Dylis sat in the courtroom with silent tears running down her face. She’d always feared it would come to this, but had hoped that her love for her boy would see him right in the end. Norman’s bright red hair had always been her secret pride, a legacy from his father, but now it hung lanky and dull over his face. The boy who, for whatever his faults, had always been full of the spark of life, a fire in his eyes, now stood defeated in the dock waiting to be taken down. Mummy’s little treasure, as she’d called him, didn’t look much of a prize now.
The solicitor hurried past on her way out. She had told Dylis to expect a custodial sentence, but Dyllis had let her hope triumph over sense. He wasn’t a youthful offender anymore, at 19 he’d be treated as an adult.
No one took much notice of Dylis in the long bus ride from the Crown Court in Swansea to the village of Pontypandy. She was just another old woman, clutching a plastic bag, bundled up in an old raincoat to keep out the rain of the valleys. She stared out the rain speckled windows as the bus strained against the steep hill roads.
A string of minor infractions, small fires set here and there, escalating to more serious events over the years had left him with a criminal record. His father may not have ever acknowledged Norman, but he had intervened on his behalf countless times. He’d put out countless fires for his son, literal and metaphorical. He had fixed his mistakes, covered for him, and tried to make things right. But maybe if he could have taken a stronger role, a guiding hand for the boy as Norman had been growing up things would have been different.
But that was never going to happen. She would still remember his shocked expression when she’d told him that the single night they’d shared had had repercussions. She felt foolish for letting him talk her into keeping it a secret for all these years. Maybe if she’d made him face up to his responsibilities then, things would have turned out differently. She could see now that he would never have made the offer of marriage that she’d hoped for, but he could have acknowledged the boy, surely. But she’d wanted to keep him sweet, to see how reasonable she could be and perhaps he’d see, one day, that they could have something more. Most of all, she feared that he’d leave Pontypandy for some bigger place.
Dylis knew she’d been no beauty even in those days. What few charms she’d been born with had faded away as she cared for her mother in her final years in that little flat above the shop while she’d kept that going, too. When her mother had finally slipped away, Dylis began to think of finding a new life for herself. But then there had been Norman on his way.
Norman’s father had been young, much younger than she. He’d just returned from Cardiff and there had been rumours of a failed romance. Apparently she had been some dark eyed beauty who had left for London, a boy from the valleys, no matter how handsome, had not been enough for her. In those long summer days after he’d returned and her mother had died, Dylis had been in the habits of taking long walks in the hills - grieving and planning what she might do next.
She’d found him on his own in an old stone and wood cabin, near the mountain rescue station. He was already a little drunk and had offered her a can of cider she’d remembered selling to him. They drank and chatted quietly as he’d tended the fire in the little hearth. After a little more cider, they’d begun to laugh together - laugh at their own misfortunes. She told him how she wanted to leave the valley, but didn’t know how. He told her about the girl who’d broken his heart. A moment of kindness, as she’d reached out to brush her fingers over his bright red hair, turned quickly to a moment of madness. He’d reached for her then tumbling her down against the old mattress. She’d accepted his fumbled embraces with fervour. She’d let herself hope it might be the beginning of her new life. But his pained apologies the next day had extinguished that spark.
That old cabin had long since burned down. No one had proof, but they’d all suspected Norman. Dylis had always wondered if it had been his father who’d struck the match. He’d been able to get to the scene fast enough.
Her steps from the bus stop to the shop were slow and heavy. Her brother had been minding it for her while she was at court, and he was eager enough to get away from it now. Those villagers who still came in to the shop eyed the Price family with silent pity. “Poor Dilys,” she could almost hear them say “left to raise that handful of a boy on her own with no man at her side.”
The bell on the shop door jangled, and she looked up. He was still handsome, though his red hair had faded a little with age and was now streaked with silver. He was still tall and firm of frame, and the uniform of fire chief suited him. His face with etched with worry. He had always cared for Norman in his own way.
“He’s been sent down for three years. My little treasure in prison.” she sobbed.
“I gave a good report for the sentencing recommendation. He’s a good boy at heart,” he told her.
She stared at him, her accusation plain to read in her eyes.
“Great Fires of London,” he swore. “I did what I could, Dilys.”
“Did you? Even though I never told him you were his father, he always felt close to you. Always wanted to be like you, a fireman. He just wanted your attention. Even what he did this time, burning down the fire station was just to be closer to Fireman Sam.”