It was a week before Christmas and I so wanted to finish painting the living room before my husband returned from his conference. He hated it when I did the decorating – never finding my efforts good enough – and feeling that it should be his job. But if I waited for him to do it, it certainly wouldn't be done by Christmas.
The smell of paint was still in the air, but I finally finished, so the kids and I decided to celebrate, so we lit candles – always a big deal in our house at Christmas time. I think there were maybe five or six, big fats ones, resting on saucers for safety – on the mantlepiece, on the window
ledge, and on the coffee table. Each had its own scent, and the place sparkled with magic.
I decided that I needed a long hot soak to relax my weary body, and escaped to the bathroom.
The kids who were old enough to not need constant looking after could please themselves.
I hadn't been in the tub long when I heard someone knocking on the front door – loud and
persistent. I was annoyed. Surely one of the children could go to the door. But it persisted, and I felt that as it might be an emergency, I had to act. So I angrily got out of the tub, dressed, and stomped
back downstairs. Nobody at the door.
I went into the living room – and the place was alive with fire. One of the candles – the one on the coffee table, had been removed from its base, and having burned through, had caught the wooden surface, no doubt enhanced in its journey by the polish on it and the paint fumes still in the air.
The table, a sheet of flame, was nearly burned through – that quickly had the fire taken over, and it was inches from the sofa, and curtains. Minutes from causing a catastrophe. I remembered my training from years before, and picked up a pile of newspapers and put them on top of the fire – cutting off its oxygen supply and the fire went out.
The kids filed back into the room. The girls had been making cookies in the kitchen – no doubt the knocking noises I heard had come from the rolling pin. My son looked a bit sheepish, and I realised that he had been playing with the candles – and had been the one to remove this one from its
I was still in mild hysterics from the situation, and I shook him, which shocked us all. “But mum, you've made fires too, you know,” he squeezed out between his tears. And I had. When he had first started school I brought him home each lunchtime for homemade chips, and I had put the
chip pan on, gone outside to put something on the clothes line – and came back to a kitchen black with soot and a very active fire on the stove. So I started laughing – and gave him a big hug, saying
I guessed we were both as silly as each other, and I was sorry I had blamed him, when I was the grown up.
But what I find the most interesting is the idea that I had had that somebody was knocking. I had never for a moment thought about any other danger when I went downstairs. I can only think that some ghostly follower of our family had done their magic on my mind that night.
p.s. We hid the coffee table in the attic, and never told my husband about the fire, and he
never noticed the newly painted walls, which probably didn't look all that new with a layer of soot upon them.