THE CANDLE OF GOD, an unpublished novel by Donna Spector

Set in the Fifties, THE CANDLE OF GOD is about a family divided by religious beliefs. The catalyst who ultimately brings the family together is Danny, a bright, talented fourteen-year-old struggling with cystic fibrosis. This serio-comic novel is in five sections.

Parts one, three and five focus on Danny and members of his Jewish family in Altadena, California. Each member of the family—from his grandmother Esther to his younger cousin Jessamyn—wishes to help Danny. But the family members are divided, partly by their idiosyncratic desires and beliefs and partly by the marriage of Danny's uncle David to Kathleen, a Gentile. The lesson everyone but Danny’s mother Dena learns is that of acceptance, of themselves and each other.

Parts two and four follow Earl, head of the Tucson Atheist Society and the man Danny believes is his father, in his wild, erratic odyssey from One-Eyed Pete's bar in Tucson to Danny's grand Pasadena faith healing arranged by his mother Dena. Accompanying Earl on his journey to the boy he also believes to be his son are Violette, his voluptuous mistress; Clyde, a visionary faith healer who--although he doesn't know it-- is Danny's real father; and Harriet, Clyde's gawky bride. Although the faith healing is unsuccessful, most members of Danny’s extended family—even Earl the atheist—experience a spiritual epiphany.

NOTE: THE CANDLE OF GOD was a finalist in the New Millennium novel competition and the Dana Award novel competition.


He carried the boy out of the house and down the street. It was a warm day, the beginning of summer, but he held the boy close so he wouldn’t catch cold, because you never knew, even on a day like this when the sun was shining. There were shadows as he passed the live oak trees, brief bursts of cool air, anything could happen. How light the boy was! Surely no more than sixty pounds. He brushed the boy’s hair out of his eyes. “Don’t be afraid,” he said, “I’m taking care of you. We’re just going for a walk. I’m going to tell you everything now.”

* * *

The dream was always the same. First, piano music ripples through the night house. Then a woman is yelling, but he can’t make out the words. His mother? A glass shatters against a wall. “Don’t tell me I have to stay here!” a man shouts. His father? Someone pounds the piano keys, and Danny flinches in his sleep. Footsteps running. A door slams somewhere in the house. Silence, as though the house is holding its breath. “Daddy?” Danny moans. “I need you.”
Outside in the driveway a car’s engine roars, tires crunch over gravel, a screeching of brakes, then nothing but a woman weeping and palm trees rustling in the wind. Danny tries to open his eyes, but he can’t move, his body is paralyzed, someone is pushing him down, down into the bed, he’s gasping for air, and then, laughter. A voice: “Come now, this isn’t necessary. Just leave it behind,” and he rises up, out of his body so easily he’s amazed. He glides through the house like a ghost, past the forlorn piano, his mother huddled on the living room sofa, his grandmother standing like a grim sentinel in the kitchen, and out the open door. “Good-bye,” he whispers as he floats over lemon trees, past the pyracantha, its flame-colored berries blue in the moonlight, and up into the clouds toward Mount Wilson. Then he looks down and sees his father carrying him in his arms.

