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'.
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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.
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.
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