out a label and plastered it onto the side of an empty jar.
Mist Rising Off Lake Eerie, it read, and she tucked it away onto a shelf, one she’d have me hang just the day before. Before she left that day I took a whiff- I’d never been to lake Eerie, but it smelled just as I would imagine.
Slowly, the candles built up on the shelf in proportion to my bank account. Each day I’d stir the concoctions, telling her of the world beyond the walls of her shop. And each day I’d return home to my wife and two kids, and tell them how much I loved them.
Much to my wife’s delight, I’d lost weight since starting at the shop, an effect I attributed to the stress reduction.
“Tell me about Egypt, about the pyramids.” Said Mrs. Furtum, inhaling deeply.
“They’re massive,” I began as I stirred, “So big you can see them from the air. And Cairo nudges right up against them, believe it or not.” I continued speaking as she nodded, he eyes wide, he long green nails twirling a strand of silver hair.
“That’ll do for today,” She said when I had finished. “You’ll find a small bonus in your paycheck this week. I truly am getting my money out of you.”
“Please, it’s no trouble.” I laughed, and took the label she handed out to me.
The Sands Of The Pyramids
Funny, I thought, This one smells just like I would imagine the pyramids. One day, I’ll have to go see them.
Then, waving goodbye to Mrs. Furtum, I left the shop, and drove home to my wife and my kid.
Weeks passed, and I grew more and more thankful to Mrs. Furtum. I still couldn’t believe the salary she offered me, especially since I’d never had a job before.
At home, things were going great with my girlfriend. I think I struck gold with this one- in a few weeks, I should have enough to buy a ring. And I have the strangest feeling she’ll say yes.
Plus her cooking is excellent- every day she cooks enormous dinners, and forces me to have two helpings, since I’m apparently too thin. I’ve always been this thin though, so I figure I can pack on a few extra pounds to see how I look.
“Young man,” Said Mrs. Furtum, “It pains me to tell you this, but today is your last day. Trust me, I would have you longer, but I simply must downsize.”
“But-” I said, and she cut me off.
“Hush, hush. We’ll talk about it after. Now, I have a very special candle for you to make today. Let’s get you to mixing. Have I ever told you, young man, what the base is for my candles?”
“Isn’t it wax?”
“No, not wax. Only living things can hold ideas, young man, and I try to put a full idea into each of my candles. So my candles are based on diluted animal fat. Fat from a very special animal, indeed. I’ve thoroughly inspected it.”
“Oh, that’s nice, Mrs. Furtum.” I was busy stirring now, and hadn’t paid attention to her words. I checked the candle shelf where she kept all the candles I had made – there were hundreds now, each with a specific scent. And she had already sold a quarter of them to her clientele.
“It is, it is. An old trick I learned, long ago. Now, young man, I want you to tell me about yourself. Everything that you’re proud of.”
I thought, but there wasn’t much left to say. But I gave her what I had.
“Good, that’s good young man. Now, there’s a chair for you over there. Would you mind sitting in it for a moment while I tidy up?”
I nodded, and walked over, my spindly hands gripping the side, and my bones showing through the skin of my arm. And I closed my eyes, just for a second.
Mrs. Furtum continued sweeping the shop until the young man’s breathing stopped, then she leaned over, and pasted a new label onto the candle.
A Young Man’s Will To Live
“My favorite scent,” She muttered, “And the most expensive. Too precious to sell.”
Then she placed it on the highest shelf in the shop, one with twenty candles similar to it, and dragged the body in the chair to the dumpster out back. There was nothing left to it, the hair falling out, the skin patchy, and the cheeks gaunt. In just a few hours, it would have turned to dust on its own accord.
Outside, stuck to a telephone pole, a HELP WANTED sign fluttered in the wind.
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