I’d never been any good at social media, so I guess you could call what happened ironic. I’d posted it with the caption: ‘This is why people should take a mandatory test to have children.’ I’d thought only a handful of friends and family would see it. Guess things might have turned out differently if I’d thought to check my privacy settings.
The day it happened I couldn’t help but start filming. They were right outside my front garden, a girl and guy who both looked barely twenty. The guy was screaming at the girl, calling her every nasty name under the sun and a few made-up ones for good measure. He gripped at a little girl’s hand; she must have only been three or four. The girl’s face wasn’t wet with tears like her (I presume) mum’s. She didn’t seem even the least bit scared. Instead, her face was expressionless, blank, like she’d learnt how to reach another place in the world. She must have witnessed this fight countless times before. I’d left my house through the back gate and was just making my way round the side when I heard them. I wanted to get a loaf of bread from the corner shop, but they were in the way, and I didn’t want to get anywhere near the screaming guy. So I got my phone out, poked it through the bush I was hiding behind and filmed them.
At first the video got a few dozen likes and comments (all in agreement with my caption), and I received two private messages, one from my sister-in-law and one from my mum. They didn’t say anything about the footage itself but told me I needed to take it down, delete it.
Delete it? Why should I delete it? It’s not like I’d peeked into a front room window and filmed a domestic dispute within the confines of privacy. They were right out in the street! My street!
I didn’t take the video down. I’d always gone against doing what my mum told me to do, and I wasn’t going to break that habit even in my mid-thirties. So, when the shares started I was glad, and the countless comments too, from people I didn’t even know. Friends of people on my friends list. Some of them were saying heated and vile things about the guy, but it wasn’t my words. I just recorded what happened. Then I started getting message requests from more friends of friends, or maybe friends of friends of friends, most just illiterate rambling sprinkled with the occasionally readable swear word, but a few spoke of concern for me. People I didn’t know seemed to be worried for my safety. It was only then that I realised my privacy setting was on public.
I deleted the video, but it was too late to stop the petrol that was poured through the cat-flap. Or the lit match that was tossed in after.
My husband had stayed up late watching TV when he heard the crackles and the snaps, when he turned to see the flames licking around our kitchen door. As he ran up the stairs I was fast asleep, knackered from the 3am wake-up cry for milk. I didn’t hear him shouting my name, didn’t see him make the decision of which bedroom door to choose. I’d never have forgiven him if he’d made the other choice.
We were fussy parents and put a draft excluder outside Benny’s room to stop the chill reaching him in his cot. Turns out it stops smoke too, the smoke that killed me long before the flames scorched up through the kitchen ceiling.
I didn’t feel pain as my husband stood outside, holding our crying baby, watching our house burn.
I’d already gone.
© 2017 Rebecca Delphine
Rebecca Delphine is a Young Adult author from Thanet.