Fire comes to the garden like a sordid thought, brought by a hand starfishing out
to ditch a Silk Cut filter still alight. It can't believe its luck: a smudge of creosote
spilled up a wall, a windless night, the brown grass stiff as hackles, ankle deep
and stirred by ticks that fizz and burst like cereal in Fire's mouth. It rises,
slides its greasy back against the fencing slats, unfocuses the garden in a haar
of smoke. Beyond the helpless trees somewhere a dog rattles awake; the air brake
of a distant night bus seethes. Fire slides its tongue into the house's ear.
This is where the delicacies are: long flanks of cloth that Fire can hoover up.
Stuffed furnishings, their safety labels powerless as lucky charms; the carpets thick
and edible as bread. In folded quiet, Fire gums the skirting boards, flirts briefly
with its own reflection in the triple-mirrored gas-fire's front. In the hall it pauses,
shorts the fuse box; stops the shrill, pinched pinging of the smoke alarm and pulls
the walls down round its shoulders like a cape of dark. Now every downstairs room
is Fire's. The windows blow. The faces of the white goods melt like cheese.
Upstairs, the woman holds the house's only heartbeat in her clotted chest.
The varnished floorboards spit and pop while smoke gritty as candyfloss
redraws the room. She's coldly calm: though Fire is taking bites out of the white,
tiered staircase like it's cake, she can already hear the engines' gorgeous, strobing cry
four streets away. All she can think of, crouching down for air the way she learned
in school, is all those times she filled out mental lists of things she'd save from Fire.
The photographs, the diaries, the cat she thought she'd buy but never found or named.
And then the street's a discotheque of blue and red, the neighbours on their front steps
in their dressing gowns, the kids agape behind the nets.
And she wants none of it.
And Fire takes it all.