burning rubbish

“Take it you never met their Dad?” I asked as flames spat from the old metal bin.
“No, unfortunately.”
Unfortunately?” I asked, a hint of challenge in my voice.  “Or maybe fortunately?”
“Yeah, well..  He sounds like a complicated man,” he diplomatically responded.
“Complicated is one word.”
The fire crackled some more, smoke plumed above, twining and weaving its way between branches, up and away.

Wood and various other tools, pots, tubs and things had been strewn across the garden for many months, planks lying forgotten, chipboard from the old man’s weird ideas and plans, which died with him two years earlier.  As well as wood, we fed the fire polluting artefacts of his existence: floppy discs, CDs, a hidden photograph album which did nothing to improve his reputation – I struggled to suppress strong feelings; bank statements, letters, a postcard from a far flung brother.  This was what had remained.  This and debt and an unroadworthy car and a number of strange, unidentifiable chemicals, oils, petrols, building material, scaffolding, paint pots, tools: an overwhelming mountain of mess.

The smaller flammable items tentatively took, as if the flame first needed to get to know the alien material, before curling, enveloping, incinerating and disintegrating.

We were both with the deceased man’s daughters; my fire partner with the elder one, me with the younger.  Between the two was a tricky, aspergersy son, also indoors, belatedly pouring through the effects.  All three of them had been paralysed in the wake of their father’s death, only a few years after the sudden passing of their mother.  As I saw it, his monstrous control over them and his steely conviction about everything meant that newly faced with authority, responsibility, decision-making power, the need to discuss things – his children were all stunned and awkward.  The older sister was physically removed, a few hours across the country, and rarely returned.  It was a significant event that this weekend she had visited, perhaps spurred on by learning that pressures were taking their toll on her younger sister.   The son didn’t drive, was socially stunted.  Much fell to the youngest, a driver and a worker and the most proactive of them all – as it had with the palliative care of a father who barely deserved it; the one I was proud to call mine.

Here we were, eventually, two years later, the old man’s desk finally in the process of being cleared.  Boxes, files, pens, paperwork, photographs.  It was the first time I had been upstairs, perhaps reluctantly permitted to help move boxes.  Only now had his reading spectacles been lifted from their final resting place near a monitor.  Both urns of the parents still sat in the corner of the living room.  Something which had unnerved me at first now felt acceptable, normal.  There were plans of a kind.  Scattering would happen once agreement from another stakeholder, a half-sibling in Scotland, had been made.

But we kept out of it, me and this mild-mannered chatty Glaswegian man, at least ten years my senior.  At the end of their long sloping garden we stood with the fire’s heatwaves bathing our faces, and volleyed back and forth stories of our own families – his wheeler-dealer father, my Dad’s retirement from running; his awkward sibling relationships; life in my brother’s shadow.  This was our place for now; we’d go for a pint in the dodgy local when the sun sank.  I wouldn’t have to try too hard to tease out more of his war stories.  Much sounded attractive about being in the forces, all the different environments and travel and challenges.  Shame about that whole ‘putting your life on the line’ thing.  Didn’t fancy that much.

After the pub we’d return to check on progress and sibling harmony.


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