Frank Friendship’s Free Fireworks

Frank Friendship’s Free Fireworks cover

Frank Friendship’s Free Fireworks

The day after…

The day after it happened, an easy-to-miss article appeared on the Scotsman website, concerning small pieces of blackened foam, still floating down over Edinburgh’s Stockbridge. The headline read: Rogue Bonfire Blamed for ‘Snow’.

But blame lay squarely at one man’s feet. Size twelve boots. Meticulously cleaned.

Two weeks before…

An arm attached to a grumpy lady barred Frank Friendship’s entry to the committee room.

“Church Committee members only, Mr Friendship,” Harriet Cruikshank said, her arm stiffening, voice as cold as the plaster wall beneath Frank’s palm.

“That arm’s not gonna stop me,” Frank said. “I could bunny-hop that arm.”

The woman was only the height of a scowling munchkin. But it’d been a year since Frank had bunny-hopped anything waist-high and in the meantime his weight-training regime had turned his thighs into jeans busters. Definitely less hoppy. He felt guilty enough about all those chickens his muscles made him eat without risking a snapped old lady arm on his conscience.

Frank’s eyes refocused on the circular table in that brightly lit room, and grinned. “But I don’t need to bunny-hop, ’cos I’m expected. Count the chairs, Grumpy,” he said, and pointed. “Seven. There’s a free chair. That free chair isn’t free. That’s my chair. I’ve been invited. We both have.” He nodded at the box suspended by string from his thick fingers. “Me and my Halloween-stroke-Bonfire-Night cake.”

“Hah,” the woman said. “A likely story.”

“Actually, Harriet…” a welcome, if not fully one-hundred percent happy voice said behind him. Mrs French, Frank’s old teacher from primary school. “The minister asked me to invite Frank. He’s on the agenda because he made a cake for the Bonfire Night raffle.”

Frank nodded. “You bet I did. Wait till you get a load of my cake.” He held the box high to let her appreciate the scale.

“Olive Tasker bakes the raffle cakes.”

“Like last year?” Frank said. “Pfff. Call that a cake? I was embarrassed selling tickets for that.” It had been a slopey-shouldered orange blob with an iced black spider’s web that didn’t even have a spider. Or somebody on the committee ate the spider. Probably Harriet. There’d been eight suspicious dimples on the slanting surface. “That cake was like a booby prize,” Frank said. “If that cake had gone to cake academy, it would have been stripped of its decorations and drummed out.”

Harriet’s arm barrier had already dropped to admit Mrs French. Frank, towering over them both, shuffled along the popping, cracking floorboards behind his old teacher like an ocean liner being tugged from dry dock into the open sea. Felt good. Frank patted Harriet’s hair, real friendly, but she actually smacked his hand. An actual smack on his actual hand. “You’re in a church, lady,” Frank said. “Did Jesus smack hands? No, I don’t think so.” Frank laid his hand on her head. “But if you vote for my cake, I’ll forgive you, my son.”

Frank was item two on the printed Committee Agenda and he’d been asked not to contribute to item one again. He tried to keep his eyes up there, focused on the light-fitting he himself had rewired and re-bulbed. But item one was real interesting. Instead of butting in, he raised his arm this time.

“One-hundred and seven pounds may sound like a lot,” the treasurer said, peering over his bifocals, “but — believe you me — it buys a very poor fireworks display.”

Frank raised his arm higher.

“Why,” Harriet said, “are we squandering limited funds putting on a fireworks display? What’s wrong with some sparklers?”

Sparklers? “Pfff.

Harriet slitted her eyes at Frank. She was the chairman, though he could barely believe that. A woman who smacked people’s hands in a church. Twice. And the second smack had been real hard.

“If anybody has seen the fireworks at Edinburgh Castle,” she said, “nothing we can do will ever impress them.”

The committee nodded like sheep — if sheep nodded.

Frank thought about saying, “If anybody has seen the pyramids, is their life over?” Instead, he raised his arm even higher and his throat surprised him by making the gasp a smart kid makes when the teacher keeps picking the dunces.

“What is it, Mr Friendship?” Harriet said, her voice all prickly.

“If you want a great fireworks display for free, put me in charge.”

And it was as though a famous conductor had just tapped for the orchestra’s attention then jabbed his baton. The committee looked up from their notes and spoke as one: “No!”


Harriet smacked the table to shut Frank up. “All those in favour of dropping the fireworks display?”

An echoing chorus of ‘ayes’ followed.

“Unanimous. Minute that, please,” Harriet said to Mrs French, then sighed. “We have a new item two: the raffle cake.”

Frank’s cake had been too big to fit any of his tins. He’d decorated his creation in situ, without thinking about logistics. There really was a cake under there — the orange glow shone through tiny gaps like a blaze just starting — but he’d piled on the decorations. Literally. He loosened the string around the box and let the sides flap down.

“Oh, my,” Mrs French said, and clapped. “How artistic.”

Frank grinned.

