Friday, 8 March 2013

#Once upon a time - Fire

Once upon a time .....

I played with fire.

It was the thrill of courting danger, of my breath and heart stopping the moment I came too close, of death's potential in a single flame - the way the dancing and flickering drew me in like a finger beckoning 'come this way'.

Image courtesy of Google Images

On bonfire night my father stoked the fire with extra paraffin - the fire igniting with a rocket burst, flames racing up an invisible ladder, licking the lower branches of the sycamore trees. The next morning I lamented the withering trails of smoke, running out into the garden in red wellington boots, rekindling the flagging embers with soggy leaves and crumbling twigs - the bark flaking at the first touch. And the satisfaction of breathing life back into the fire, of having a small influence over the elements, the smoke permeating my stripey jumper and flared jeans to the dissatisfaction of my mother.

In the lounge I sat on the cream rug staring into the flames of the open gas fire - the outer, weaker yellow flame, the steady orange of the middle, the intense hiss of the inner blue. And like winding ballerinas, they danced just for me. Sometimes I would pull woollen strands from the shaggy rug - like tugging hairs from a chin - and toss them into the heat, watching them disintegrate into nothing. Gone. Just like that.

I was fascinated with volcanoes, the way nothing could withstand the lava flow - trees, homes, flesh - apart from the cooled outer crust containing it's path - the cold earth, the scorching earth, conspiring together.

...Then one day, I arrived home from school, to find my youngest brother sat in front of the gas fire in the play room. It was live. Turned to full. The only sound, the sssssssss of gas.  I was eight years old. My brother, I think, around six or seven months - his face inches away from the intense heat.

The. World. Stopped.

There was no one else in the room. Just my brother and I. And the fire. Where was our mother? I felt the crushing weight of responsibility - one thousand leaden pancakes on each young shoulder - that only an elder sibling could feel. I dived forwards in panic. I had no idea how to turn it off. Was it that red button? No. Could it be this dial? Click.Yes.Yes.Thank goodness. My little brother sat pudgy in his powder blue baby grow, smiling, his fringe and eyebrows singed - the plunging fear his face could have melted or his clothes set alight.

I'm not my brother's mummy. I'm just a child.

Mother was in the solitary darkness of her bedroom, suffering a migraine.

Years later, she joked about what had happened, 'he managed to turn the fire on all by himself!' 

And for decades I believed her story - the young part of me clinging to her version of the truth like ivy on a red brick wall.

Then I realised - at the age of forty one - there was no way a seven month old baby could have switched that fire on. Not a chance.

I guess my mother felt ashamed, deeply mortified by her neglect - illness had taken her to bed.

She had turned that fire on. Then forgotten. My little brother left alone.

For decades I carried her guilt - somehow felt at fault.

And to this day, whenever I see young children playing with fire, it sets off one hundred tiny bombs of panic.
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Fire - I'm no longer so brazen. It fascinates and frightens.

But I will always prefer the warm to the cold, be it my back against a radiator, lying under the sun, toasting my toes or a comforting bowl of custard.


So once upon a time, what did you enjoy (or dislike) doing, seeing or creating? It could be anything. What were you like many moons ago? Do you have a once upon a time story to tell or picture to share? It could be a happy, sad or humorous tale. The skies the limit. So do link up below and grab the badge code ... and don't forget to tweet #onceuponatime. This is a monthly meme.

You can read my other once upon a time stories here.

Once Upon A Time

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28 comments:

  1. That's actually a chilling story (pardon the pun) even though the baby was Ok in the end. I can't get out of my head what could have happened if you hadn't come in when you did. I bet your mother also relived that day a million times and thanked her God she didn't have to live with a worse outcome.

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    1. Yes it is .... the memories still give me shivers! And yes, I'm sure she did - thank goodness it was only singing!

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  2. Thank goodness things turned out OK! Your vivid description really brings that story to life and its very unsettling. Fire is magical - from a distance. And same as you I cannot stand to feel the cold x

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    1. Yes indeed! It certainly freaked me out at the time - currently sat next to a nice warm radiator!

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  3. That's quite a scary memory to carry for so long and yor brother is lucky that you were there to have shut it. I bet your mum secretly thanked her lucky stars for the decades you carried that guilt x

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    1. Yes it was!!!! I think she must have done - she must have felt mortified - well I know she did. X.

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  4. As a mother, it always the 'what could have happened' that sends shivers through us. Your mother will have felt exactly the same and that fear led her to hide her forgetfulness. Thank goodness for a quick thinking little girl :-)

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    1. I totally agree - me too! And a very good observation - my mother's defense at what could have happened. Just as well I arrived when I did :o).

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  5. So brilliantly written Sarah. Thank goodness you came home when you did. Fire is so wonderfully fascinating, but devastating too, things could have turned out so tragically that day x

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    1. Thank you! Yes indeed - I still shudder to think what could have happened - but remind myself that it didn't, thank goodness. X.

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  6. I love how you write, it always draws me in. Great story, very lucky you showed up when you did x

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    1. Thank you - yes, very lucky indeed. X.

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  7. Funny how as we grow older and realise our parents are not infallible it can change our perspective on childhood events. A beautifully written account. I hope your younger brother appreciates what his sensible, quick thinking big sister did for him. x

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    1. He probably has no memory of it, and I'm not sure he actually knows - I can't remember if I actually ever told him! Very true re. how perspective changes as you age, and thank you. X.

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  8. What a scary story... I was actually sitting on the edge of my seat! xx

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    1. It was very scary at the time! Are you feeling okay now? :o). X.

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  9. Wow - your writing's getting better still - a very powerful piece. I sat with my back against one of those fires once - aged about seven at a friend's house. Fortunately my mum saw as my anorak went up in flames and I was saved from the same fate you saved your brother!

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    1. I'm sure things like fires etc were a lot more dangerous back in the day. I think it was quite a common thing to happen. Thank goodness your mum was there! And thank you! :o).

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  10. That is one scary yet powerful story, told so wonderfully. I have a fire story too but my brother and I were a lot older than you and yours!

    Do you have all month to write a #onceuponatime story?

    xx Jazzy

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    1. Thank you. Yes! One whole month - so that's plenty of time. How about you write your fire story? X.

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  11. So pertinent to our lives at the moment as my oldest has yet again been caught experimenting with fire. It terrifies me and I've not coped with it well this time because it's about the fifth time. I think he sees in the fire the things you describe, he's beguiled by it. Thank goodness for your quick thoughts and reactions in that situation. A beautifully written account.

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    1. Oh no - hope it wasn't too serious, and don't worry, I wouldn't have coped well either. Fire is dangerously attractive to children. Here's hoping he curbs his enthusiasm soon. Thank you..

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  12. What a powerful post of an emotive event in your life and without meaning to sound condescending awesomely written. x

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    1. Thank you - and not condescending at all :o) Thank you very much. X.

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  13. Brilliantly written. You had my heart pounding! What a great meme. Would love to join in - will try and do so later this month. Have had epic internet issues (ongoing) so have a lot of catching up to do!

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    1. Thank you so much! Would be great if you decide to join in. Sorry to hear about your internet issues - so frustrating!

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