The Christmas Burn-Up - Part 2
The snow had stopped. At last something positive.
She turned away from the bus stop and walked the short distance to their house. Correction: her house. If she was going to properly move on she needed to at the very least stop thinking about things in a joint way. Maybe the woman on the bus had a point now that she thought about it. Her single life was still heavily laced with Daniel. Her phone memory was still chock full of his grovelling messages, asking her to give things another try, protesting that they were both at fault in their own ways. The bloody cheek of it. Only one of them had declared he felt like he was wearing a ball and chain. The house was still stuffed with belongings he’d neglected to collect and reminders of their time together.
Maybe it was time for a clear out. That part of what the crazy old bus lady had said actually made a certain kind of sense. How the hell was she supposed to move forward when she was surrounded by reminders of him everywhere she looked? And it wasn’t as if she had anything more pressing in her social diary for the evening.
The little house was easily identifiable. It was the only one in the terraced row that wasn’t sporting some kind of flashy Christmas illumination. The Thorp family, three doors down and slaves to vulgar, had a sleigh and reindeer in flashing neon lights on their roof. Next door had attempted tasteful, with a minimalist row of mock candles in the window. End of the row had an inflatable snowman bobbing about in their front garden and brandishing a ‘Santa Please Stop Here’ sign. Charlotte’s tiny house stood in darkness.
She opened the front door and was immediately tripped up by Cinnamon the cat, launching his assault from the side table in the hall where he’d been staking out the doorway for her arrival, winding his way hungrily between her feet. This time last year, exactly to the day she realised with a pang of nostalgia, she’d found him. A tiny ball of oily, grubby, spiky fur with a high-pitched pitiful mew that tugged at her heart. No collar. Skin and bone. Found sheltering from the snow near the bins at the back of the terrace.
She’d mocked up a leaflet and dropped it through every letterbox on the street and had put up posters for good measure. No one had come forward to claim him, much to her delight and Daniel’s grouching. She’d talked Daniel into letting her keep him. Of course she had. Didn’t the perfect couple in their perfect home need a pet? It was practically a requirement. It went with the image.
She swallowed. When it came right down to it, image had really been all they were about. Playing house. Fitting what each of them thought a steady cohabiting relationship should be and clashing like crazy because their expectations were at opposite ends of a very big scale.
The wistful smile faded from her lips. She was not about to be diverted from her task by a stupid nostalgia trip about a cat. Dodging out of Cinnamon’s way, she whisked through the house like a dervish on a wave of new momentum, picking up anything along the way that reminded her of Daniel, some of it his stuff that he’d failed to pick up, some things they’d bought together. Daniel’s football programmes, a photograph of the two of them on a day trip to London, a cheap painting they’d bought together, a spare jacket of his that he’d left behind. Since the house was a tiny two-up two-down, it really didn’t take long. At last she held a teetering pile in her arms that she dropped by the back door while Cinnamon watched disapprovingly.
‘What?’ she asked him. ‘Where’s your sense of loyalty? He wanted to call you Crimbo. And do you really think you would have been allowed to stay here if I hadn’t been around? Two words: Animal Shelter.’
She opened the back door. A rush of freezing air swept in and Cinnamon bolted up the stairs.
The garden was as tiny as the house. A square of lawn, a miniscule patio that had just enough room for a small table and chairs and a titchy shed at the bottom corner. Next door had carried the theme of Christmas-meets-Vegas into their back garden too, with a zingy string of coloured fairy lights along the dividing hedge and Rudolph’s reindeer face depicted in lights on the back of their house with a red nose that flashed rhythmically on and off.
She carried the pile of belongings to the bottom of the postage stamp lawn and carefully built up a base stack of rubbish for a bonfire, adding in some old planks of wood that lay next to the tiny shed and some garden tat she found inside it. She lobbed a few firelighters in the middle, leftovers from a summer barbecue when they’d sat out here with friends and Daniel had wielded the barbecue implements – stereotypical. She pressed her lips together. That’s exactly what their life had been. She’d seen to it, she realised now. That was what you did in summer when you lived together: you had a civilised barbecue with your man turning the burgers while you rustled up a jug of Pimms. Daniel’s mates had turned up, each brandishing a girlfriend and a six-pack, and it had turned into more of a raving party than the sedate grown-up thing she’d had in mind. Instead of having a laugh, she’d felt somehow disappointed, as if she’d failed at the point of the afternoon. It all seemed a bit ridiculous now. Prior to moving in with Daniel, she would have been partying along with the rest of them. Sharing bricks and mortar had somehow made her lose sight of herself in some mad quest to become Mary Berry.
