Fire Watch

by Diana Hendry

One year, dressed in his suit, father marched me
across the road to the sandhills. All week
they’d been building a bonfire there. We kept
our distance. From his pocket father produced
a few meagre sparklers. Lit them nervously.
Allowed me to hold one. The next year he bought
a packet of fireworks from the newsagent’s. It
contained one of each kind. Manfully he pinned
the catherine wheel on the coal house door,
commanded mother and me to stand back.
We watched its desultory whizz. The rocket
on its zooming stick was deemed too dangerous
to light. Maybe we failed to make the right oohs
and ahs. The next year he ignored the whole thing.

Perhaps those years fire-watching made him timid.
I used to think he roved the roofs at night
or leant against a chimney like Sinatra singing
something lonely for the road. More likely
he was watching from the bedroom window
and saw across the Mersey distant fires,
whole streets in flames and folk he couldn’t save.
Years after and I’m still trying to romance him.
Who wouldn’t want a father who was brave ?
Post-war you’d see him looking business savvy,
smoothing down his ‘tash, a slick of Brylcreem
in his hair, playing safe his most essential trade.