The sky was ablaze with red the night the mill burned to the ground. Tiny embers scrambled free, rising like fireflies in an Icarus-like ascent into the black ozone to extinguish then return to Earth as a scorched skerrick of a once greater mass.
A crowd had gathered at the penultimate hour of June 22 in a sea of flannelette, football socks, slippers, and boots. Helena sobbed uncontrollably while James and Michael united in a jaundiced assault on an unperturbed furnace. James was a man obsessed and deranged, unable to accept certain ruination. A flame shroud unveiled images of his father, his grandfather, and his father before him, driving him to fight on in spite of futility.
A burning mill was diuturnal—the night sun would not fall until the subdued winter sun supplanted it to reveal the completeness of its counterpart's devastation. Salt and soot stained Helena's face, anew now with corrugations of wretchedness indicative of a much older woman. She limped home to Park Lane for a tepid shower and an unsuccessful attempt to still the quivering. Her head throbbed, protesting the insatiated demand for tears and unrequited need for sustenance. She dressed in a loose, fleecy tracksuit, not bothering with the usual sensible appropriateness of dress for a workday.
The administrative block at the mill had survived the night with a mere coating of black on the iron roof. The windows had not shattered and the timber had not been scarred black. Helena unlocked the sliding glass door with her back facing the carnage below so she could deny its existence. She had not seen her father for several hours, not since she cried out to him to pull back from the flames, his otiose blanket like slaying a dragon with a pin.
James arrived soon after Helena, emaciated and damp. He had walked to the mill in the feathery rain wearing his usual short-sleeved, cream collared shirt. He owned a pullover, but never wore it—it was still new, and maintained for prosperity in a box of mothballs. He smiled forcibly at Helena then retired to his office to lock a gaze over the outdoor kiln.