I never really knew the family. I’d seen the mother, attractive young woman, early twenties I guess, pushing a pram with a small boy running beside her, trying to keep up. Not sure what happened to the husband, can’t say I ever saw him. They say he worked in London doing some high-powered job in the city, and when the children came along he began to spend more time at work than at home. It seemed family life was not for him.
With two young children the mother began to let herself go, now not having a man in her life to make an effort for, what was the point? Before she’d always dressed smartly and the children too. I remember seeing them playing in their front garden, the girl in a bright yellow dress with small pink flowers embroidered around the edge and the boy in a blue shirt and trousers. I never saw them in jeans and t-shirts, not until the husband had vanished for good. It would seem a life wheeling and dealing was no match for the drudge of parenthood and commitment, though, I hasten to add, this is not my sentiment, it’s what I heard from others. After he’d left, she took to wearing jogging trousers and baggy sweatshirts. Her hair, always immaculate, looked unwashed and unkempt, what surprised me most, she’d taken up smoking cigarettes. The last time I saw the family they were on their way to the park with a black and white dog in tow whilst the children, laughing, ran along the pavement playing tag.
At the bottom of the street, where this family lived, is a cornfield. A fun place for children to hide and sometimes get lost amongst the tall golden stems. Once the police, with tracker dogs, had to find them. The worst time for children to play in the cornfield would be when the corn was bing harvested. No one wants a combine harvester to come across a hidden child to be diced and sliced in the monster’s big cutting blades.
Oh, I remember the night well, it was mid-summer and raining heavily. Sirens from emergency vehicles woke me. I dressed and ventured out to see what was the cause the commotion. Two fire engines, a police car and ambulance were outside this family’s home, which was engulfed in a ball of flame. I overheard someone in the crowd saying they had seen the mother, just wearing a nightie, running off barefoot down the road towards the cornfield looking distraught and calling out her children’s names. The children were found clutching each other within the burnt out home but there were no sign of the mother or the dog. They found the charred body of their mother in the in the cornfield at the centre of a circle of trampled stalks. The strange thing, there was no sign of burning on the stems of corn.
They say that on the anniversary of the fire, a black and white dog is seen sitting in front of where the house once stood and if the wind is blowing in the right direction, a woman’s voice can be heard calling the names Eva and James from the cornfield.