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A Rose-shaped Candle-Tran Thuy Mai

A Rose-shaped Candle-Tran Thuy Mai

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A short story from a female Vietnamese writer.
A short story from a female Vietnamese writer.

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Published by: Nam B.I.G(Biggie In da Gang) on Aug 14, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/09/2014

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A rose-shaped candle
by Tran Thuy Mai
For the past year Ngan had been hurrying home right after work, refusing the invitationsof some of her younger colleagues up for a night on the town."Ngan’s single isn’t she? So how come she’s always as busy as a young mother with anewborn?" her department head remarked one day. Hearing this, Ngan smiled to herself.At 36, se was no longer interested in night life and besides, if she didn’t come home inthe afternoons, Stephen, her on-line boyfriend would wonder where she was.She’d met him by chance one day after work when she found her dog Tutu lying dead inthe doorway."He probably ate something poisonous on his morning walk" Ngan said to herself. Shefell into a foul mood and while surfing the net that night, wandered into a world of websites with names like "Single and Looking", full of tempting invitations: "Click hereand don’t waste time! No more lonely Sundays"She was no fool. She knew that such websites weren’t ideal for finding true love. Butstill...After a few minutes in the chatrooms, she was crudely propositioned by three differentmen and logged off in disgust."I’ll try to look for a Tutu-substitute on a dog site," she told herself. But how could shefind a dog who’d cuddle her and wag its tail when she came home like Tutu used to."Maybe I’ll keep a virtual dog on my PC that can beg for food and drink. I can bathe himand he’ll cuddle me in gratitude," Ngan changed her mind. Virtual pets were in vogue for millions around the world but is it possible for electronic signals in a machine, however  pretty their avatars might be, to truly love?She began to surf again and barely clicked the mouse when she met Stephen. It wasChristmas Day. Though the tropics were hot, being home alone on such a holiday was acold feeling. Ngan empathised when he said, "It seems to me that everything has turnedinto ice. Let’s chat for a while to warm ourselves up, my new friend." Ngan intended not to answer but then the man wrote again, "I’m looking for a friend toraise a glass of brandy with for Christmas; if you’re free, let’s meet," he suggested."Sounds great! But where are you?" she asked."Reykjavik. The capital of Iceland. And you? You live near here?"
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She sighed, unsure where Iceland was. Finally, she replied, "Fairly near I think, I live inViet Nam." On the small screen, a yellow smiley face laughed at her."Not that near! We’re separated by one ocean and two continents," he explained.Ashamed, she was about to log off rather than ask him where exactly his country waswhen he continued."Never mind! I’ll be right over. But first, have you got any wine at home?" he asked."Yes, I’ll offer you some of Da Lat wine," she replied, enjoying the game he wasinitiating."Knock Knock. Open the door, please... Wow, your house is really warm!"Her flat was actually fairly cosy and she began describing it."In my room there’s a vase full of withered flowers, a faded purple curtain, and onewindow facing a wide expanse without a soul in sight.""Wonderful! Where I come from, we see no moon and stars in this season. The nights arevery long. The sun rises and sets within three hours at most," he complained. Ngancouldn’t imagine such a land; it seemed like something out of a fairy tale."Really?" she asked."Truly," he answered. "But it’s Christmas, which means electric lights shine round theclock, especially in the city centre.""Over here, the days are long and the sun smiles bright. On Christmas Eve though, thereare blackouts all over the city," she told him, marvelling at his upside-down world."Never mind. We’ll burn candles instead for warmth and ambience. I’ve got a beautifulrose-shaped candle here. It was given to me a long time ago by a friend on the conditionthat I only burn it on my first blissful night," he said."You’ve led an unhappy life, haven’t you?" she asked. "Has fortune never smiled uponyou?""Not really. What can you do? Easy come, easy go, no?" On the screen, another smileyface appeared. "I’ll bring it to you some day. When we burn it, it will send off thefragrance of a rose.""Are we worthy of such a precious candle?""Why not?"
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That night Ngan sat by his side in the virtual world and told him of her hard times,especially Tutu and spinsterhood.Stephen spoke of his life at forty-five, eking out a living by writing plays for a smalltheatre. In fact, they were little more than soap operas. This Christmas, he’d had to finishthe tale of Esther and Dan which is why he sat every night in McDonald’s, munching onBig Macs, searching for an ending to the play: to marry or not to marry. Lost in aquandary, he hadn’t completed the play on time and another comedy had replaced the play."A playwright? Is our meeting tonight a farce too?" Ngan asked him."Ha!" he laughed, "A true modernite, full of scepticism and doubt." The round-facedfigure mocked her.* * *Stephen became Ngan’s virtual friend and gradually took up all her free time. Withimaginary wings they strolled the banks of the Saigon River and skied on the slopes of Iceland."But Stephen, I can’t ski," she confessed."Don’t worry! I’ll help you," he replied softly.On Sunday mornings, they usually got up late and drank coffee together by her window.When the rose season started, he deluged her in red flora.For a while, she was too busy working in the countryside to chat with him for quite awhile. On the way home one day, discovering an internet cafe, she dropped in for a drink and read his message: "I’ve think of you night and day. I miss you more than I can say.Warm me up please.""He’s crossed a line," she said to herself, wondering if she wished to cross it with him."Stephen, do you realise that our world is getting narrower and narrower? I’m boredwithout you," she answered. From then on, the tone of their private chatroom changedkeys."My dear Stephen, do you know why this message of mine is in purple? In my way, purple indicates nostalgia for somebody.""Honey, I’ve been working on Esther and Dan. I now understand why I couldn’t finish it:I was waiting for you to be my muse. What ending would you suggest?" he asked her.
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