We were slick with sweat and sunscreen, me and my brothers, sticking to each other in the back seat as our crammed car wound its way through the country lanes that led home. Our focus was on each other: singing, dancing, faffing around.
We didn’t notice the smoke until we were at the gate, coughing great plumes of black against the underside of an oak branch. That branch is still a blackened reaching arm, its scars only accentuated by its greener, fuller siblings.
Dad and Ems were silent in the front seat, having just put the phone down. A neighbour had called to ask about the spiralling soot – after all it seemed rather odd to be having a 3pm bonfire in August, when the sun was boiling tarmac.
The conversation was a narration rather than a warning, we could see the rushing column as she described it, her phone call came through just as we pulled into the drive. We should be grateful for that – a warning may have encouraged us to rush home on roads that shouldn’t be rushed. Our car trundled towards the smoke and, we soon realised, our camp site.
When I say camp site I mean our second home. We had spent three summers and dozens of weekends in our yurt. It was where we spent our time with Dad and Emma as the three hours to their Bristol home became too huge a journey for three children.
A faded orange role of futon, pressed against the far wall facing the doorway, served as a sofa during the day and a double bed at night. Shrews could be heard scratching beneath the floorboards as I lay in the bottom bunk that was immediately to the right of the doorway. Glancing up from my vantage point the small blue flame that powered a gas fridge would glow, ethereal in the moonlight that shone through the conical window that capped the yurt’s roof. On a cloudy night, when the stars couldn’t peep through, the air would be thick with darkness: my hand lost before my face. On these nights we would listen to stories on the radio and slowly drift off, a pond full of newts and many acres worth of things to explore eagerly awaiting our rousing.
By the time we piled out of the car, leaving the sandy debris of the beach in the footwell, the skin of the yurt had been burnt wholly away and only its latticed skeleton was left aflame beneath the sapphire sky. It’s innards were entirely exposed as we stood around the rim, watching the bits that build a life blazing unhindered. There was no running water, no point in calling the fire brigade, nothing to be done but watch. We watched the pages of books curl slowly like too many sorrowful smiles, the bunkbed crumpling in on itself as its integrity gave way. Hundreds of memories swallowed by a hungry mouth that spat out ash and exhaled smoke.
When the mouth had eaten its fill we moved amongst the bones, salvaging what could be salvaged. Ems drove to our nearest shop and stocked up on all the important bits: toothbrushes, bottled water, underwear etc. Luckily we had a caravan on site that belonged to a member of the family and this is where we slept.
Now, this is the part that makes me sound entirely mad, so bare with me. Despite the huge loss that I feel when thinking about the yurt this memory is filed away as a happy one. The burning of the yurt seemed to encompass the adventures that it facilitated. I can’t think of a more fitting end for a home that had fallen straight out of a story. It was as though our treehouse had been set to siege by pixies and sprites, or our pond had been invaded by merfolk. The yurt wasn’t packed away and forgotten about when the teenagers in us demanded working showers instead of stream bathing. It went out in a rush of glory, another delicious story about my venturesome childhood, one of many stumbling blocks on the road to developing a smallholding.