Someone was crooning ‘Why me Lord’ on my car radio. The windscreen wipers seemed to be going back and forwards in rhythm with the tune. I don’t even know what the words were to the song but it sounded sad and I felt sad. My tears were falling like the rain outside.
“Why me?” I wailed along with the voice. I think I picked up somewhere in the words that he was talking to Jesus but I was talking to the universe. “Why am I so clumsy? I try to do things to help people and it always turns out a disaster…like today” and the thought of what had happened earlier on brought fresh crying and sobbing.
I could smell the singed hair on my hands, the remainder black and curly. I was grateful that my long hair didn’t catch on fire too. I shuddered at the thought of it.
My mum had been so angry with me that she even swore! I’d never heard her swear before. ‘Get out of here you bloody idiot” she had yelled. I mean that’s not really swearing by today’s standards but when you’ve never heard it come out of someone’s mouth before, it’s a shock. If my dad had of been in the loungeroom with us then the air would have turned blue.
I thought it was about time I got out of my car and made a dash for my front door. It was no good being maudlin and upset in my car, I may as well do it inside house.
I got soaked just running from my little car to the front door, then realised that my keys were in the bag I had locked in the boot. Running back, I could feel the water seeping into my runners and knew I would be wringing out my socks and stuffing paper into the birthday sneakers I had bought just two weeks ago...
Finally, I was inside. I could feel my head pounding from crying and stressing, not unusual for me though and knew it would be headache tablets and a cup of tea for my dinner tonight.
The cat came through the kitchen door and as I tried to get my wet clothes off, she did figure eights in and out of my legs. “Don’t Gloria, you’re getting all wet” I told her but she didn’t care. I knew she wouldn’t stop until I fed her.
The house was dry but it wasn’t warm. I usually layered up with clothing until the gas heater kicked in, but even then I had to stand in front of it to feel any effect. It was a good house in Summer but winter was terrible.
I fed Gloria and stood in front of the heater with her draped over my arms like a mink stole, a purring one. I felt miserable and couldn’t get what I had done out of my mind. I was so stupid sometimes. I wondered if my mother would ever forgive me? ‘Of course she would’ I told myself she has every other time.
I sat down on the sofa, cup of tea in hand and wondered if I should ring my mother up, just to apologise, again….but thought better of it. “Ill ring in the morning and if she’s ok then I will take her a bunch of flowers around” I told Gloria.
The events of the day were rewinding and playing over and over again like a good movie would, but this was far from that.
The long and short of it was that I had put a lit candle on the window ledge, under my mothers new curtains and set them alight! But by the time anyone could smell the burning fabric, it wasn’t just the curtains black and charred, it was the wooden rain that they hung on, the photo of my Gran and Pop hanging next to the window and the Westminster carpet where black and mangled lumps of burning curtain material had fallen.
We were all in the garden enjoying lunch when my brother Tom had looked up to see bright flames licking the window pane inside the lounge room. “What the hell” he yelled “The curtains are on fire” and he ran into the house, followed closely by the rest of the family.
The smoke was thick and seemed to have stuck to the ceiling above the window and on the walls, black hiding of the peach coloured walls that had only been painted about three months ago.
“Shall we ring the fire brigade?” my sister asked.
“No just grab the fire extinguisher” someone yelled and my brother yanked it from the person who had gotten it from the garage.
I stupidly started shaking the drapes about as if that would put out the fire, but all it did was help it along “Stop that” my brother yelled at me and I let go, backing away.
By now the room was thick with acrid smoke, the nylon net curtains in the middle of the heavy drapes were disappearing into thin air from bottom to top as the flames melted them. All the doors and other windows had been thrown open in the house.
Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep my sister shouted to Tom. “What?” came the reply.
“Pull the pin dummy” she retorted and he did. “Now aim it at….”
“Alright I get it!” he yelled at her as he aimed the bright red canister at the curtains, squeezed the handles together and in a big sweeping motion the foam shot out of the nozzle all over the still burning curtains.
It went all over the windows, walls and floor as he tried to control the sweeping motion. The soot that was on the walls and ceiling was running down and dripping onto the cream and beige coloured carpet, black and nasty.
Meanwhile my mother was standing watching with a look of disbelief on her face, and wailing, taking a breath only to say “Oh my lovely new curtain….and look at the mess. I’ve got friends coming to stay next week. What am I going to do?” and the loud noise started up again.
