Fiction

House Burning at Night

By: Grant Watson

I saw it first between the trees, a lightbulb blooming in orange neon – so bright you could have reached in and picked it from the branches like a fruit.  It melted softly through the dark avenues of sycamores as we trudged along the mossy paths – our buckets clattering at our sides, boots pulled up over pyjama bottoms, jumpers bundled under coats. 

We had been dragged out of bed at three am – myself, my brother and my younger sister.  There was a fire our father had said, out on the farthest edge of the village where the new family had moved in a month ago.  Nobody knew much about them – incomers from London we had been told, settled here among the generations of farm workers and dairy men whose names decorated the cenotaph like white anemones.  The children were in a different class to mine and after the initial novelty, nobody had paid them very much attention – every lunch time I would see them sit at the boundary of the playing field talking to one another in hushed voices like the members of some secret, clandestine cult.

As we got closer to their tiny house we felt the heat and heard the sound of muffled voices, the deep rumble crack of flame exploding in the air.  Then, as we turned the corner, we saw a giant flower of light barrel up above its blazing roof – a vast, burning knot that somersaulted into the sky.  The family were sitting in a circle beyond the garden gate –  the mother and three children in dressing gowns eating soup brought by women armed to the hilt with tupperware and good intentions.  The father was watching his house burn down, shaking his head, shrugging his shoulders.  I watched my own father squeeze his arm and offer up a comforting smile, while all around the village worked at the billowing smoke.  It reminded me of bonfire night on the church green, or the candle procession at Midnight Mass.

We took our place in the line of kids dipping buckets in the nearby stream, then handing them from one to the other, trying to stem the tide as the fire brigade negotiated its way

through the twisting, turning lanes beyond. The house was some distance from the main road so we knew that it would take them at least an hour to pick through the network of ancient, pot-holed tarmac.  And as the flames burned a crown of brightest white into the black canopy above, the youngest of the incomers asked me if I wanted to play a game with him and his sisters.  They led me to a corner of the lawn and we sat cross legged on the ground.  Then the boy reached into this pocket and took out a match, striking it on a rock and watching it crackle alight –

“It’s good you’ve come” he said finally, “it’s been so lonely out here, so very, very dark…”

###

Grant Watson is a playwright and screenwriter whose last play Perfect Blue was awarded three international awards.  He has written extensively for UK television including Holby City, Family Affairs and Doctors.  Grant is also a singer-songwriter whose EP Figure in a Dark Landscape is out now.

Categories: Fiction

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