Baptism By Fire


One of my earliest childhood memories is burning down my parents’ toilet. I was four years old.

It was the early nineties. A time when carpet in the bathroom had well and truly passed its moment ‘in vogue’ but just before it was considered a health hazard. 

Personally, I loved that my parents’ ensuite was carpeted. I spent a lot of time sprawled out on its soft terrain, a tea-stain brown, reading picture books while mum showered and got ready for her myriad duties as a mother-of-five. 

I was also potty trained within the cosy confines of that ensuite. Mum procured a special toddler’s toilet seat, which slipped snugly over the regular one. It also came with little wooden steps, lovingly made by my dad. These devices allowed me to assume the porcelain throne, in my carpeted kingdom, without any fear of falling in.

The only downside to the carpet was when it got wet. Often by me, as I liked to have pool parties with my Barbies in the basin. Sometimes these parties got a bit out of hand. However, this was easily remedied by a small, portable blow-heater diligently drying the damp remains of showers (and pool parties) past. 

It was a Saturday evening and, as a weekend treat, my family retired to the living room to watch a movie. Mum sent me off to clean my teeth before I got too tired. Obligingly, I padded down to her ensuite. Evidence of that day’s pool party still soaked the carpet by the basin, but the heater hummed away happily, working to rectify the situation. However, it was in my way so I picked it up, placing it further away from me and closer to the toilet.

As I began cleaning my teeth, I heard a soft thud behind me. The heater had fallen face-down onto the carpet, automatically switching itself off in the process. Nothing to worry about. I’d prop it back up near the wet patch to continue drying when I was no longer standing in it. 

While rinsing my mouth, I suddenly noticed the bathroom felt hot. I turned to leave and gasped: the toilet was glowing incandescent! Bright orange flames licked furiously at the bowl, snaking their way up from the carpet. Perhaps the heater’s safety switch wasn’t so safe after all!

Stung by urgency, I raced to the living room to find my parents. Dad looked relaxed in his favourite armchair, engrossed in the scene unfolding on the television. I looked desperately at him but he didn’t notice me. So I leant towards him and, cupping my hands around his ear, whispered calmly, “Dad, the toilet is on fire.” 

I’m not sure if I delivered my news in such a hushed manner because, technically, I was interrupting an adult — something I was taught never to do. Or if I thought by whispering my harsh headline, with the lightness of a tiny zephyr, I would somehow mitigate it —  like when mum would blow softly on a spoonful of hot dinner, before feeding it to me.

“Shhhhhhiiiitttt!” Dad exclaimed as he leapt out of his lounge chair and thundered towards the ensuite. 

My siblings and I trailed behind.

The toilet was turning black and the curtains, adjacent to it, were now also ablaze. Dad leant over the flames with a cup and scooped up water from the toilet bowl in an attempt to extinguish the fire — the toilet seemingly administering both the problem and the solution. The flames radiated amber on his furrowed brow. 

“Dad!” We wailed, worried that he too would catch on fire. Realising he had a juvenile audience, Dad kicked us out of the bedroom, to fight the ensuite fire in peace.

We waited impatiently in the hallway.

Ten minutes later, dad returned victorious. He even managed to save most of the hideous carpet. There was, however, one fatality. My special toilet seat lay in a melted heap on the veranda, almost unrecognisable. Its charred remains could no longer keep me safe. I was in the big leagues now. Baptism by literal fire.

(Cover Photo: Garage Sale Finds)