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I had been sitting there for hours. In that time the sun had turned around the room and it now lit up the wallpaper. For as long as I can remember this room had stayed the same. There were browns and blues; the wallpaper swirled across the wall. Cluttered with many photos, the walls were my favourite part of the room. Apart from the fireplace. Delicately carved from a deep black stone, my fingers glided over its smooth surface. It too glittered in the sunlight; which picked up the crystals like stars in the sky. Atop the fireplace was the mantelpiece with various collections and an old matchbox.
It was the 19th of February 1970, a Saturday. After just a week of school we already had homework. I hate school. We were learning about fire safety at school. But that is dumb because we are standard 4 and fire can’t hurt me. Everyone in my class is so silly.
The news had spread quickly. People ran from their homes, further away they were warned by the sirens. But I saw it here. On the T.V. screen, there in the corner, small and flickery. I saw the fire.
In a town up north – not too far from here- the fire burned up the hill. And if I listened hard I could hear the sirens, their sound of agony ringing in my ears and bouncing around my head, trying to escape, warning every one of the disaster and destruction. Maybe it was my imagination but I thought I could taste the smoke. Swirling in its encompassing blackness it tasted thick as if the life that it took absorbed into it.
With eyebrows pulled together in a grim expression, the news presenter walked along the ashen houses. In that small screen it engulfed the forests and the meadows behind the houses. Taunting the nearby houses the fire licked and spat. When it retreated after a brutal blast of water, a black mark remained, climbing up the wall.
At the edge of the forest, one house was different. Here the fire had won. It didn’t spit and flick with fury. It triumphed. The house was ablaze. The white picket fence burned red. Already eaten from the inside, the camera zoomed to show the roof collapsing. Smoke billowed out, the breath and life, gone. And I sat back amazed.
I tuned in to the man on the screen. Beside him sat a lady who had lost her family in the fire. Her lips frowned and puffy eyes were partially hidden by her ashen face. Her eyes once filled with sky-blue were black. As I leaned into the screen, it was as if the smoke had invaded. Her family had died in the house at the edge of the forest.
As they talked the fire grew behind them, the flames – now done with the house and her eyes- reached for the sky. My fingers ran over the harsh carpets as I saw its power. I can imagine what I look like; sitting so close, I know the fire has affected me too. But not like her. No. There was no smoke in my eyes, only the fire; there was no pain but power and energy.
I looked up to the mantelpiece.
And sat back down to watch the fire. I don’t know how long I sat there; faces of victims of the fire kept changing, but always, always the fire. My hands played over the couch and I crept forward to turn up the volume. The fire was still there. Taunting with its dance. The sirens rang in my ears, at first it hurt I closed my eyes and rubbed my head, but it wouldn’t stop. Then I muted the T.V., but it continued. Then, and I don’t know how long after this was, its violent tune harmonised. The song continued. The taste of smoke was stronger now like air with life, it swirled around and within me a partner for the fire.
Then the T.V. stopped, the news had gone back to normal and I sat there the sudden euphoria stopped. The wallpaper returned to its dull colours. It no longer tasted of smoke. The song of the sirens was fading and I grabbed at the air trying to pull it back, but it was gone. I was frustrated and tried to turn the channels none of them showed the fire. I ran my hands over the carpet and pulled at my hair, I tried to liven the room, to feel alive. I wanted to start it again and run around the room but I was frozen in this ball trying to escape.
My life had been dulled by the absence of fire. My hands ran over the well-worn carpet, I struck the match.