Bonfire Night

Multi-colored flame in rusted metal drum at night

Photo by Chris Rhoads on Unsplash

Kayla held her breath and flicked the match into the old drum. The flames played at the contents, just as Jason had played with her when they'd first met. Soon they flared. She nodded watching a thin twist of smoke float away on the night air.

The idea for the bonfire occurred to her after Jason's disappearance, no more than a glimmer of an idea at first but like the flames, it had taken hold. 

She pulled the newspaper clipping from her pocket and looked again at the headline. Life with Jason had not been pretty, but she had never dared to dream of making a life without him. She'd never expected to get the chance.

She stood with a pile of his clothes at her feet, the last reminder of their life together. She would not rest until every last remnant was extinguished. 


"What's that smell?" Janice sniffed the air, her nose like a pointer. She glanced over at her husband, Gerald, but he showed no sign of a response. 

Janice pulled back the heavy curtain. She usually didn't like to peer through the nets, but the smell was growing stronger and there was a strange light playing against them. Surely that spit of a girl from next door wasn't having a fire?

She peeled back the nets and glared into the darkness.

"Well, I never!" she exclaimed.

"Hmm?" Gerald grunted, his eyes not leaving the television screen.

"Come and look!" Her voice trembled. "She's… She's…"

"Who's she, the cat's mother?" Gerald's moustache twitched, his amusement clear at turning one of her favourite phrases against her. It only served to increase her annoyance.

"That girl!"

"Kayla?" Gerald asked, though she could tell he wasn't much interested.

"Who else?"

Gerald sighed. "What's she done?"

Janice didn't stop to explain.


Kayla looked up when Janice marched into the garden. There had been many  disapproving glances over the fence, but this was the first time Janice had crossed the boundary.

"What's up?"

"What's up?" Janice said, her eyebrows quivering. "Is it not obvious?"

Kayla said nothing, just stood, watching the flames.

"Well? Are you going to put that fire out?"

"No," Kayla said. "Don't think so."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I said no."

Janice first blinked, then frowned. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. Finally, she stalked back into her house, muttering under her breath. 

Kayla turned back to the fire, her face glowing, much as it had that night. She saw the sneer on Jason's face as he plucked the wrap from her fingers even as she held it over the sink, could still feel his hand tight around her wrist, the jolt of pain as her head hit the wall.

Why had she hesitated? Was she really so weak, a nothing, as he said she was? 

She had known in that instant she would never be free.

But that was over. And the fire would cleanse all her sins.


"Honestly, that girl's getting more and more out of hand. I thought maybe now that awful boyfriend of hers has gone, things might improve, but…"

"You think he was awful?" Gerald's eyes left the screen just long enough to launch the question at her.

"Well, of course I do, Gerald." Janice stared at her husband in disbelief. "Honestly, I've said it enough times."

"Indeed." Gerald's moustache twitched. "Well, then shouldn't we be pleased that he's gone? And support her efforts to rid herself of what he left behind?"

"With a bonfire, Gerald? It's just not… it's not… civilised!"

"I don't know," Gerald replied, turning back to his programme. "Wasn't fire a major step on the road to civilisation?"


The newspaper clipping blackened and curled. 

She read it the first time right there in the shop, unable to leave until she knew for sure. Man, 25, shot dead in gang war. It was no surprise he stormed out that night. That he hadn't come back had been  a mystery and, if she allowed herself to be honest, a huge relief. 

She'd known a life in drugs would catch up with him sooner or later, but she thought he was indestructible.  Until the article.

Kayla took a deep breath, feeling the smoke coiling its way through her airways. The flames were dying now, and with them, the images of that night. Jason's face was no more than a few curls of smoke carried on the wind. She breathed out slowly, releasing the tension from her body, letting go all her pain. It could serve her no more.

She leaned back as the rain started to fall, fat drops of water hitting her face and plastering her hair against her neck. The heavens had heard her prayers and were sending her a sign. The past was over. Everything looks different after the rain.

She ran back to the house. She turned to wave at Janice, hands on hips in the window, and closed the door behind her, leaving the ashes of Jason's memory to smoulder and die.


Julia Graves

Writer and teacher living in Valencia, Spain. Author of It’s Complicated, a collection of short stories about women, life and loss