THE PHONETIC SOUNDS of Vivaldi (just as he intended) echoed off the walls of my skull. Our phones had been ringing incessantly the whole morning.
In a rare moment of silence, I opened up my emails and clicked on a video link accompanied by, ‘You’ll love this Eve, Diane x’.
Within minutes the entire office; Doug, Jenny, Clara, Melissa, and Pauline were huddled around my work station as the cat video played, leading to laughter, Awww’s!, and declarations of cuteness.
Just as a once-fluffy white cat styled like a lion was batting at a glass on the edge of a kitchen counter, while the owner deplored it not to, yet somehow couldn’t stop filming… a collective groan greeted my ringing phone, my mobile this time.
‘Oh god, is she ok?’ Blood drained from my face, a hand on my mouth. I felt someone place one on my shoulder. ‘Ok, I’ll be there as soon as I can.’ My tone had gone flat and weak. ‘Something happened at home, I have to go…’
I didn’t wait for permission but vaguely recall somebody offering to drive.
I just hoped it wasn’t serious, they said Ashley was fine.
Home was ten minutes drive, and countless speed limits were broken as I floored it, windows open, trying to counter the high noon sun.
Within a mile my blood drained again, seeing a spire of thick black smoke rising from the midst of the sprawl of houses.
How many times could a heart sink in the time it took to drive Gilligan Street?
Cars were parked up on the pavements as I navigated the narrow roadway. Three fire engines were outside…my home, what was left of it.
Slamming the hand brake I ran towards my driveway, in numbness pushing past the onlookers until a fireman in a yellow outfit blocked my path
‘That’s my house!’ I yelled, nearly in tears. ‘Where’s my daughter? Where’s…’
I watched, my body shaking, as firefighters on either side of my two-story house, fired water into the remaining one story, flames curling out, orange streaks flickering, the same fire that had destroyed everything precious to me.
Well, not everything…
Ashley was shouting, running along the pavement as if in slow motion; skipping over swollen hose pipes, wearing a wide gap toothed grin, her pigtails with blue streamers flowing behind her, the yellow jumpsuit she loved marred by black marks.
On my knees I stretched my arms out and when she nearly knocked me over I felt so relieved, hugging her tight and peppering her with kisses until I collected myself.
‘What happened my precious?’
She looked up at me as innocent as you like. ‘I wanted to make a phoe-nix appear!’
Dumbfounded, I looked at the remnants of home through watery eyes, tasting smoke every time I breathed. All I could think to say was, ‘Couldn’t you have burnt something smaller?’
She looked at me dead on, didn’t miss a beat. ‘The baby sitter is smaller! But Mum, I been thinky, bigger fire, bigger phoe-nix!’
Something went still on my left hand side.