“No one deserves to see a burnt baby.”
That’s what they’d told him at the time, but Jack hadn’t listened, he couldn’t. He had to see for himself. The sight burned his retinas, the antiseptic smell of the morgue mixed with burnt barbecue stung his nostrils.
It never went away.
It took over an hour stalking a Wimbledon churchyard for Jack to find the grave, and even then only by chance. Just a simple granite square, flat in the grass, near leafy shade and rustic seating. It was a pretty spot. He knelt down, and placed the bouquet.
Two names. R and T. She had been twenty-nine, he just shy of fifteen months. They’d advised him not to view the corpses, but Jack had insisted, and the sight returned every time he closed his eyes. Their bodies were so badly burnt they fused into one. In futile protection against the inferno she’d wrapped herself around her son in the bathtub. He’d melted into the belly of his mother, returning to the womb.
Was this thing before him the same love he’d said goodbye to when he’d left that morning for work? A misshapen hunk of charcoaled meat that, when he looked closer, revealed the agony they must have suffered? The sheer terror they must have felt, not revealed from their eyes, because they weren’t there anymore, but from the contortion of what once was her face?
R’s family blamed Jack for the fire. In retribution he was barred from the funeral, and it had been ten years before the location of their resting place was revealed to him. It was all his fault after all.
Jack had chosen not to move when they could, just because it was a garden flat, and was theirs. He had plans, they had dreams, it was just a base, never permanent. He could steady his career with graft in London before their escape to the country, where R could grow their commune.
Now long years of hollow wandering, of living without love, zest or care, true life at arm’s length, countless hours sodden in remembrance, or shambling hungover, half a man. Now, bald, greying, dessicated, here he was.
Jack thought of her throaty, joyful laugh, her energetic spirit, her ability to make the best of all they caught, and realised not just what he’d lost, but what he’d wasted since.
Slowly, finally, he picked himself up.