She started in the bathroom. She put the shaving kit, the disposable razors, the toothbrush and the dental floss in a large black bin bag. Then she moved to the bedroom and picking up the laundry basket, she deposited its entire contents into the bag, compressing the loose bundle of dirty clothes with her fist. She opened a drawer and cleared out the underwear, the socks, cufflinks and handkerchiefs. By now her movements were becoming more frantic. From the wardrobe she filled another three refuse sacks with suits, shirts, ties, jeans, jogging pants, sweaters and shoes. She pulled out the boxes from under the bed and removed the junk that had collected there. Downstairs, she rifled through the CDs, and after that the books; the graphic novels, thrillers, travel companions, computer guides and sports anthologies. Then, without coming up for air, she moved on to the photo albums, letters and framed pictures, and the grotesque corporate gifts displayed proudly on the mantelpiece. All of it she bagged and binned, ready for tomorrow’s collection. Finally, she went out to the shed. There she found the toolbox, the saws, the screwdrivers, the packs of assorted screws and widgets and the rest of his DIY equipment, and trashed the lot. She searched the shelves and drawers for any other items to dispose of, and in the bottom of an old cupboard, beneath a pair of worn out golfing gloves, she discovered them.
It was her 40th birthday, and he’d bought her a box of assorted fireworks to celebrate. It was one of his annual dinner party jokes that they should put her on a bonfire instead of Guy Fawkes. But she never set them off because he had been called away to a conference in Swindon and she’d been left to party on her own. She wiped her hand across the dust-covered lid, and for a fleeting moment felt some kind of sadness. Then she thrust it into the overflowing dustbin and returned to the house. Back in the living room, she poured herself a whisky and sank down exhausted on the sofa.
It was getting dark. After she had polished off another glass, she started thinking about the fireworks again. She went outside and retrieving the box from the bin, she returned to the kitchen to examine the contents more carefully. There was all the usual stuff, a Catherine wheel, a couple of fountains, a jack- in- the- box and two or three rockets. As she lifted them out, a note fell to the floor. On it, he had written,
To my love rocket
You fill my sky with light
She put the fireworks back in the box and went out into the garden.
First she set up the Catherine wheel on a back gatepost, and twisting his note into tight thin strip, she put a match to it. The damp paper hissed and spat, but then reluctantly began to burn, emitting a pale yellow flame. She lit the fuse and within seconds the Catherine wheel started to spin. Sparks flew off into the dark, illuminating the back close. She lit a second, a Roman candle and then a third. Soon, a child appeared at the fence.
‘What are you doing? The wee boy asked.
She lit the jack- in- the- box and it bounced and fizzed across the lawn. The boy got scared and moved back. After a while, they were joined by more inquisitive neighbours.
‘Where did you get those at this time of year? What’s all this in aid of?’
But she ignored them and continued to work her way through the contents of the box.
Eventually, she was down to the last rocket. She had saved the biggest till last and this was her grand finale. She stuck the tail in the ground and lit the touch paper with the remnants of his screwed up inscription. She stood back and waited. The fuse glowed, choked and then went out. The neighbours sighed. She tried again – Nothing. She went into the kitchen and found her lighter. She returned and put that to the fuse – Nothing still. She tore off a strip of card from the box. The cardboard produced a healthy flame and this time the fuse sparked back into life. The rocket screamed and shot straight up into the air. The neighbours gasped and applauded and the little boy took cover behind a tree. It soared high above the house and seemed to disappear into the black of the night. Then, with an almighty bang, a spectacular display of light filled the sky. Multicoloured balls of fire scattered in every direction and exploded as they dropped back to Earth. Wave after wave of incandescent fury rained down on the garden. The boy ran around the green, stamping on the tiny embers as they landed. She followed a shard of burning paper as it floated past her face. It dropped onto a patio slab, flickered for a moment and died. The noise ceased. It was all over, and darkness returned again.
The neighbours wandered back to their evening rituals. She bundled up the spent firework cases and laid them out with all the rest of his clutter. It was cold now and a frost was beginning to settle on the grass. She tightened the cord on her dressing gown and went back inside.