As the countdown to Christmas has begun, I thought I’d share a nice little short story with you all…
Smoke billows over the garden. The neighbour’s patio door squeaks open. Nosy old bugger. I should have used acid. But where? The bathtub? Decomposition takes four days, according to my trusty sidekick, Google. What if Lu wanted to stay over? No, this was the best solution.
A head appears above the fence, wisps of Father Christmas white sprouting from the chin. “Alright John?”
I fold my arms over the dark stain on my suit jacket. “Alright Ted.”
“You’ve got quite a pile going there.”
“Yeah, just getting rid of the autumn leaves.” I don’t look him in the eye, don’t trust my face not to betray me. The flames are catching now. A burst of crimson and orange. Sweat forms on my clean shaven top lip. With a crackle, a stray piece of wood tumbles from the mound. I jump. A small golden object dazzles below. Shit. Please don’t let Ted see. I clench my jaw, stop the trembling.
The chill wind catches another plume of smoke and Ted wheezes, his hunched shoulders shaking. “I best get indoors, close the windows. Let me know next time you’re planning a bonfire, aye?”
There won’t be a next time. There shouldn’t have been this first time. That bloody guy from over the road should have seen me backing out of my drive, those damn headphones surgically attached to his head. He and his wife moved in a year ago but I still don’t know his name; I guess it’s too late now. Gold glitters in the depths of the inferno.
The doorbell buzzes. She sits opposite me on the sofa, twisting her ring around her wedding finger. It’s the same as her husband’s – simple, medium width. She pushes her hair back from her eyes, clears her throat. I know what’s coming and I feel oddly calm now. It’s like I’m working methodically through a spreadsheet. Sometimes the results come out of nowhere, threaten to derail a project, ruin its future chances. Then you have to manipulate the numbers, decimate them even.
“I saw… My husband…” Her voice catches.
“Does anyone know you’re here?” I ask, locking the front door. The wreath rocks against the wood; twelve days till Christmas.
I clear up the remains the next morning, the splinters of ‘sticks’ that haven’t burnt. Only the charred patch of grass remains. And two round circles of gold.
Ted’s white knuckles clutch the top of the fence, his face pale, his eyes narrowed. How long has he been watching? His wedding ring glints in the autumn sun. He’s been ten years without his wife now.
“What’s going on?” The shout comes from behind. Mr and Mrs Hill peer over their hedge. This is getting a little out of hand. I force my lips into a smile and eye the string of festive lights in their hands, it looks robust. Decimate the numbers. Looks like there will be a second bonfire after all.