by Bob

I should say something to him. But I don't.

It would be careless. It would be wrong.

Because he's just sitting there, not bothering no one, just sitting there with his candle.

Away from the group.

When he goes, I follow. It may be his nature to be alone, but it's my nature to follow him when he is.

Just to make sure.

Of what, I don't know.

Oh, I see now. I see him there. He's down by the river now, hair sifting and shifting in the breeze, breath a husky white cloud in the chill. It's cold here at night, you see. The candle is sputtering hopelessly in his hands and he cradles it like another more human person might cradle a child. He cradles it like Cutter would've, long before us, silly old pyro that he was.

It's a small, flat candle, the kind that children will put in pumpkins in a little over a month. The kind that will mean welcoming and happiness. It will mean for countless children sweet things, good life-giving food, friendship, strangers at dusk who aren't a danger.

Isn't that how it was not long ago? A stranger could be your therapy and you'd never see them again?

Ah, he knows how it is. Doesn't he. He puts it down in a little folded paper boat in the river and it bounces and jounces off, glowing, a tiny star in the evening gloom.

"I know you're there." He says, loudly, loud enough for me to hear at my twenty feet or so.

"Am I that noisy?"

"No. But you always follow me."

"I wanted to make sure you were...okay."

"I'm not."

"I know."

He'll tell me, later on, that he didn't even want to go. That the pride and patriotism thick in the air scald him surely as any fire. That he doesn't believe in mass mourning, not really. He'll tell me, when it's all over, when we're eating cookies at City Hall and blending in and being normal, that he should've just taken the candle and run off from the first. He'll tell me that's the way things should be, that if you can die from grief and grief is loneliness, than death should be a lonely thing. That everyone should take their candle and find a place to leave it, beneath a hanging fern in the woods, on a stone, on the curb of main street, under the crumbling bridge out of town.

But then I'll tell him that they...the people...they didn't die alone.

Yes they did, he'll tell me. Because you're always alone when you die. It's not like anyone can go with you.

And he'll be right.

And by that time my own candle is dying, all alone in the middle of the city hall lawn, surrounded by a thousand other candles.

Because Jack's right.

We're all alone.


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