Start with Surreal Babysitting Adventures, Part I and Part II, if you want the context.
One day, I was upstairs in my home office, working away. The Babysitter Who Shall Not Be Named (BWSNBN) was downstairs with the kids, doing a pretty good job of keeping them away from me and keeping the noise level down to a dull roar. That's all I ask, really. I'm no hard-ass.
BWSNBN--let's call her BW for typing and reading ease--comes upstairs with an urgent question. "Um, E. Peevie, do you have any air freshener?"
Well, as a matter of fact, I did not have air freshener. But I suspected that there had been a Number Two situation that was filling the downstairs atmosphere with noxious fumes.
"Light a match, BW," I suggested. "That always takes care of the problem for me."
About 20 minutes later I came downstairs, and I smelled a bit of a smoky smell. "BW," I asked, "Are you cooking something?"
"Nope," she replied.
"Did you burn something earlier? I smell smoke," I insisted. I headed toward the kitchen, but she still denied cooking anything. Approaching the kitchen, I could still smell smoke--but from a different direction. I turned and looked down the hallway, and saw ribbons of smoke curling out of the bathroom.
I ran down the hall and stopped at the bathroom door. "HOLY SHIT!" I hollered, even though three children and one impressionable babysitter were within earshot. "Shit! Fire!" A bonfire was burning on top of the toilet tank, with flames blistering the paint three feet up the wall and immolating the wicker basket of hairbrushes and TP.
My shocking language and the promise of dramatic and fiery excitement immediately brought all the kids running toward the bathroom--except for the smart one, A. Peevie, who went screaming for the front door, in the opposite direction. That boy might struggle with his math facts, but math facts won't drag you out of a burning house.
Meanwhile, I ran for the kitchen and filled up a pitcher with water. (It never even occurred to me to grab the fire extinguisher in easy reach on the counter.) I ran back to the bathroom and shooed M. Peevie and the sitter away from the door. C. Peevie had boldly turned on the tap and was futilely splashing water from the sink onto the flames, but I shooed him away as well.
When I dumped the entire pitcher of water on the conflagration, black smoke billowed up to the ceiling and the basket blaze slightly abated. Flames still crawled up the blackening wall from the charred hand towel, so I filled the pitcher in the tub and splashed the fire again. I grabbed the end of the still-burning towel and a tiny corner of the still-burning basket, tossed them into the sink and extinguished the rest of the stubborn flames.
Once I was confident that the danger from the fire was over, I remembered that A. Peevie was probably curled up in a fetal position on the front lawn, so I went to find him. I passed the BWSNBN, sobbing in the living room, and headed out the front door. I found A. Peevie waiting for me safely on the sidewalk, trembling like an addict two days into rehab. He didn't stop shaking for two hours, poor baby.
Inside, I put my arms around the sitter, who was also shaking and still sobbing. "It's OK, BW," I said, "Everything's OK now."
"I set your HOUSE on FIRE!" she sobbed. "On FIRE!"
"I know, sweetheart," I said. It's amazing how easily I could forgive setting my house on fire, but to this day cannot let go of too-crisp brownies and wet dishes in the cabinet. There is something wrong with me. "But it's OK now. The fire's out and everybody's safe. No harm done."
"I'm so sorry," BW said shakily, "I'm so sorry. I will never light another candle ever again in my life."
Aahhh. That's what happened. She lit a candle and set it on the back of the john, and the flame caught the hand towel.
"It's OK, BW," I repeated. "I've almost burned my own house down with candles many a time." I pointed to the block glass window alcove, with two circular singe-marks from un-watched candles. "See! We had only been in the house about two weeks when I almost burned it down!"
Eventually, everyone settled down and stopped shaking and blubbering. We cleaned up the mess in the bathroom, threw out the burned towel and the singed basket of melted stuff, and everything went back to "normal." Which, as we all know, is relative.
"I don't want you to pay me for today!" BW hilariously insisted; and I told her we were going to forget the whole thing, and didn't need to tell anyone about it. She told her parents anyway, and they offered to paint my bathroom.
But I declined. The wall doesn't look that bad, and if you tilt your head and squint a little, the partially-wiped-off-black-gunk kind of takes the shape of a menacing face--a little artistic reminder to all of us to be careful with candles.
And to be grateful for every single day without a house fire.