Wednesday, 6 February 2013


‘Switch it off!  Quickly!’
‘But it might be urgent!’
‘Well go out then!  It finishes in about five minutes!’
‘Shhh!’ said a woman behind them.
He put the phone back in his pocket.
‘I’ll go out after this bit.’  If it were something urgent, he would feel it.

They were early, so the queues were not long.  He went for the tickets and she went for the popcorn and coke.  It was her idea.  More efficient that way.  He looked at the back of the woman in front of him, at her dyed blonde hair. But it felt too personal. 

The glass doors were plastered in posters.  It was not easy to read the words the wrong way round and the colours didn’t come through the paper much. People pulled the doors and swung into the warmth, laughing mostly, a lot of them arm in arm.  He looked over to her, to see whether she was being served yet.  He changed his mind about the popcorn and tried to catch her eye. He didn’t like popcorn.  He thought about going over to her, leaving his place for a moment, surely the people behind him would let him back in? He half turned to look at them and they smiled.  It would be fine.  Too late!  She was talking to the assistant, pointing.

The queue moved forward.  It was his turn. ‘Two tickets for ‘Take Cover’ please,’ he said. 

It felt wrong to be out, when it ought to have felt exciting. He had forced himself to come.  The babysitter would have to be paid anyway, even if they cancelled.  She had told him this to push him.  He knew.

The man guarding the entrance to the cinema screens took their tickets.  They were in Screen one, the giant one, with Dolby Sound System.  He held the door for her and they went up the slight incline and were surprised at the number of people already inside gazing up in the strange light.  He wondered if they too had left their children at home.  They must have, he supposed.  Some of them.

‘No one’s picking up Des.  Is there another number?’ asked the police officer.
‘Ask the girl.  She’s the babysitter.’
‘Stay clear of the building!  Keep back, sir.  No, I can’t allow you inside.’

The sound of sirens wailing split the silence and the growing crowd of people watched the firemen scurry like uniformed ants, turning the hoses onto the house and trying to find out whether there was anyone still inside.

‘They have a baby.  That’s his room, there,’ said a woman, gasping at the sight of the flames and the smoke and putting her hand over her mouth.

There was a huge explosion and suddenly Joe was on fire.  He was too surprised to scream until he felt the searing of his flesh.  Anna stayed in the garden picking up the fag ends he had thrown in the grass and when he came running out she started stamping her feet in a frantic dance and pumping her arms, fists clenched, shouting: ‘Help!  Help!  And, eventually, Fire!’

She looked around her for water, a blanket.  Joe was rolling on the grass now and she could see how his face was burned and his clothes blackened and smoking, more than aflame now.  Her screams, more piercing than his, brought the neighbours and they turned the garden hose on him.

‘Is David out?’  said one of them. ‘David!  Did you get him out?’

The girl stared and shook her head, trembling.

‘I have to stay in the house, Joe.’
‘Well, I’m going to smoke so please yourself.’  The boy searched his pockets for a light.  ‘Shit, no matches.  I’ll kill that little bastard!’
‘You’ll have to go outside.  You can’t smoke in here, they’ll be able to smell the smoke.’
‘Just a minute.’  He went into the kitchen.  There were no matches there either but there was a lighter for the cooker so he lit a gas ring and bent down to touch the flame to his cigarette.  Then he turned the gas off.  The knob stuck a bit.  ‘What a pile of crap,’ he said, leaving it.

She went through to the hall and dialled his number.  He picked up immediately.
‘Have they gone?’
‘Just now.  Where are you?’
She laughed.
She looked and saw the shape of him through the frosted glass.  She let him in and he kissed her.

‘Come on, we have to go!  We’ll be late and get a rubbish seat,’ she called, ‘Don’t fuss, you’ll make him nervous.’  She rolled her eyes at the babysitter.

He came down the stairs quietly, his face wan with worry, looking at her, unsure and uncomfortable.

‘He’ll be fine!  Anna has done this before, you know?’ she widened her eyes at the girl, who said: ‘Don’t worry Mr. and Mrs. Daniels, I will look after David. Go and enjoy yourselves.’  She looked at her watch.

The front door closed and she watched them get into the car through the living room window.  They saw her watching and waved, smiling, each in a different way.

They stood over him, asleep in his cot.  He went over to the window and left a gap in the curtains so that, later, the stars would be visible for him to look out at.

‘He doesn’t look at the bloody stars!’

The man did not argue.  He knew that David liked the stars.

‘I’m sure he knows we’re leaving him,’ he glanced at her and she sighed heavily.
‘How can he know?  He’s a baby for God’s sake!’
‘I know, I know, but I just think he knows.’
‘You sound as cracked as the bloke in this film we’re going to see.’
‘Thanks!’  He had to admit he did feel foolish after she said that.
‘It’s just a night out at the cinema.  Come on! She’s not going to burn the bloody house down!’ 

The doorbell rang.


  1. Replies
    1. Bit of an experiment. A lot of people find the structure impenetrable. Hope it didn't alarm you too much.