Burn The House

Entry by: Zanna

20th April 2018
The Puff

He packed tobacco in his Billiard Churchwarden pipe and lighted the top layer using a lighter with a name engraved on it. After charring the tobacco, he tamped it. Mason puffed, drawing slowly and deeply while seated on a rocking chair in late autumn. He looked up at the drifting clouds and assumed that the moon peeped behind the veil of clouds. When silence crawled up to his feet, he gave a sigh and contemplated on one particular night that was painted vividly on his mind.

It was an autumn night thirty years ago when he was coming home after being away for three months on a roadshow. Mason was the lead guitarist in his band that mostly played love ballads and the band was popular with many young Australian fans. Their last stint was successful with a big turnout of fans at their live performance in Sydney. But his joy was short-lived when he arrived at his house in Brisbane.

He stared at his smoldering house with the last gold sparkles of flames teasing and dying. The fire department had done their best but nothing could be saved as Mason looked helplessly at his mansion which had burnt down to ashes. Fortunately, there were no casualties and that relieved Mason. He was warned not to go near his house as it was not safe to do so and since he could not do nothing there, Mason decided to put up at his grandparents' house which was at Currumbin Valley, ten miles from the main road.

His grandpa, Noah was a grumpy old man and complained almost about everything. But when he learnt of Mason's loss, he was lost for words. Noah made a pot of black coffee and smoked his pipe. The kitchen was filled with a vanilla flavour of the tobacco. They did not wake up Mason's grandma who was fast asleep upstairs. They walked up to the front porch where Noah sat on a wooden swing while Mason leaned back in the wicker chair with a red pillow cushion. Few words were exchanged between them and Mason just needed that to feel the comfort of the presence of his grandpa and the silent night, well not entirely silent with the creaking sound of the swing and the wind ripping off the last leaves.

Mason woke up to the song of a lyrebird, a mixture of its own song and mimicry sound of koalas. He drove back to the site where only three months ago, his house had stood tall and tears welled up in his eyes. Wearing black gumboots, he walked around the site and each part of the house gave him a memory to hold on to. It was where he shared fond memories of growing up before his parents moved to Perth. Being the only son, the house was given as a gift to him. It had four rooms and his favourite was the living room where his mother would play the piano and he would strum his guitar. She had taught him music and that was the most precious gift he treasured. His mum had tried calling him several times but he was not ready to speak to her. Mason knew he would break down.

He wanted to know desperately how the fire started but it was just all too soon for the fire experts to come to a conclusion. There were reports to be made and a lot of paperwork to be dealt with and a lot of time spent just waiting. He met up with his lawyer and then his music manager. Two of his band members joined him for lunch to help him sort out the problems that arose with the recent misfortune. He had to also meet up with some fire inspectors who had a long list of questions for him. Mason suspected that it was a case of arson and the investigators were trying to pinpoint that the arson was committed by him because Mason was the one to benefit as the house was insured for a large sum of money. Although they did not accuse him, they were building up a case that Mason was responsible for he had debts and was facing financial crisis.

'Where were you when the alleged incident occurred?'
'I had told you and the police that I had flown in from Sydney.'
'Yes, but you had flown in four hours before the incident. We've checked with the airport authorities. There was no delay. How did you travel from the airport?'
'My manager picked me up in my car and I dropped him off at Blue Lagoon pub. I headed straight here.' I was annoyed answering the same questions.
'Mmmm...you should have reached your home before 10.00pm.' The fire inspector gave Mason a hard dark look.
'I was too tired. I pulled up not far from a farm ...Billy Joe's and I slept off. I woke up when my phone rang... and I rushed here but it was too late!'
'Is there any evidence to support your account of what happened?' The guy in dark blue suits and tie queried him in a monotonous tone.
The man in long sleeve check shirt interrupted, 'Mate, my daughter is a fan of yours. She loves that song "Why me?". We need to ask you these questions because as you know it's a part of the procedure in our investigation. Would you like a drink?'
'No, thank you.'
'Can you tell us whether you have an alibi?'
'No, I was alone.'

After a few more questions, they let him go. Mason headed to a pub and downed Bourbon Collins served in a tall glass with a straw before driving to Noah and Mia's home, a house built near a creek.

He was met by Mia who hugged and kissed him. She invited him for tea and served him lamington which was dipped in melted chocolate before being covered in desiccated coconut, just the way he liked it. Mason asked Noah to go for a walk with him along the creek where the flowing water had washed and smoothed pebbles and rocks over the years.

'What do you have on your mind, son?'
'Is this yours?' Mason asked while handling him a lighter with Noah's name engraved on it. He had found it on the site and also found a tin of kerosene in Noah's truck.
Noah turned pale. He swept his forehead with his shivering hands and he fumbled for words.
'I did...did it for you!' the words were slowly uttered.
'Why..for goodness sake, why did you burn the house?'

Noah sat down and balanced himself on a rock. He said, 'I had no choice for I did it because I thought it was the only way to help you out of your debts. Your money lender came knocking on my door and said that he would harm Mia and me if I do not pay the interest you owned them. I cannot afford to live in fear. I know you would never sell the house. I didn't think thoroughly and acted based on my feelings. I regret doing it!'

'You should have come to me or gone to the police!'
'There was too much at stake. I'm sorry...I'm terribly sorry.' He wept like a little child.
'I'm sorry too for giving you such anguish that you'd to resort to destroying what I loved the most!'
'Will you forgive me, son?'
'Yes, grandpa!'

After a few months, the case was closed due to the fact there was no evidence. Mason was paid a sum of money by the insurance company that helped him pay off his debts. He left the band and opened a music studio in Perth where he taught music. He never returned neither to Brisbane nor to Currumbin Valley.

Rocking his chair, Mason puffed out his clouds of thoughts and they became entwined with the autumn breeze.