The fire was glowingly warm. She held her palms out to it. A melty circle grew outward from it on the frosty lawn as the heat thawed the ground. It was actually cosier out here with the dancing flames than it was inside the house. You could hang up more tinsel and fairy lights than you could shake a holly branch at, but it didn’t actually generate Christmas cheer. You needed people for that.
Pretty soon she had a nice burn up going on.
She settled herself to one side, next to her pile of stuff, and picked up a photo from the top of the stack of herself and Daniel, which had been tacked to the fridge under a magnet when he’d lived here. Since he’d packed his bags it had been stuffed into one of the kitchen drawers so she didn’t have to look at it every time she grabbed her microwave meal-for-one.
She looked down at the picture. A friend’s housewarming party, the second week they’d met. She’d moved in on week three. Daniel looking impossibly handsome. Herself looking happy. What the bloody hell was happy? Happy had gone AWOL since this relationship had gone tits up. She tossed the photo into the air and watched it flutter into the fire where it curled and blackened, that moment obliterated forever.
Now didn’t that feel better?
Well no, actually. She just felt bloody sad. She shook her head lightly. Maybe it was a question of volume. After all, one photograph was hardly enough to cut the mustard, was it?
Turning back to the pile, she had a good rummage and came up with the perfect you’re-better-off-without-him item: his loathsome 2006 World Cup T-shirt, ‘England’s Barmy Army’ splashed across the front, worn as hell but which he insisted on still dragging out as leisurewear. She held it up. It absolutely typified him: unwilling to let go of lad culture, still always up for the laugh. She should be chucking it on the flames without a second thought but for some reason on impulse she held the shirt to her cold cheek. She breathed in the smell of him: warm and laced with the woody fresh scent of the aftershave he always wore.
Her stomach turned over softly. Didn’t the shirt also represent the essence of what she’d liked about him when they first met? How much fun he was, how spontaneous, always up for a joke. For some reason living together in her world meant sensible and grown-up. Why did it need to? Why couldn’t his sense of kiddish fun coexist with them being a proper couple?
It was too late to let second thoughts muddy the waters now. To prove she wasn’t wavering, in a surge of determination she balled the T-shirt up and threw it on the fire, then for good measure she heaved on Daniel’s skanky old dartboard that she’d loathed on sight but which he’d insisted on hanging in the corner of the lounge.
The dartboard must have been particularly fusty and dry because the fire really took hold now, spitting and crackling and billowing grey smoke into the darkness. The heat baked her cheeks and she smiled into the glow. Who knew? She clearly had a natural aptitude for fire-building. Bear Grylls had nothing on her. Unfortunately the stab of pride at her outdoor skills suddenly disappeared as she realised the flames were licking up the side of the neighbour’s dust-dry hedge.
She glanced quickly around, realising that she’d epically failed at fire safety by not having some kind of extinguishing item to hand. She’d been so swept up in the moment that she’d forgotten to bring out a bucket of water or sand in case things didn’t go to plan. Daniel’s voice danced through her mind – Fire can be unpredictable. You have to respect it.
She dashed to the house, ran into the kitchen and shoved the washing-up bowl under the cold tap. It seemed to take forever for the sodding thing to fill. At last she grabbed it and speed-walked back down the hallway, trying not to slop water onto the floor, out the back door and down the garden.
She lobbed the bowl of water over the smouldering hedge, causing a massive sizzling sound. Smoke billowed into the air, catching in her throat like pepper and making her cough. Then the air cleared a little and she could see the flames seemed to have died down. She was just congratulating herself on getting the situation back under control when next door’s Christmas lights shorted with an audible bang plunging her into darkness except for the orange glow of the bonfire and an odd blue flashing that seemed to be coming from the front of the house.
How to make a fresh start?
Burn everything that reminds you of the past.
How not to make a fresh start?
Lose total control of the sodding fire, prompting emergency attendance of the very person you want to forget. The fact Daniel was a firefighter hadn’t occurred to her because she hadn’t intended to set the bloody hedge alight, and now he was here with his firetruck and all its flashy blue lights.****
Look out for the story in full at the end of the year! Thanks for reading and I hope you've enjoyed these snippets. Don't forget to check out the next author in the hop, the very lovely Romy Sommer!
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