November the fifth. Monday.
The big public firework displays have already blossomed and died. The weekend nights whizzing and banging. Pulsing with sights that vie with the northern lights for colour, but cannot touch them for magic.
But today is the real thing.
The day shuffles home under grey skies, though a pale light still glows between the trees. A fog, a smokiness circles the trunks of pine and birch, like crinolined skirts round a strait-laced Victorian governess.
It’s the look of the morning after. The dazed look the world puts on, stunned by the sound and fury, the colour and oh-so-transient beauty. Gathering in the smoke of a thousand fires and sending it up to heaven.
But they haven’t yet happened, the bonfires. The real ones, the people-scale ones.
As night falls and the worker returns from town, we tuck ourselves away. Eat beef braised in mulled wine, spooned onto jacket potatoes. Sit in the light of candles, accompanied by cracks and wheezes from local fireworks, launched from leafy suburban gardens. Dads in charge and dogs, sore-eared, kept indoors.
We have no fireworks. No bonfire. And, as every year since goodness knows when, I feel a tiny touch maudlin.
I did so love the rituals, growing up.
Chumping for wood through October. Piling it up in the back field for Mr Brear to make safe, to light on the night when the neighbours were gathered.
Watching the flames leap. Feeling the warmth. Chewing on treacle toffee.
Disappointment as the fire subsided, bedtime to follow. Secret stories forming in my mind. Fairies dancing around the last small flames – naughty goblins poking the embers, making them flare and spark.
One large sparkler lies on our hall table.
One wand of magical promise.
Beside it a small pack of tiny sparklers, bought on impulse from the cake decoration section of the Co-op.
Better than nothing, surely?
We wrap up warm and step outside.
There’s a tang of damp leaves, decaying greenery, a mushroomy smell in the air.
But the ultimate bonfire-night smell overrides it. A very slight frisson of danger, excitement, apprehension.
The fizzes and whooshes and bangs are less frequent now, but still punctuate the cool, damp night.
Time to make magic.
The first match fails to light the wand. The second, the third, the fourth. Two together finally do the trick.
I wave the sparkling baton, conducting an orchestra of invisible night creatures. Write my initials in the air.
Because this is a special sparkler. Emily’s 200th birthday sparkler.
Given to me in July, at a weekend of Emily’s birthday celebrations.
I promised to have my picture taken when I lit it.
But the spell is all-too-soon broken. The sparks stutter and fail.
A sad end, a dying.
The extinguishing of the untameable, untouchable, uncatchable beauty of the sparkler.
I throw it to the ground where it will grow cold in peace.
We open the pack of tiny wands. And as we play, enchanted by this ephemeral treat, I am still thinking of Emily. Of Charlotte, of Anne.
Of those bright sparks of brilliance in the dim light of their Victorian parsonage.
Some sparks when born, light bigger fires.
Their flames will burn for as long as we have a world. Until the fires we have lit – and still light, the cars we drive and the gas we burn, turn it to ashes. Until politicians who have no sense light the blue touch paper of nuclear weapons and consign us all to a giant radioactive bonfire.
Till then, we will have Jane Eyre and Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff and Mr Rochester, Mrs Graham and Mr Markham.
As long as we are able to read, their flames will burn bright.