We had a barbecue on Saturday. Friends and babies milled around the kitchen. The babies took to the floor for a crawling competition and created the added bonus of an assault course for adults moving to and from the barbecue on the terrace with plates full of piping hot food. The barbecue was sat on bricks from an aborted bricklaying project of last year. (I had read a Sunday supplement piece about the joys of raised beds for growing your own vegetables. Deluded by the memory of a day’s bricklaying on a conservation holiday twenty years ago, I’d ruined the Mazda’s shock absorbers with a load of cheap bricks.)
Between the barbecue assembly and the fence was a shelf of small gardening equipment. I had looked at it earlier in the day and dismissed it as innocuous: terracotta pots; twine; unplanted seeds in sachets; a highly combustible plastic propagator.
The whole neighbourhood seemed to be enjoying the sunny day. I could hear Desmond and Celia giggling on the other side of the fence and the sound of splashing water suggested a water fight. We have often admired the youthfulness of Desmond and Celia. Whenever Celia does get out of her rocking chair they get along like teenagers.
Maude was enjoying the company and waving away the praise for her marinade.
Chad had, once again, 'forgotten' to bring any wine. Maude had set him to work on chores as a penance. I looked in to see him shelling peas. I was surprised by this, as peas were not on the menu. When Maude looked in his direction he laughed his theatrical laugh or beamed a smile back at her. As soon as she looked away his bottom lip obscured the peas he was trying to shell.
The propagator explosion was much louder than one could have imagined – even if one had been aware of the hazard. Maude screamed and jumped into the air with such force that her glasses were skew-whiff when she landed. Aurora followed suit and set off a chorus of screaming babies. Not wanting to be left out, Chad fired a shower of peas across the kitchen as he screamed too.
It was then that I realised that the explosion had blown an almost perfectly circular hole in the fence and had sent burning debris flying onto our neighbours’ property – more accurately, onto our neighbours. Celia was screaming. I looked through the burning aperture to see Celia stood naked in a newly acquired hot-tub. Desmond had the look of a man desperately bailing out as he scooped water onto her rear and burning splinters sizzled on the water’s surface around her.
It didn’t seem like a good time to offer an apology.
I extinguished the fence with the watering can and closed the French windows behind me as I went back into the house. The room fell silent as I calmed Aurora in my best Max Wall voice:
‘It’s alright dear, Daddy’s put the fire out.’