a hot night

We lie in bed reading. It is after eleven at night and still in the high thirties temperature-wise. The sash window by my head is open, as is the back door and courtyard door, to catch any chance of a night breeze to cool the house.

“What’s that noise?”, I ask. It has been going on for about five minutes at this stage. I can’t place it, but it sounds like it is coming from immediately next door. I am a little irritated that they would be doing something so disruptive so late in the evening. It sounds like somebody is continuously breaking firewood, or unravelling a huge roll of lino onto the floor, so that it makes a smacking/cracking noise as it hit the ground. It is loud. What the hell is it?

The curiosity gets the better of Orlando and he gets up to investigate. Quite what he thinks he is going to see in the dark on a quiet suburban street without peering into a neighbour’s window I am not sure. Moments later he bursts into the bedroom.

“That noise is the house down the road burning!”

I leap out of bed and pull on my Japanese kimono. Right enough, the house four doors down is ablaze. On closer inspection it appears that something along the side of the house has caught fire. The fence is already alight and angry flames are licking the house. Luckily it is a brick house, one of the few around here, but it is surrounded by weatherboard homes like ours.

The embers catch my attention. A colleague’s home was threatened by fire only two weeks ago when a stray ember from a controlled burn (he lives in the country) set trees alight on his land. I know embers can travel miles, never mind yards, and our wooden house is only about a hundred yards away. I peer at the sky trying to figure out if the wind has changed yet. I think we are safe: what little breeze there is seems to be wafting the embers away from our house onto the wide street.

The fire truck arrives and the fire is controlled in moments. The smoke, on the other hand, is uncontrolled and I rush to the bedroom to close the window. Too late: we lie in the dark with the distinctive smell of burnt wood in our nostrils.

I sleep fitfully. The temperature doesn’t go below thirty until morning. What a hot night.

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