“There you go, Jack, be careful with it, for Heaven’s sake.”
I took the proffered Terminator 50 Shot Barrage with trembling hands. “Thank you, Uncle Stan!” I ran with it towards the bonfire and into my dad’s arms. “Look what uncle Stan gave me!”
“Be careful with that thing, for God’s sake!” Dad gestured towards a far corner of our garden, where several dark shapes moved, torches flashing mysteriously. “Look, take it over to your cousin Mark. He’ll check if it’s suitable and help to light it.”
One tall, lanky shape was the loathed silhouette of Mark. Whenever no one was looking, he’d say, “How’re you doing, Jack?” and either punch me on the upper arm, or pinch the skin on my forearm. I swear, sometimes after an evening with Mark, my arms were literally black and blue. I’d complained to mum and dad, but they just said, “Don’t make a fuss. He’s only playing. Don’t be a softie.”
Softie! My arms really hurt!
I took the firework to the opposite corner instead, and with my own torch, stolen from the Scouts, read the label. WARNING. I ignored the rest, spotting the fuse. It was only a firework, after all.
Five earth-shattering minutes later, I was in the doghouse, along with all the local dogs. Now I had a vague idea what it must have been like to have fought on the Somme.
“Jack, come here!” It was Dad beckoning me indoors. He was unfastening his belt. It wasn’t Remembrance Day, but it was a day my backside wouldn’t forget in a hurry!
Benny was a man in trouble. Open prison meant a chance to escape, a chance to break free in the hope that the police wouldn’t be that bothered. He hadn’t killed or raped anyone, at the end of the day. But, to his astonishment, there was his mugshot on local news, and not a pleasant one at that either. They’d told him not to smile, but he looked positively evil!
A knock came at the apartment door. Benny looked through a spy hole and saw Julie’s toad-like face, distorted by the lens. He opened the door.
She gave him a peck on the lips, admiring his good looks and athletic physique. “Hiya, Ben, I hope these’ll be OK?” She handed him a holdall.
He unwrapped a package and took the lid off. Mm, the delicious smell of gunpowder. “Sweet, Jules. Thank you.”
“You will be careful, won’t you?”
Benny laughed. “Course I will.”
Julie left, and Benny began to cut the fireworks up, extracting the precious black powder and tipping it into a large glass jar. Using skills he’d learned in prison, he attached some wires and a battery. Benny noticed his hands were shaking and sweaty. He put the jar on a windowsill by a partially open window and reached for his cigarettes. He sat in an armchair and lit one, sucking the smoke in, thinking of the convenience store on the corner and going over his plan one more time.
He heard a miaow and a door pushed open. Julie’s cat, Hans. It jumped onto his lap and began to massage his thigh, drooling onto his trousers. Its claws passed easily through the thin material. “Hey, get off!” Benny stood up, sending the cat flying. It jumped up on the windowsill, knocking the glass jar off onto a low marble-topped table.
As if in slow motion, Benny watched as the glass shattered and wires that weren’t supposed to connect, connected. There was a quiet ‘whump’ and the carpet became a sea of fire, the curtains two blazing pillars. Better get out of there fast, he thought. There was always Milly. She’d put him up for a bit, till the police forgot about him, anyway. He smiled a wry smile. And she had a lovely Merc. She could put him on her insurance. Outside, flames from the open window began to lick the building’s cladding.
A van pulled up, and I took delivery of several large brown boxes, covered in stickers. Danger – Fireworks. I took them out onto the patio. Rebecca was there, unpacking crates of streamers, banners, and lights. “Put those in the shed, Jack, out of the way.”
“What d’you think I’m doing?” I piled them in the shed and closed the door. I felt safe in that confined space. I looked out through the window at Rebecca faffing around with a long stream of coloured light bulbs. Fortunately, Roland, my future father-in-law – in theory – would be arriving later to help set everything up. In the other direction was a long lawn, and beyond it, a copse and a small lake. Thanks to our engagement, I had my eye on this little lot.
Back on the patio, I pecked Rebecca on the cheek. “Well, a grand spent on fireworks, money down the drain.”
She laughed, bright blue eyes and dimpled cheeks reminding me that I was getting betrothed to a special lady. “Or up in smoke! Don’t be miserable, Jack. It’s a special occasion, a very special occasion.”
“I remember when I was a kid, my uncle Stan played a trick on me. Gave me a display firework at a family bonfire night. There must have been a hundred bangs – scared half the dogs in the district to death!”
“Well, there aren’t many dogs around here, and all the neighbours will either be here with us or hunkering down with their sedated pooches!”
I thought of the news the other night. “Did you hear any more about that tower block fire?”
“Yes, it took a couple of days to put out. A lot of people stayed in their flats and got burned to death.”
“That’s a pity.”
Rebecca grimaced. “Some stupid idiot playing with fireworks, they said.”
“There’s always one, isn’t there?”
“Seems the cladding on the building was flammable.”
“What moron thought of that!”
A car hooted, and a blue Mercedes appeared. A slim man with a lean, handsome face got out, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.
I gasped in astonishment at the sight of my old school friend. An old school friend who we’d invited to the engagement party, but then heard was in prison. “Benny, you son of a gun, glad you could make it, we thought you were ‘on holiday’!”
“Not anymore. I’m a free man!”
Rebecca laughed. “Come on, Jack, let’s all have a little drink to celebrate Benny’s release!”
Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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