c2009 By Paul Malm
Harold Senator glanced around the bus, then with resignation, down at the single candle mounted atop the resented chocolate cupcake. As he lit the wick, the tiny psst it offered gave him his cue and Harold quietly took it. "Happy birthday to me," he sang. "Happy birthday to me. Da da da, dear Harold. Happy birthday to me." He paused then added, "And please no more, from channel four."
"Hey! Harold!" the bus driver intruded. "What in the world are you doing? Put that thing out!"
Harold took a deep breath and blew. The flame flickered and died. A second later, to Harold's surprise, the wisp of smoke escaping the slender wax taper, disappeared into a bright new burst of flame.
Oh no, he thought. I must have grabbed one of the trick candles left over from ZZ's party. There, at the party, he'd hoped the relit candle had been symbolic. Here, it was just another frustration.
"Hey Harold," said the driver, "I thought I told you to put that thing out."
"You did and I did," said Harold. "But-"
Harold shook his head. Sure he could blow it out again, but it would just come back. He surveyed the bus. Only an elderly gentleman wearing a drooping Santa hat with "Ho, ho, ho" inscribed on the white trim, remained. He sat across from Harold in the handicapped spot, fondling the clear plastic tubes sprouting from his wheeled oxygen tank. Oblivious to Harold, he stared at some point far beyond the blue wall of the number twenty three bus.
Harold glared at the glowing candle. The scent of chocolate mingled with the burning candle intruded. With his one uncupcaked hand he rummaged through his pants pocket. Finding nothing useful, he transferred the cupcake to his other hand and checked that side.
"If you can't put that thing out, you're going to have to get off at the next stop."
"But Harve, it's only a candle."
"Candle, schmandle... it's company policy - an' policy don't change, even for Christmas."
"But I can't get it out - and I can't be late... not today."
Harold inventoried the immediate area and spotted his sack lunch. He grabbed the brown paper bag with his free hand and reached in. After fumbling for a second, he drew out a can of soda, placed it between his knees and pulled the aluminum tab. The cola spritzed out, shooting a volley of fizz onto his overcoat. Harold quickly raised the pop to his lips and took a long pull. Then, lowering the can, he stared at the burning wick one last time before he turned the cupcake upside down, lined the flame up with the oval opening of the can and finally smushed everything - cake, icing and chocolate wishes - down into the top of the aluminum cylinder.