* * *

Dena was counting Danny’s pennies again. He could hear his mother drop them into the jar, as though each one were a drop of her own blood, to be collected like a magic elixir. A protection against harm.
He opened his eyes. What time was it? Six a.m.? Seven? His mother kept his Venetian blinds closed so he could sleep late and get well.
Mama, he whispered, tasting his penicillin breath. Mamoushka. He sat up and pulled back his sweaty satin comforter, quietly, so the bed wouldn’t creak, so Dena wouldn’t rush in with her tray of pills. Let the day wait, he thought. Let it begin later, after Mama has brushed the cobwebs from her beige hair. Sitting in her room like Miss Havisham, because her bridegroom deserted her. Only Mama doesn’t wear a wedding dress.
He saw the cans of peanuts stacked like an Eiffel Tower in the corner of his room and stifled a giggle. A year’s worth of peanuts he’d won for his mother. Another gift ignored. But tonight he would play the piano sonata he wrote for her and Gram, and maybe he’d dress up for them. Yes, in Gram’s red silk shawl and his mother’s black high heels, so he could read them his new play about a girl who ran away from an orphanage and became an opera singer.
Why were his arms so thin and white, like the arms of those plastic skeletons in doctors’ offices? Was he wasting away, like Uncle David said, calling him a Hanukkah candle? But Gram said this was a joke Uncle David made to cover the guilt of his Christian wife.
It was last Christmas, when they had gone to Uncle David’s house, and his uncle was embarrassed by the Christmas tree Aunt Kathleen had bought. A pagan ritual, Gram had said, when they were hanging ornaments and lights on the tree. “I don’t know why you invited us,” his mother had said. “Maybe you don’t know that Jews don’t celebrate Christmas?”
Aunt Kathleen had turned paler than the Christmas angel she was holding, and Uncle David, to divert her, said, “Where are all the cookies and the fudge? Danny needs sweets! I won’t have my own nephew thin as a candle of God.”
“Was my father thin too?” Danny had asked. No one answered him but the radio. “Silent night,” it sang.

* * *

In her bedroom Dena counted pennies like minutes and waited for Danny to wake up before she got ready to visit Rabbi Saltzman at the Healing Center in Pasadena. Danny had coughed very little last night, though perhaps she had slept and not heard him. What if he’d died, and she’d been dreaming of something stupid, as usual?
No, she wouldn’t think in this way. She and her mother alone in this little stucco house with Danny all these years since Earl left to play the organ at Woody and Eddy’s and never came back. Leaving his one good suit, his orange toothbrush and his black underwear like an insult. She knew Earl never believed Danny was his child. That last night he sat in the kitchen waving his cigar and yelling, “He’s no child of mine. I’ve got lungs like an ox, and if he can’t breathe, he’s somebody else’s.”
Thank goodness she had Rabbi Saltzman, who was a good man and didn’t care that she was a woman whose husband had left her. Dena shivered with rage, remembering the way Earl’s smoke clung like soot to the counters, tables and chairs, black-outlined her lace doilies on the davenport, made their house an ash bin. No matter how much Lysol she used, or Mr. Clean, that smoke was sneaky like Earl himself. It lay over her bed, a veil of death, trying to draw the very breath out of her.
She had even hired an exterminator. Twenty-seven years old that man was, very sincere. Said he never went after smoke before, rats were his usual line.
And Dena had said, "Never mind, Earl was a rat and all I'm asking is for you to clean up his trail." When the man laughed, Dena glared and said, “You think that was funny?” It wasn’t then, but now, remembering, Dena laughed with her hand over her mouth, so the laugh would stay inside. So Danny could sleep.
While the man worked, Dena took her mother to lunch at Bullocks' Tea Room with nice finger sandwiches, egg salad and watercress, and a double feature at the Academy in Pasadena.
When they got back, the smoke was gone, except for one place that she didn't find till the next morning. Seven o'clock sun drifted through the kitchen when she came in to make coffee, and there was Earl's face, drawn in smoke on the yellow refrigerator. Grinning like a Cheshire cat.
The phone began to ring. Dena raced into the living room to answer it before the noise woke both Danny and her mother.
“Dena,” Rabbi Saltzman said, “can you be here by nine?”
“Oh, yes” Dena whispered, his voice warming her to the very soles of her frozen feet.
“Why are you whispering?”
“Danny and Mother are still sleeping. What time is it?”
“Eight o’clock. I’ve been meditating for an hour, waiting to call you.”
Dena smiled, remembering how handsome Rabbi Saltzman looked when he folded himself into a lotus position. “All right,” she said. “I’ll see if Danny’s awake. I promised him he could spend the day at my brother’s house in Alhambra.”
“Good. I need you. It’s Monday and we have work to do.”
Yes! He needed her. “I’ll be there.” She kissed the receiver as she hung up, knowing it was a silly thing to do, but how could a woman stop herself when a man as wonderful as Rabbi Saltzman said “need”?



All material copyright © 2001-2011 by Donna Spector.
Web design and interface copyright 2001 by TBE Design, New York City.