Spontaneous Human Combustion by Dan Purdue
We laughed at Granddad when he started on about bursting into flames, but if you stand over there – no, left a bit – and look where I’m pointing, you can still see his outline. See? Yeah, that’s his arm, there. You can even make out the bobble hat he was wearing when he went up. The grass grew back a couple of shades darker and the groundskeeper’s been doing his nut ever since. He wants to dig it up and lay new turf, but Mum’s not having it.
“My dad lived and breathed this bowls club,” she says, real proud like. “It was part of him. It’s only right he should be part of it, too.”
After Nan died, I think we all just figured he’d gone a bit doolally. All that talk of precautions. Vigilance this, fire safety that. We didn’t see any harm in it, you know? Let him get on with, we thought. We all got used to his ‘No aerosols in the house’ rule and him pulling on those thick rubber gloves when he filled the car at the petrol station.
Whenever I think about him, I remember those pyjamas he hand-stitched out of a couple of fire blankets, and the big red extinguisher that always stood beside his favourite chair. He was especially proud of the modifications to his potting shed.
“That Ivor might have his fancy ride-on lawnmower,” he’d say, casting a glance over his neighbour’s fence. “But does his shed have a sprinkler system? I think not.”
At least he’s keeping busy, we’d say, wearing but-what-can-you-do expressions on our faces. To be honest, I wish I’d taken him more seriously. I wish I’d really talked to him about it.
For one thing, I feel bad I wasn’t there, you know? When it happened. They say it was over pretty quick; that Granddad didn’t suffer. That his last words were, “I bloody told you!” That’s him all over, see? Always did like being proved right.
But the thing that worries me is, well, if he was right about that, what else might he be right about? Like, when I was a kid, he was forever telling me to be careful.
“Don’t play with matches,” he used to say, in that big, stern voice of his. Pointing his finger so I knew he meant it. “You keep away from fireworks.” And most of all, “Promise me you’ll never, ever touch cigarettes.”
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
What? No, you stay where you are. I might go up any moment.