When the people had gone from the streets, there was no-one standing around idly watching anymore. There were no more bystanders standing chatting about events or taking photographs for posterity. No more irrelevant gossiping between the short scenes of excitement.
When the sun eventually slipped from the sky and allowed the night clouds to sneak into town, there was no-one standing sporting a naked torso taking the warmth from the air. There was nothing more to take and the warmth of the fire had gone.
Where they’d joked about having a barbecue or toasting marshmallow due to the heat of the fire, now they jostled quietly and uncomfortably at the dawning realisation before them.
And the police and ambulance had left the scene.
And the press and their cameras and microphones beaming the news from here into the ether and into the homes of a casual million of so who had tuned on for the lunch time news had also abandoned the fire for better fare elsewhere. News was born and died in the same breath and in its infinity only lasted the length of interest that the casual reader bestowed upon the television.
When the smoke had finally and lazily spiralled into the sky, there was no further deep acrid smell in the nostril. Not unless you ventured closer, of course. No, the last wisps of smoke were going, going, gone from the cool of the night into the black ember of the dark.
When the flames had subsided there was nothing left to see. Except, of course, that which was still standing haphazardly and crazily and stubbornly clinging to the land on which it had been built.
When the fire service and their trucks and water tenders had gone from the scene, there was no more blue lights flashing, sirens sounding, water pumping, and things happening on the street. There was no water for the neighbour’s kids to run through and splash and then scatter from the gruff voice of the fireman chasing away those who were getting in the way.
It was over now.
Where earlier there had been noise and adventure for some and tension for others, there was now only a silent memory waving in the dark of the night.
Here and there an ember still sparkled. A crazy untamed ember that had once been at the heart of the fire but had been doused, drained, dumped on and killed by the attack of water on the burning flames.
Where there had been a fire, there was now just the final remnants of dying smoke, cruel embers, a nothingness in the sky.
Soon, they would return with their machines and probes and cameras and stuff. They would try to find the cause of the fire.
But for now, there was nothing left.
The roof had gone, destroyed with a crash and a thunder when it had finally collapsed and fuelled more destruction. And the sides were no more. The garage was flattened. The only thing standing now was the blackened charred remnants of a few uprights here and there.
But essentially, it was a ruin.
The man took the hand of the woman and hoisted the child onto his shoulder. Tears flowed down their cheeks. There was nothing left to come back for.
They took one last look at the house that had been their home.
And then walked away.
For now, they were homeless.