This story is by Nicole Dwigans and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Aasha waited at the table just as her husband asked, knees bouncing, worried he was about to break a promise, even though she knew him to be an honest man. She smelled sweet frosting, which she tried to tell herself was only her imagination until he walked into the room.
Her husband, Kab, set the cake in front of her with the grandeur of a magician. From the sun colored frosting sprang multi-colored candles, tall and thin, like dry angel hair pasta. “It’s almost time my love.”
She looked at the cake repugnantly, “We agreed, no cake and no candles this year.”
Kab watched with a look of uncertainty as she plucked half the candles from the cake, leaving tiny holes. “Aasha,” he said in a tone somewhere between a prayer and a challenge, “You have to have the candles for your wish.” She stood so quickly the chair kicked back on two legs, but Kab caught in before it hit the ground and gently set it upright.
“I told you I wasn’t making a wish this year, and you promised you wouldn’t bring these into the house!” She said shaking the small bunch in her hand.
Kab reached over the empty chair and gently tried to take the candles from her hand, “I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s alright,” she said, relinquishing the bundle.
She began to turn, intent on leaving the room, but froze when Kab started returning the candles to the cake. “I can’t believe you are doing this,” she said. From his back pocket, he pulled out a long match, struck it, and lit the candles. Once alight, the mass of hypnotic flames taunted Aasha’s old love of casting wishes.
Kab looked at his watch and said, “Fifty-nine seconds until your wishing hour.”
“Was this mama’s idea?”
Her mother, a gregarious woman, knew the alignment of the planets influenced the way our bodies felt, and that the movement of our energy affected the way the stars shined. She also knew when her daughter was born that she was one of the rare wishers. Those like Aasha had the most potent power each year at the time of their birth.
Melting beads of wax slipped down the candles shrinking them rapidly while the flames grew taller and began to shift through the colors of the rainbow.
“Your mother and I, just like you, know you have the power to make yourself better.”
“Do you not realize this horrible sadness you’ve shrouded yourself in is breaking my heart too? And I can’t figure out why you won’t use your wish just to feel better.”
She turned her face away from him, firming her lips.
“Why can’t you talk to me?” He left space for a reply, but there was just silence. “You’re willing just to shut down, destroying everything in the process—you, me, us?”
She took a small step back, but looked at him, her fearful eyes meeting his. “Wishes have to be specific, or you end up with something that is the wish in theory, but nothing like what you meant.”
“Can’t you just wish to feel better?”
“Do you remember last year? That horrible morning sickness that made me useless for anything aside from laying on the couch with my eyes shut? You set that damn cake in front of me, I was nearly ready to throw up, and without thinking, I wished just to feel better.”
His shoulders sank. “And you felt better.”
“At the cost of our baby. It’s my fault because I didn’t know how to craft the wish just right and this,” she moved her hands in the space between them, “is my fault. I can’t risk another mistake.”
“Aasha, it isn’t your fault,” Kab said.
The hope in Kab’s face fell into despondency, looking so much like the day Aasha had met him. She’d gone for a run near her home; light fog weaved between the bare branches of trees, an occasional chirp of a bird not gone south.
Aasha came upon a man sitting on a bench with his elbows on his knees. He wore a grey cabled sweater which was pulled taut across his rounded back, and with the cuff, he wiped tears from his eyes.
She stopped, suddenly feeling she’d arrived right where she was supposed to be and sat next to him. The sadness she saw in his eyes when he looked at her sparked an overwhelming desire to help him feel better. Aasha offered him a small smile. He smiled back and said, “Hello,” but it slipped away as if it was too heavy to bare.
“Hi,” she said. “This sounds crazy, I know, but I’d like to sit with you until perhaps, you feel better. Unless you’d prefer to be alone, which I understand.”
He said, “Please, stay.”
She reached her hand out and placed it on his back, moved her hand back and forth, feeling his silent tears. They sat there for awhile, time slipping past almost unnoticed until at last his body steadied, and the tears in his eyes abated.
With his elbows still on his knees, he looked at her and said, “May I buy you a cup of coffee or something to say thank you?”
“That’s not necessary,” she said. “Something just wouldn’t let me run by, and leave you sad.”
He sat up, extended his hand, “My name is Kab, and I’d like to buy you dinner.”
They enjoyed each other’s company, like two people who’d known each other a lifetime and just happened to run into each other at the park. The arrival of the check seemed to remind Kab why he was there. He told Aasha, “We laid my mother to rest this morning. This afternoon I went for a walk, when I couldn’t go any further, I sat down and wished for something to help me feel better. A few minutes later you arrived. Thank you.”
The wax of her birthday candles slipped onto the cake, creating bright pools which grew until they touched. The edges then blended, so the colors were no longer defined.
Kab said, “You don’t understand. Wishes can be used only for yourself—they can bring things to you, put you in the right place, release you from things, but that is their limit. They aren’t the kind of magic that can bring harm, to you or anyone else. I’m certain.”
Kab reached across the space that separated them and cupped Aasha’s cheek. “Thirty seconds.”
Aasha was exhausted by the seedy company she’d surrounded herself with—sadness, fear, anger—and just admitting this to herself she began to feel a tiny bit of hope. “What if I craft my wish wrong and something else bad happens?” she asked.
“It was not your fault. Trust yourself.”
She turned toward the cake, looked at the bright and encouraging flames, then closed her eyes trying to decide just how to craft her wish.
Kab said in a low and urgent voice, “Five seconds.”
Her eyes sprang open, “Five?”
“Four,” he said. “Deep breath…” She saw love and faith in Kab’s eyes as he said, “Wish.”
Aasha drew in a lung-stretching breath and hinged at her waist, bringing her lips just inches from the candles and pushed the wind from her lungs. The flames burst into tiny gold sparkles that weightlessly dispersed into the air around her.
She’d made her wish.
“You’re especially enchanting when lit by the spark of your birthday wish,” Kab said.
Aasha slid the chair into the table, clearing the space between them, and Kab opened his arms wide. She slipped her arms around his waist, and he wrapped his around her shoulders and back, like a protective cloak. He squeezed his eyes shut and kissed the top of her head.
Aasha said, “I love you Kab.”
His eyes poured over her face, a shaky smile pulling the corners of his full mouth, “I love you Aasha.” Slowly, like two people who’d loved each other for a lifetime, but had not yet kissed, he brought his lips to her’s.
Through Kab, the universe delivered Aasha’s wish, and an energy expanded from within her heart which ignited a renewed luster in the stars.