The flames had been extinguished. We all stood around in a sort of shock. “Who lit that bloody candle?” Tom asked looking at each of us, but then he stopped when he reached me. “Was it you Pam?” All eyes turned my way now.
“I thought they smelt a bit too ‘new’ so I lit the orange blossom and jasmine. I thought it would make them fragrant” I answered lamely.
“You what?” my mother exploded “A lit candle near curtains. Why would you do that?”
“I don’t know” I cried, tears rolling down my face “I’m sorry”.
“Sorry won’t cut it” Tom yelled at me “How many times do you have to do things like this? The whole house could have gone up in smoke if we’d have gone out for lunch like we were going to”.
And before I had a chance to say anything, my distraught mother told me I was a ‘bloody idiot’ and to leave.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it all, so made myself another cup of tea. I thought back to some of the other disasters I had been apart of, or rather, orchestrated!
I remember when I was in high school. My form teacher said that I was ‘an accident waiting to happen’. I remember asking him what he meant and his reply was “You mean well but honestly” and that was it – cryptic and at the time, odd!
But to his credit, he was quite right.
Before I left the school for good, I had almost flooded the home economics room! I didn’t realise that if you banged a tap hard enough with a large stone, the chances of the top coming off was quite high!
I was trying to help my friend turn off the tap at one of the sinks. It was so stiff that no one could turn it, so “just wait here and I’ll get something hard to hit it with” I told the girls. “Mrs Peterson has obviously gone AWOL so I’ll do it”. I ran outside and picked up the first large rock I could see, raced back inside and whacked it. The tap handle flew off and water spurted out of the top of it like a geyser, without the steam!
We were all trying to stuff things into the hole but the water just kept coming out. It ran over the sink and bench and onto the floor, falling over the edge like a waterfall.
“Quick, go and get someone” I yelled, still persisting with the spongers and tea towels.
Mr Thompson from Year twelve ran in to see what the commotion was about. “I’ll turn the main off” and he ran outside. Obviously, he couldn’t find it immediately as it was some minutes before the water stopped pouring out.
Mr Peterson walked back in with a disbelieving look on his old face and yelled at the class “I leave you for ten minutes or so and come back to this”.
When I was at university my best friend Irene told me that the reason she wasn’t getting her hair done for her future sister in law’s engagement party was solely the cost. “It’s too expensive to have it blow dried and curled. Outrageous in fact” I remember her saying.
“I’ll do it for you Reenie – I do my mum’s sometimes (well I did it once and my fussy mother didn’t like it). It won’t cost you a thing!” I told her “But bring your hair curler – mine doesn’t get hot enough”.
Irene came over late afternoon on the day of the engagement party and I set to work. We can watch the rest of the movie we didn’t finish last night while I’m curling it” I told her.
It was washed and then dried and I warmed up the curling wand in front of the tv.
I have learnt since that fateful afternoon that I can’t watch a thriller on television and curl hair at the same time.
“Oh no, he’s got a knife” I yelled as the serial killer on the wide screen tv crept up to his victim. “Noooo” Irene called out as we both watched on.
“Have you got something in the oven?” Irene suddenly asked me sniffing the air.
“Um no” but I think I’ve held the hair wand in the same spot for too long – some of your hair has burnt, in fact a whole tuft, a big tuft!”
“What? Is that the burning smell? She jumped out of her chair, knocking the hair curler to the ground and began shouting “Show me the back of it, NOW”
I ran to get another mirror and she looked into the big one as I held the smaller one behind Irene’s head. “Oh my God, what have you done? Give me that curler right now!” She was really angry. As I passed her the hair curler a piece of it fell to the ground. “And you’ve broken it” she yelled.
I just stood there. I couldn’t think of anything to say that would make the situation any better, so I waited until I heard the front door slam and Irene’s car start up, then sat down to wonder why I was so stupid sometimes.
It took the rest of the day, windows and door open, for the smell of Irene’s burning hair to disappear.
She wore a hair extension to the party.
I had sent her a text apologising profusely and eventually she replied and had forgiven me! Her text read ‘It’s only hair and will grow back. I’m sorry I got so angry BUT you will never do my hair again AND you owe me a new hair curler!’
Sometimes I think to myself that I shouldn’t be so helpful but it’s just in my nature.
A couple of years ago I organised my best friends Hen’s night – I was happy to, but also everyone else didn’t seem to want the responsibility!
