Fire and Ice by Ali Bacon

When I was five (and six and seven) Guy Fawkes’ night was a big bonfire at the rec: one side of my face burning hot, the other so cold it felt like it might disappear.

Too hot was dangerous, like fireworks. Even sparklers could turn nasty, so we kept our gloves on as we waved our hands in the air to make loopy letters that faded when we blinked.

Cold was dangerous too. After Christmas, when Ollie and his mates went over to the frozen stream in their wellies, I watched from the top of the bank, telling them if they fell in they would die. They just laughed and said so what? People came back from drowning. People could freeze and still live.

Afterwards we ran to the field and had a snowball fight. One landed on my cheek and made it hot, like it had been slapped. I touched it with my woollen mitts, furry with ice, and made the pain go away.

When I was eight (and nine and ten) the bonfire party was in the garden. Some sausages fell into the coals so they were black on one side. I told Dad they tasted of ash but he said that was how bonfire-night sausages ought to be.

When the snow came, Sarah and me went swooshing down the hill on plastic toboggans, stopping just short of the stream. We made snowballs with our bare hands so they hurt with the cold, but then turned pink and warmed up all by themselves.

Once, we made up a song;

Snow between our fingers, snow between our toes,
Snow in our hair – and in our pants – and up our nose!

We pushed snow down each other’s necks and felt the icy trickle inside our jumpers and vests. Cold down your back is the coldest of all.

The year I was eleven, Dad stayed in the kitchen on bonfire night and I helped Mum with the barbie. When I went inside to fetch something, there was a gang of neighbours in there with him. Dad had his arm around Josie, Sarah’s Mum. His face was close to her hair and her mouth was loose and open as she laughed. I ran back outside to where the air was clean and cold. Mum found me and felt my forehead to see if was going down with something. I wanted to tell her what I’d seen but I wasn’t sure she would want to know.

There was no snow that year, only rain. The stream burst its banks and everything turned to mud.

Then I was thirteen, and the boys in our year set off fireworks round the back of the science block. When everything kicked off, me and Sarah legged it across the playing field with Jayden Taylor and Reece Sullivan. We stopped beside the hedge and watched a golden fountain going crazy then melting into the sky.

Jayden said the roof might catch fire and the school would be closed for a week at least. We whooped and did a dance to celebrate and Jayden hugged Sarah. Then they started snogging. Reece leaned in against me and it seemed like the right time to be warm and not worry.

After that he and I dated for a while. When the snow came, we lay down in it, his mouth hot and wet, the cold still cold beneath me. He said why didn’t we go back to my place, since my Mum would be at work. I thought of being hot inside and just letting it happen, but then I said no. Cold was a safe place to be.

Now I’m fourteen and the counting has stopped.

When we first knew things were bad, they said I could have anything I liked. But I’d been to Harry Potter World and I didn’t want to snog Niall or anyone else from from One Direction, not since I’d snogged Reece Sullivan.

So we went to Lapland. We stayed in an igloo and an ice hotel. I felt my eyelashes stick together with the cold and stroked a reindeer’s face. His velvet eyes looked back at me, as if we both knew something we didn’t want to tell.

Now there’s only pain and poison in my veins and everybody turning away to cry. Bonfire night’s come round and I’m too tired to even look out of the window. Ollie says I should watch because the fireworks are mega, like New Year’s in Sidney, like the Olympics. From the bed I can hear the whump of rockets and the echo of screamers that get in your ears and won’t let go.

Mum strokes my forehead. She doesn’t know I’m awake. Sometimes it’s easier that way. But the fireworks are over and something has changed.

Today, I’m a grown-up. Today they’re going to listen.

I think about the hot and the cold on each side of my face and the smell of beer in the kitchen. I think about sparks and stars and big whizz bangs and things catching light in the dark.

I think about messing around in the snow with Sarah, the ice down our necks. And how we sang.

There is no singing now. The silence is all I have left.

They are all leaning over me, listening. The song in my head is almost the same as before.

Ice below me, ice above me,
Ice within me, ice around me.

This is what I want.
I hope they can hear me.

Ali Bacon is a writer of contemporary and historical fiction whose novel A Kettle of Fish was published in 2012. She has had numerous long and short-listings (The Short Story, Exeter Short Story, Magic Oxygen) and is the winner of the Evesham Festival of Words Short Story Prize 2017. Visit her website here and follow her on Twitter here.



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