Petronella has a fire in her cupboard. It’s an exhausting business. She has to get up early to feed it some good hefty lumps of coal before she sets off for work. And she has to arrange the screens to shield the walls of her house. Then she has to make sure the door’s open enough to allow in oxygen but not so much that a draft might lick it up to a frenzy. She doesn’t want to come home to destruction again.
This house is ideal really. She’s managed to cut a little vent into the back garden for the smoke and it wisps away into the sky in a barely noticeable way. The fire is really under control. There’s a good big cupboard under the sink where she can stack fuel. And there’s no-one to see the feeding since she decided to live alone.
Petronella has been told that it’s not wise – this fire in the cupboard thing. She knows that other people don’t do it. When she was married it was a bloody nightmare really. She’d have to get up at dawn and chuck something in and then he’d do something stupid like shut the door and put it out and send her into a tailspin. Even worse, he’d fling the door open and start asking questions.
‘Petronella, can’t we talk about this?’
Flames started sweeping up the wallpaper and he should’ve known that would happen, really, shouldn’t he? And then the whole fucking house burned down and he had to go about like a total tit in bandages and people asked so many questions it was embarrassing.
So then she got this house. And she lit the fire in the best place. And it was hard at first, really tricky to have to start again – again. She kept it going by burning her own hair for a while. But that’s no answer. So she headed out to get fuel for her fire. She’s burned it all in her time – chair legs, books, clothes. She knows how to wrap things that won’t burn easily, coat them in paraffin rags – eventually they’ll catch. Sometimes she finds a rich, deep seam of coal. She’s got one now. It might last a year.
In the darkness she comes to look at the flames. There’s the gold-walled caverns hollowed into the hunks of coal. There’s the trembling, like wings into the air. She can make green, blue flames with foil. She can watch it for hours. She scoops the light into her eyes. Petronella has a fire in her cupboard.