Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot. Peter ran home from school singing it at the top of his voice. He loved bonfire night. There was the guy and then bonfire and fireworks on the telly. And, if they’d been good, Da would buy some sparklers on his way home from work. Mam would be cooking a late tea or maybe Nanna would bring chips with her when she and Grandad came over.
Peter loved the sparklers the best. He had to wear gloves of course but he’d stand there in the dark, his breath frosting in the still night air, and write his name with the pretty sparkles. Peter Bryn Jameson. You were never too old to write your name with a sparkler no matter what anyone said. And eleven wasn’t that old.
The back door was unlocked and the kitchen smelt of baked apples and jacket potatoes. He wrapped his arms round his mother, taking in her perfume and welcoming hug. “Did you find them?” he asked.
She nodded and pointed to the stool. There lay a pair of his father’s old jeans and a shirt. Some wool and a pile of papers sat there.
Johnny, his nine-year-old brother, had been off school with chicken pox for a week now, but Mam said he could come outside for the bonfire if he wrapped up really well. “Can we make it now?”
Peter nodded. “Sure.” With Mam’s help, he and Johnny stuffed the trousers and shirt with paper and made a balloon head. He gave the pen to his brother, who drew a particularly nasty face on it, with evil eyebrows and pointy teeth.
Then it was time to watch from the windows for Da. Finally car lights pulled up onto the drive and Peter ran to the door to open it. Da had brought Nanna and Grandad with him and Peter hugged them before dragging them into the kitchen to show off the guy they’d made.
Da and Grandad took the guy outside while Peter and Johnny put on their coats, hats, scarves and gloves. Peter grinned at Johnny, knowing the mounting exciting building in him was building in his brother too. Then they picked up torches and ran into the garden.
A huge bonfire stood at the bottom of the garden and sat proudly on top of it was the Guy. They ran round happily, making patterns on the ground with the torches. It wasn’t long before Da lit the bonfire and they stood round it warming their hands and holding marshmallows towards it on very long sticks. Then the best part of the evening. The sparklers.
Peter held his carefully and drew first his name and then pretty pictures in the air with it. It fizzed and hissed and he dropped it into the bucket of water when it went out. Da was very strict about things like that. He had the hose over by the bonfire too so he could put it out properly.
There were enough sparklers for him and Johnny to have three each. Then they stood by the fire and ate the steaming hot jacket potatoes and baked apples.
Once he’d been sent to bed he sat in his window watching the fire die down. He wished it’d go on for ever. Aside from Christmas, this was the best night of the year. Fireworks whooshed and exploded in the sky and he opened his window to get a better view. He sat there wondering how a building almost being blown up so many hundreds of years ago could mean a celebration as pretty as this now.
‘Course he knew the history. Guy Fawkes didn’t like the king or parliament so he tried to blow them up, but got caught and as a result the king threw a big party to celebrate. A party they still have on the anniversary every year, 400 years later.
Peter had never understood why Guy Fawkes got burned on a bonfire when for treason you got hung, drawn and quartered. He’d asked Da what that meant once and got told it was just a very nasty way to die.
The colours rained overhead, making stars shine and patterns that stayed in his eyes even when they were closed. Yes, he loved bonfire night.
Forty years later, it was Peter rushing home from work with the sparklers to find three small children sat in the window waiting for him. He’d left out shirt and trousers for them that morning. He hugged his kids, and kissed his wife and admired the guy, before heading out to start the bonfire.
He watched as his children drew their name in the air with the sparklers and ate the jacket potatoes and hot soup. Their faces lit up with joy at the fireworks that whizzed and whooshed overhead.
Wrapping his arm round his wife, Peter reflected–yes, it was a strange tradition, but one that brought so much joy to so many people. Just a shame its beginnings were rooted so deeply in something that had divided his country and caused so many deaths over the years.
As he watched his children, they started to sing… Remember , remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot…
Tels Merrick has been married for 16 years and has three children. She lives in the UK and writes fiction. Mainly romance with a spattering of horror, sci-fi and children’s stories thrown in for good measure.