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Why The Fire Doesn’t Play With The Rain

Tommy operated the handcar with the fire roaring at his back.


Cathy sat at the front, her legs swinging over the side while she peered into the dark before them. After a while Tommy stopped, and dropped down onto the tracks. She watched him as he worked.

“Why do we have to do that?”

“We lay the track before us, by taking from those behind. So we can only go forward,” he explained to her, patiently.

“What if we want to go back?”

Tommy looked back, at mountains made of blackest cloud. The city was somewhere below. “We can go forward. That's enough.”

“Why were these tracks broken?”

Tommy had gone to the rear of the car, where he was levering up another piece of track to go back down ahead of them. These gaps were increasing in number, the further they got. 

“People let things break when they don’t think they’re important anymore.”

He carried the wooden slat round to the front of the car, then stooped down to knock it into place. It would only have to hold for a moment.

Cathy watched with a sombre expression. “Will the fire follow?”

He paused briefly. “I told you not to look back.”

“I can feel it.”

He sighed. “It won’t follow, no.”

She thought for a moment. “How will the fire leave?”

He stopped working, and straightened up to study her. Six years younger than him, he wondered how much she understood of any of this. He wondered how she was making sense of it. The noise. The anger. The enthusiasm given to both. 


The fire won’t leave,” he said softly. 

She was trying to grasp something, some enormous idea that she couldn’t quite hold on to. He watched her try. 

“What will happen to the fire if it stays?”

Tommy looked up. “It will blow out, maybe. Maybe the rain will come. It will grow small and smaller, sleepy and sleepier, until it fades away.”

“Will it be lonely?”

Everyone will be lonely. He thought it, but didn’t say it. 

“What if the rain and the fire become friends?”

He winced, then turned away from her. She was close, and it was unbearable. 

She stared at him. “Tommy? Why can’t the rain and the fire just be friends? They could play together. They could share. Why can’t the rain leave it alone?”

“Because…” His mind darted as he worked quickly at the track. There had to be some way to make her understand, without making her understand. “Because they’re too different. That makes them not like each other.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

Hiding his face as he worked, he smiled bitterly. “I know, honey.”

“Why don’t they just talk? They can play in different places, there's room. they’re being silly.”

The pipe he was using to hammer the track slipped in his hand. Tommy swore as quietly as he could, then turned back to his sister, exhausted. “They don’t want to talk. They’re scared. It makes them stupid… They’re not the same, and that makes them afraid of each other, you see?”

Cathy sat on the handcar, her legs had stopped swinging. She looked lost. “...But they should just talk.”

Her voice had become so quiet, that Tommy stopped what he was doing, and jumped back up onto the handcar. He sat next to her, and gave her a quick hug. Behind them, the fire waved like some mindless parent.

“It doesn’t make sense, I know. Sometimes things never do.”


Confusion began to turn into something else. “Who are we running from, Tommy?”

He saw a helpless flash of anger on her face, recognised it from when he was a boy. It could end. With the right words. 

“We’re not running from anyone, Cathy, we’re going home.”

Her eyes were wide. “Where’s home?”

“Well, we’ll know it when we see it. Okay?”

She grinned, excited. He jumped back down, and started to work on the tracks. If there weren’t too many loose, they should be far away by daybreak.

He looked up as Cathy strained to reach for some embers that were dancing high in the air above them. 


Tommy grinned. Then he hid his face, and what became of the smile, as he returned to the endless track. 


Barry Charman

Barry Charman is a writer living in North London. He has been published in various magazines, including Ambit, Griffith Review, The Ghastling and Popshot Quarterly. He has had poems published online and in print, most recently in The Literary Hatchet and The Linnet’s Wings. He has a blog at


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