I decided that we would start off the celebration in the afternoon with a ‘pampering session’ at my house. There were only five of us because two of the girls couldn’t come. One was in labour that morning (a good excuse I think) and the other one was in hospital with an emergency appendicitis (unavoidable also!).
I had prepared the face masks – avocado, cashew nuts and oatmeal – good enough to eat!
The pedicurist was coming over to do all of our toe nails and then at six pm we were all going out for dinner, looking beautiful of course.
The five of us were lying on blow up mattresses, face mask goo smoothed all over our faces and cucumber slices resting on our shut eyes.
“This is fun” someone called out “I hope it does a good job on my wrinkles”
“It’s not snake oil from the miracle worker” came a reply and we all laughed.
All of a sudden one of the girls began coughing, starting off with a little clearing of the throat but quickly turning into what was beginning to sound serious.
We all sat up quickly to see who it was. Some of the goo had run into my eyes and I couldn’t see properly. “Who’s doing all the coughing?” I asked quickly wiping my eyes with a towel.
“Me” came a wheezing voice. “I’m having trouble breathing”.
It was Tina, one of the bridesmaids. Even through the green and brown of face mask the redness was showing.
“Sit her down and grab some water” came the order but the coughing was getting worse leaving her quite breathless.
“She was obviously in distress and knocked the glass of water away, but managed to faintly whisper “EpiPen, in bag, front zip”.
Someone ran to her bag and grabbed the pen, taking off the top quickly and thrusting into her thigh.
After a few seconds her breathing slowed down and the look on her face relaxed slightly. Someone had wiped all of the face mask off and the colour was now pale and slightly grey.
“I’ll make you a cup of tea Tina” I told her putting the kettle on.
“What on earth happened to make you cough like that – what was the allergic reaction to?” one of the girls asked.
“Were there any nuts in that face mask Pam? Tina asked beginning to breath normally again but still shaking slightly.
‘Oh no’ I thought ‘of course. Why didn’t I ask first?’
“Cashews. I am so sorry” I blurted out banging my forehead against the palm of my hand. I should have checked. I thought it was just almonds you were allergic to. What a bloody idiot I am”.
I felt terrible. Everyone did, but non so much as Tina herself. I knew she would be going home now and I wasn’t even sure if the afternoon would continue after this.
But it did. Tina got picked up by her boyfriend to go home and rest, but made us promise to still have fun and enjoy the day!
I tried to enjoy it and put on a good pretence but inside I was so disappointed with myself. ‘How many more things would I spoil in my lifetime?’ I thought.
Gloria nudged me back to the ‘here and now’ and I realised that it was getting late and I probably hadn’t unlocked the cat flap for her to go out of.
I didn’t feel like eating so checked the front door was locked and went to bed.
I awoke the next morning to a fluffy cat walking across my head, meowing and expecting breakfast very shortly and I knew it was time to get up!
My phone rang and I nervously picked it up – expecting it to be my mother. It was her, but surprisingly a calm and friendly voice spoke on the other end.
“Now Pam, I know I said some awful things to you yesterday, and they weren’t justified by the fact that you nearly burnt my house down (slight exaggeration I thought) but I would like to apologise for my outburst. I thought afterwards about how you only do things out of kindness and thoughtfulness, and even though from time to time, they don’t turn out well…. YOU always mean well. So, I’m sorry love”.
I couldn’t believe it! I thought I was going to be the one to apologise, even though I did, time and time again after the ‘incident’. “Thank you, Mum, that’s very nice of you to ring. Is it still a big mess at yours? I could come over and help clean up”.
“No, no love, it’s all under control and all insured too. I’ll see you in a couple of days. Ok?”
I felt relieved! ‘I’ll take myself off for a long walk and get a coffee on the way home’ I thought putting my sneakers on.
As I walked out of my gate and almost past my neighbour’s house, I just about stood on their newspaper, rolled up in cellophane and sitting in a puddle. “I’ll throw that over their fence and it’ll save them getting wet feet!” I said aloud picking it up. I must have thrown it a bit harder than I needed to! I heard a sound I recognised straight away, a window that had just broken. I ran to look over the fence, only to see shattered glass falling out and on to the window sill and the ground below. Then I saw the face of my neighbour, John Brown, in his striped blue pyjamas, shocked and mot comprehending. He said nothing, just looked through the hole.
“I am so so sorry” I called out to him. “I will of course pay for the window. I just thought it would save you from getting your slippers wet. Sorry” ……