Welcome to God’s Own County
She takes a last drag on the cigarette and drops it from her bedroom window, down the gap between the house and the shed, like she has done a thousand times or more, but this time, rather than smouldering out with the rest of the butts, the shed explodes with a bang.
Her dad staggers out. He’s on fire. He stands in the middle of the lawn. He flaps his hands against his clothes, trying to put out the flames. He turns and faces the back of his house. He looks up at her bedroom window. ‘Hell,’ he shouts. ‘Hell fire!’
She is 14 years old. She has unicorns and princesses on her curtains, pink and blue. She has grown out of them but her dad has promised her new curtains, yellow ones. She wonders if she’ll get the yellow curtains now.
From the bedroom next to hers, she hears her sister scream. She is three years older, about to go off to university.
Then she sees her mum run outside, wet tea towels in her hands. ‘Get down on the lawn,’ her mum shouts at her dad.
Her dad lies down on the lawn and her mum pushes the wet tea towels against the flames and smouldering clothing. Her dad has stopped screaming and she knows he is dead. His mouth is open; his gums peeled back to show off his yellow teeth.
There is a corpse, with blackened, blistered skin, clothes burnt onto flesh, lying in the middle of the neatly trimmed lawn.
Her mum shakes out one of the tea towels. It is streaked with soot. She lays it over her dad’s face.
The tea towel has rolling green hills and winding blue streams on it, and bares the slogan: ‘Welcome to God’s Own County’.
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