She sees smoke rising up from the end of the street. It’s coming from the side where she lives. It could be her house, but she’s not close enough yet to tell. Trees are blocking most of the view.
As she approaches, the smell takes her back to her tenth summer when the older kids would start a fire out behind the garages. Some would run and jump over it, a few would try to impress others by feigning a stumble and landing in a roll. Once, a boy ran home to fetch one of his dad’s deodorants and they all stepped back and watched as he threw it onto the pile, shielding their faces as it exploded, cheering once the danger had gone.
Sometimes, another boy would go to the shop on the corner and steal bacon for everyone to pierce onto sticks and grill over the heat. She still likes her bacon done that way: charred and tough. Mum always smelled the smoke on her when she got back home, making her strip in the kitchen before throwing her clothes into the washing machine.
A fire engine screams past from behind her now and pulls up outside the burning house, closely followed by a second. She stops walking before she gets too close. She’s not sure if she wants to know.
Firemen jump out and get to work. Neighbours are stood around, trying to see what’s going on. Folded arms, shaking heads, a morbid curiosity disguised as pity.
She reaches into her handbag and takes out a cigarette. When she was fourteen, her mum found a packet of them under her bed during a weekly clean. She was forced to smoke the remaining twelve after school, one after the other. Mum nodded with satisfaction through the coughs and tears. The only thing she learned was to find a better hiding place.
After her marriage was over, she ended up living next door to mum. In their small town it was the only place available at short notice. Neither of them is crazy about it. Sometimes they don’t talk for months.
She turns and walks back the way she came, flicking ash onto the ground. The damage is already done, she thinks. Knowing can wait until later.
Spencer Chou is a writer and editor from Nottingham, England. He runs the literary magazine and publisher The Nottingham Review. His writing is published or forthcoming in The Molotov Cocktail, LossLit, Paper and Ink, Spelk, Lost Balloon, and elsewhere. In 2016 he was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award. You can follow him on Twitter @spencerchou