Marcel and Candle
by Patrick Preziosi
Marcel and Candle, the two of them, but separately at first, ended up at the cross-streets between the homes of their respective parents, wherein each had a room begrudgingly returned to them after years of non-palpable absence, no one missed them, their parents remarked that the houses actually felt smaller, cozier, not emptier, they made these remarks to one another in varying combinations of the two wives and two husbands of the two only children, often encountering one another on their shared stretch of city block.
Vincent was also at the cross-streets, but he was always on his corner, outside the beer and cigarette and newspaper store he’d owned long before the two only sons were born, a store that he never seemed to be inside of, even when people stepped in, he stayed outside, though there were never really that many people going in to begin with. When they did step in, they were in, swallowed, digested, incorporated into that crumbly, brick storefront, their beings buttressing the undoubtedly weak foundation. So, Marcel, Candle, too, knew there was something upstairs, or downstairs, or both, a bacchanalia with a façade of corner store cheapness.
They’d each tell the other that he was stupid to imagine anything of the sort. Fuck off. But maybe. Have you seen anything? No. Me neither. No way then. Ask Vincent to let you in. Follow them in. What if it’s money? What if you get more money back?
Vincent, at 52, had 29 years on Marcel and Candle, and between the three, there was a good few decades of cursory head nods, the inevitable event of either leaving or going home in the afternoon and into the evening, well after the grocery turned its lights out, and into the hours where nighttime restaurants illuminated your step and it felt like the neighborhood had more people than thought possible, collected, knotted up and strung around tables and counters, each establishment becoming a diorama of how to live freely, comfortably in such a city, and even Vincent’s stragglers played their role, though the issue is that they couldn’t be seen, there was no way to confirm their arrangement, if they attached themselves to one another like everyone else, no way to know what was put in front of them, what was placed in their hands, the endless expectations crawled back and forth between the two only sons’ two minds, ideas and fantasies telepathically invading one another’s heads.
Gambling was not taboo; nor was a more general environment of ingestible vice. And yet, the proximity to family homes blanketed the entire neighborhood in unspoken, disapproving authority, draining Marcel and Candle’s should-be insatiable appetites, whether by sleeping in facsimiles of their childhood bedrooms, or the fact that the four walls of both rooms were caught in a preservatory state, somewhere between depersonalization and absolute mummification. These were rooms reserved merely for sleep, not much else. And in the half-sleep, they thought about Vincent’s. When they relayed their tethered fixation to one another, they were embarrassed, but beneath a few enduring photos from adolescence and a relatively new paint job, within a brain fogged by impending sleep, their ideas were temporarily braver, rational, but still flecked with notes of fantasy, tangible fantasy that traipsed through the two minds, unfortunately evaporated by morning, a fuzzy, tongue-coating sensation the only vestige of the previous night’s wakeful dream.
Marcel was eating with his father in the restaurant adjacent to Vincent’s, in a backyard sitting beneath a latticework of string lights, and atop red tile that was gradually surrendering to the tufts of verdant and squishy moss that one could feel and squish and knead underfoot even when outfitted with socks and shoes, and their table and chairs shuddered each time father or son shifted, or reached for a glass, and it was funny at first, but then the nuisance persisted, though it at least gave fodder for conversation when the father and son lapsed into the silence of a relationship that both – or perhaps just the son – thought would have evolved. Father asked about Candle: do his parents still call him Candle? Marcel was explaining the origin of “Candle” more and more since being home, as if his parents’ willfully omissive memories were subconsciously trying to impress themselves upon Marcel, jettisoning a fixture of his past as means of reminding him he was still a decent distance from the future. He’d always answer calmly, refusing to bemoan mother and father’s suspect redundancies. Candle was born with one of the reddest faces the doctors had ever seen, throwing the waxy whiteness of the newborn’s body into extreme relief, and that intense, flaming redness hued its owner’s face for years and years, “just like a Candle,” that was Marcel’s perennial kicker, and that’s what the subject himself resorted to when his friend, not yet his friend, asked for an explanation, after singling him out on the playground, Marcel simply observing to his mother that the boy with the blond hair holding his head over the sprinkler was in his class, and the two shook hands like little men, a random gesture of maturity that disappeared in the crush of dozens of screaming kids.
The park was around the corner from where Marcel and his father were eating, and therefore facing Vincent’s, but he didn’t really end up at the park anymore, especially since it’d been overtaken by single-organism phalanxes of teenagers at night, fulfilling their capacities for sociability just like those fulfilling their capacities for sociability at the teeming bars and restaurants. These specific, underage groups were garlanded around the play structures and swing sets, flaunting a proud sense of ownership that neither Marcel nor Candle ever felt at that age, resigned as they were to the parental difference between diurnal and nocturnal meeting places, and the park was the former.
