Stubby fingers greased the shank of the sparkler as Bernice held it as tightly as a five year old could well past her bedtime and her stomach full of saveloys and half a pint of her Uncle George’s Export. Sparks ripped from the tip as she waved it in circles, tracing yellow lines of fire in the night. She passed wind as she twirled. Her sister Alice made a face and poked her tongue out, pinching her nose. The adults sat in lawn chairs watching and laughing, piles of beer cans growing under their feet, voices raised to beat the yells from their children.
A collision with her brother chipped a burning chunk from the sparkler. It fell onto the crease of Bernice’s hand between thumb and index finger where it buried itself into her flesh. Skin melted and a curl of smoke rose. Bernice stood still to enjoy the sweet smell.
Then Alice screamed and Mother yanked Bernice into the house. Savage and dry eyed, the little girl fought, twisting in Mother’s grip. Unable to escape, she lashed out at Mother’s shin and connected.
When the palm of Mother’s hand found her cheek, the amount of illicit beer Bernice had consumed outweighed the saveloys and she threw up. It was only then, at exactly midnight, that Bernice started to howl. Somewhere a long way from that suburb, hidden in the dark scrub far from the lights, a wild dog heard the little girl’s calls and joined in.