Image by Christine Renney
Dalton was not the first to arrive and if he hadn’t noticed the others (a handful of men standing at the edge of the road gazing out across the field) he wouldn’t have slowed, wouldn’t have pulled off and up onto the verge. Only then did he turn and see the smoke rising in the distance, a grey and dense column.
Dalton climbed from his car and, as he walked across to where the others stood, he looked toward the burning building. A mansion in flames, it was most certainly something that he wanted to see.
Joining the group he asked, ‘What happened?’
He regretted this instantly, wished that he could take the question back, realised just how inane it must have sounded but at last one of the men mumbled, ‘Don’t know.’
And Dalton was able to breathe again and along with these men he stood in silence watching the house burn and watching the fire fighters who from so far away appeared small and inadequate. They scurried about in front of the blaze and quite clearly weren’t up to the task at hand. They couldn’t get close enough, couldn’t touch it and attempting to contain it they set up cannons and fired water into the air. But it couldn’t be controlled and they hadn’t any choice but to let it run its course. All they could really do was stand back and wait for the fire to burn itself out.
Dalton was pleased by this, excited even, and furtively he glanced at the men standing beside him. They were all of them quietly engrossed and he quickly turned his attention back toward the burning edifice.
Behind him others had begun to arrive, he listened to them talk. They were questioning and speculative and Dalton realised that if he had arrived just a little later he would be in this group. But now he was part of something else entirely, something much more intense.
The man in front of him, the ‘don’t know’ man, stepped onto the grass verge and pushed through a gap in the hedge. Dalton followed and so did one of the others. Together all three of them then moved out onto the open field and away from the noisy, gathering rabble.
Dalton glanced back and was surprised to find the rest of the original group were still standing on the other side of the hedge, had decided not to follow and were already turning and, gesticulating, they joined the throng.
Dalton tried to concentrate on the fire but couldn’t, the moment was getting away from him. Awkward and uncomfortable, he wondered if they were talking about him, if they, the three who had foolishly and pointlessly ventured a little closer, were now a topic of conversation.
It struck Dalton, but just momentarily, that it was like watching a scene from a film but it was far too real and much too big and the camera didn’t cut away in order to reveal something else.
He looked up and watched the smoke spiralling into the sky. Looking down Dalton noticed, for the first time, the ambulances parked off to the far right. It was an enclave of activity, the paramedics moving purposefully back and forth and the dazed survivors wandering aimlessly.
Dalton realised that they couldn’t see, not from the road and he suddenly felt less self-conscious, was in fact decidedly buoyant and able to watch again.