Marcel broached the subject of the park’s new generation to his father as they sat at their shuddering table and father laid down a few bills, rushing them back into their respective days where their paths would only cross in the communal areas of their home. Father laughed and said he’d noticed: I’ve definitely seen them. The conversational apex, in comfort and effortlessness, had been ascended, but the bills on the table sewed Marcel’s mouth from thereon, and father and son walked in silence through the half-filled restaurant, mostly filled with families with babies, bouncing on knees and slapping the trays of high-chairs, new children to stand in the park at night in 15 or so years and cause the now-adult teenagers to remark that they never stood around like that, though they did, as Marcel’s mother said when he broached the subject with her. Father and son had made the three-minute trip back around the corner to their house, and father trudged up the steps, and as he stopped for a moment, wife and son were perfectly framed by the oversized doorway into the kitchen, in profile, facing one another across the counter, and they looked alike but didn’t, and mother said something about Marcel and Candle sitting on a bench long after the sun had gone down, and father continued up the steps, and mother and son’s voices carried with him, a system of cables begrudgingly pulling father along the diagonal slant of the steps, his family riding to the floor below, staying put all the while.
Marcel visibly bristled at his mother’s insistence, because his memory stored no images of a darkened park, nor of a darkened bench, nor of a darkened Candle, at least none of these within the same arrangement. Sometimes, it felt like all the son had were the changes on the streets and in the restaurants and in the park to affirm that he’d once been there, but a lack of change questioned his status, because if we all did the same thing that those before us did, how do we distinguish between ourselves; if the park were similarly overrun, and the bodies were little more than smudges seen by passersby, how could mother be sure Marcel and Candle had in fact been there? Marcel was confused. Impossibility cratered into possibility.
That night they’d go to Vincent’s. It had been discussed once more, and a decision clawed its way out. Thursday night is when I’ve seen people the most. It makes sense to be with a kind of perfect number, not a crowd, not only us. You want him to notice? I think it’s better to be noticed early than made out in a crowd once deep inside. Maybe we’ll know whoever’s going in. I don’t think I’ve recognized anyone. Me neither.
They planned and planned with vigor and reticence, still never trusting the other with their deep desire for a yet unspecified answer, not wishing to implicate themselves in sensations they couldn’t name, because the symbolic knots of their minds, once verbalized, would acknowledge their station, what it meant to be sleeping in their boyhood rooms, beneath the posters and accumulated memorabilia of a youthful distractedness, wherein one jumped ship from interest to interest, but not before the wall immortalized the phase.
The answer: to not only what was inside, but the neighborhood, their houses, their parents, their other friends now in other places, the basements that still raised the hair on their arms when they came upon that open door leading downdowndowndown into darkdarkdarkdark when prowling through the kitchen late at night, the photos dutifully taken each year teleporting one from adolescence to undergrad to nothing, the answer to why mother and father didn’t move, the answer to houses too big for three, the answer to closing times and why the doctor’s office was always so crowded and how come Candle could always skip the line, the eradication of summer jobs, the careers of all those at the bars, the careers of their parents, where did those come from, where is mine, but not selfishly, confused, where had everyone else gone, over the bridges above the river clean-up projects, up hills, through tunnels with one lane closed for maintenance, in an airport, only one suitcase in tow, ready for elsewhere, one winter’s job at the butcher’s not enough for a room and three meals and lights and clothes and a book if one felt like it, and why did they close also, what happens to the families who advertise themselves as families, does that mean that there’s none left when the butcher’s is shuttered for good, when its throat is slit and the customers spill out once more, is that it, has it died for good, has it all been dead for long, gone for good?
no kid in a thin chain can fuck me like that turn around I see your parents I’ve seen you with your parents nofuckingway I’ve gottagetby with what’s here and it sure isn’t here for you I’m the guy for those who haven’t walked by for ten or whatevertwelve years turn the fuck around
They sat on a bench in the park, enveloped in the locational dark that they had never experienced. Talk flowed. Neither felt pressed or let-down or slighted by what had happened. The instantaneous relief of having tried, and knowing there’d be no trying again. One of them said something about an open door.
Candle craned his neck over his shoulder, over the bench, his eyes traveled through darkness and the humming light of restaurants and bars to see that Vincent’s door was wide open, and he bolted up, and jogged and then ran, and Marcel craned his neck over his shoulder, over the bench, and his eyes had trouble penetrating the dark, and got tossed about by the humming lights of restaurants and bars, and he wasn’t even sure if he could see Vincent’s from so far away, but he saw Candle, and he saw Candle leap into a pocket of black and Candle’s pocket of black folded in on itself, and there was no red in that black at all.