The body is still in the house
In the years I have been on call outs as a glazier, death has sadly been a part of the job. This story is when I experienced my first.
It had been a busy night with two public house jobs, a domestic and a lock out. In-between calls I had managed to get home for my children’s bath time and bedtime story. Something that I loved to do was telling them stories, making wet foot prints on the bath mat, giving them hugs and then tucking them in ready for bed.
My wife told me when we first had the children and I was doing long hours that it is not the length of time you spend with them but rather the quality. So, bath time became just that. As I came out of their bedroom my wife would go into the bathroom asking “Who’s made all this mess in here?” in an exaggerated panto-esque voice. Before I ever could answer her, from inside the bedroom in unison my children would shout:
What a stitch up!
I went down to the kitchen and put the kettle on as I know I am beaten. My wife would walk into the room asking if I made her a drink. Of course, I would never get caught out on this and would hand her a mug of coffee. We settled down on the sofa to watch the box. It is then she enquires, “Can you get Jim and Nick to cover next weekend? We have been invited to Liz’s.”
Liz had a goat farm in Wiltshire which we loved to go to. “Yeah! Sure! I will get them to cover, so what are we going to watch then?”
That ringing sound is happening again I lean across and put the phone to my ear, “Hello?” I can almost answer the phone in my sleep now. “Police station here can you attend a house fire in Bonding?” Now, I am wide awake. “Is it a full board I ask the Police controller?”
This means the whole house requires boarding which, as you can imagine, is a heck of a job. “Yes and I need an estimated time of arrival please as they are waiting for you.” The voice booms down the phone. “Thirty minutes.” I reply knowing Bonding is a small town twenty miles away.
I am out of bed, dressed, in the van and on the road in minutes. A skill I have now perfected after doing many night call outs. I have no trouble finding the address as the whole house is lit top to bottom by flood lights from the fire engine. This was not my first fire call, I had been to others but this one was different as it was obviously quite severe.
I am just getting out of the van when a Police officer comes over to me, “Hello again.” he says in his stern voice. “Before you go in I must inform you that there is a badly burnt body still inside and we are treating the scene as suspicious so it is now a crime scene.”
“Thank you” I replied not knowing what to make of this information. He took me inside so I could assess how to secure the premises.
The smell of fire is something indescribable. Unless you have experienced a devastating fire, it is something I cannot begin to convey to you. It is choking, each breath you take seems strained and everything you touch leaves a black ashen stain on you like an evil mark which has to be scrubbed away. This is even after it has been made safe by the fire brigade. I cannot imagine what it is like for them.
These are always the worst jobs.
We moved through what was once the hallway and into a room that you could describe as a lounge. That is when the repulsive smell hits. The closer you get the more insipid it becomes. It is truly a smell that never leaves you and one you can again never describe. A burnt body, again like the smells that accompany it, is something you never forget.
My first instinct was to look away but we had to walk past the body to get to the kitchen through to the back of the house. This is when I noticed that only one side of the old lady had been burnt and on her lap, her pet
cat was still sitting.
It took me about two hours to secure the property as the Police required. I left that house with a strange feeling, a real surreal notion passed over me and one that brings home how precious life really is.
I did my usual telephone call back to base. There were no more calls so I returned home. It takes me a long time to get that image of the old lady’s burnt body out of my dreams. The cause of the fire I later found out was an old lady who fell asleep, lit cigarette in hand.
Unfortunately, this would not be my last and I would see similar scenes repeated in later years.