Barrow House is burning.
The hissing of the heat and the lapping of flames like tongues, licking at the floorboards and the walls, gargling hot stones in its hell-throat…
It has been on fire for as long as I can remember, but it never burns up or down or out or in any direction except the present: it is burning.
Not everyone can see it burning. Those who cannot pass by Barrow House without a glance, as if it wasn’t there. Only some see and stop and watch, like Mr. Wilson.
They don’t know if it was Mister or Missus Barrow who started the fire. Maybe it was never proved. Once—
The fire ever stops, we’ll know. We’ll know for certain then who started Barrow House burning. There are proved methods: scientific methods, they say. Not that I would know about that. I only trust what I hear.
Some people are afraid of Barrow House and do not come this way at all, or take roundabout routes to avoid the sight and smell, which drifts beyond the property line, besooting the neighbouring houses, which is why they are vacant. Who would want to live in such a place?
They say Mister Barrow was excellent at what he did but was a terrible husband. They say that. Missus Barrow was inclined to corporeal punishment. To this I can personally attest.
They say Barrow House was an unhappy house even prior to the setting of the fire.
To this I can personally attest.
As I have told Mr. Wilson, “I feel as if I am both young and old at the same time.”
…except the present.
“Remarkable,” he says. “Absolutely remarkable. Now, please tell us what else you may remember. Spare no detail. Anything you provide shall be of profound importance to us.”
“Barrow House is burning,” I say.
It flickers in the night like a candle, and we are the wax.
“You had stated earlier that Barrow House was not a happy place. That Missus Barrow was inclined to corporeal punishment. What may you tell us of Mister Barrow?”
He was a good father.
“He was a good father, they say,” I say.
Tongues lash Barrow House like leather straps. Mercilessly, despite their howling—of wind, whipping up the red-hot ash: plumes and plumes…
A house like this forever cannot stand.
A house cannot.
“So it was Missus Barrow,” says Mr. Wilson.
The great lumbers creak and crack. The furniture melts away waxen. Ear wax drooling from its mouth: an open door. The very construction hisses. The smoke—
was a relief from the heat.”
I remember now. “Yes, yes—(“That’s why you started the fire?”)—because I… anymore…”
“Hughie? Are you there?
I made mama gargle the hot stones. I made her. Made her do it. Her hair flamed in black skin.
Barrow House is burning, and Mr. Wilson talks to ghosts. That’s what they say.
That’s what they say.