His cake was a bonfire, built up of wood that was really chocolate fondant he’d dried out in the airing cupboard — it had even gone rough and bark-like. To make the scene more realistic, he’d made a whole heap of fondant items and chucked them on the fire, including a sweater, a battered-looking teddy bear with one eye missing, a busted picture frame, and — his favourite — a mattress. Well, the corner of a mattress. Pink edges with a little grey spring poking from a hole in the yellow surface. That grey spring was liquorice he’d coiled and painted with icing, and the brown on it even looked like rust.

“Beaut’ful or what?” Frank said.

“Why is there a man tied to the stake?” Harriet said. “His mouth’s open as if he’s screaming.”

“He is,” Frank said. The hardest part had been colouring the icing to look like real bubbling skin. “That’s Guy Fawkes being burned to death. Which,” Frank said, to confound them with reason, “makes sense for once. Why decorate a cake for Halloween? Halloween is October thirty-first. Bonfire Night is the fifth of November. You’ve been giving out a Halloween-themed-cake” — he paused for maximum effect — “on Bonfire Night.”

He opened his mouth in a gape, sat back in his creaking, spindly chair and looked from member to member, trying to work out if anybody was shocked.

“It’s wonderfully realistic,” Mrs French said.

“It’s far too graphic,” Harriet said. “It’ll give the children nightmares.”

Frank shut his gaping mouth. “Halloween’s the perfect time for nightmares.”

Mrs French tutted at him. Why? He had no clue.

“Olive Tasker has made the raffle cake for a dozen or more years,” Harriet said.

“So, it’s time,” Frank said, following through on the logic, “somebody competent had a go.”

Mrs French raised her hands and made a shushing gesture, which Frank took as a cue to shut his flap. His brain sometimes said things that got the rest of him into trouble. He turned the cake slowly to let the icing do the talking.

“It’s a beautiful cake,” the treasurer said.

Frank gave the man a thumbs up. “And germ free. I don’t go around with a cat glued to me.”

Mrs French was scowling at him.

“’Nuff said,” he said. “But I actually did see an actual cat hair.” He really did see a cat hair. “Next to one of the missing spider’s footprints. ’Nuff said.” He rubbed his stubble. “To be clear, I think it was her cat’s.” Mrs French was shaking her head. He sat back. “’Nuff said.”

“Is it all edible?” Harriet said. “It doesn’t look edible.”

“You can eat everything you see. Except the box it came in. That’s cardboard,” he added. “But you could give it a go.” Mrs French’s shushing hands stopped him from explaining that many insects could eat cellulose.

Harriet sighed. “Let’s vote then. All those in favour of standing down our tirelessly dedicated long-term supporter Mrs Tasker after her many years of selfless industry and raffling this… fright of a thing.”

Frank said, “Aye,” and raised his hand along with Mrs French, then waited for everybody else to join in.

“Those against?”

Harriet and the four others said, “Nay.”

“Huh?” Frank stared at his cake, then off to one side to let his brain process what just happened. How could anybody nay upon a cake like that?

“Minute that. Five votes to one against,” Harriet said.

“Five votes to two,” Frank said. “And you cheated, you little smacker. It wasn’t a fair question.”

“You don’t get to vote,” Harriet said. “Thank you for coming along. You’re excused.”

Frank staggered to his feet, his legs weak all of a sudden despite his whopping thighs.

“Take your torture scene away, Mr Friendship.”

Frank left the cake and headed for the door.

“It’s a fabulous cake, Frank,” the treasurer called after him. “It’s just too realistic.”

“Fabulous,” another lady chimed in. “You could put that up for sale in a shop.”

“Your cake, Mr Friendship,” Harriet said.

Frank didn’t want to look at that cake, didn’t want to see it ever again.

On the bus home, Frank stared into the dark October night and thought about that committee. Who put them in charge? Who wouldn’t want to win a cake like Frank’s? Tickets would have sold themselves, instead of Frank standing on his neighbour’s doorstep with a sheepish look and his standard excuse: “It’s a shit prize, but it’s for a good cause.”

Pfff. And no fireworks. They didn’t even want to hear about his fireworks. He could just imagine all the little kids showing up on Bonfire Night and only getting a sparkler. What kid would be satisfied with a sparkler? And what kid would be scared of a cake? Frank’s own baby, Rosy, would be eight and he could just bet she wouldn’t be scared of a cake.

The committee shouldn’t get to decide. If Frank had ideas — and he had plenty — who gave the committee the power to say no?

He’d run his own fireworks display if only he could get the parishioners to show up.

The bus stopped. People got off, people got on.

Frank let the thoughts bump around in his broken head for a while, then his eyes snapped back to his hands. He rubbed his chin. The audience would be there. All he needed to bring was the fireworks. And he had those.

Thank you

Thanks for reading this sample of Frank Friendship’s Free Fireworks.

Uh-oh, Frank has some fireworks. You just know that’s not a good thing.

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