Fires Near Me
We went to bed with the sliding doors open, but smoke woke us at 4. Uncanny, how fast the sleeping brain reacts to fire. The slightest whiff, and bam! You sprang up and closed the doors.
Thanks. I stroked the back of your neck, C1 and C2, where you tense up. Aircon? you asked, not turning. Guess so. It clunked to life, covering everything we weren’t saying with its idling truck roar.
Essential travel only, the public safety announcements had said. But the roads were still open, and we wanted our holiday. Okay, I wanted it.
It’s all booked. No one says we can’t. The nearest fires are miles away.
You got that look in your eye. The one that said, I give in, but I like you a little bit less.
As we drove coastward, smoke came and went like a bad conscience. Bungendore: all clear. Braidwood: haze, throat-choke. Batemans Bay: a cinder on my tongue. Ulladulla: nada, bliss. Cloudlessness, frangipani nuzzling our windows, not quite a sea view but beyond the Norfolk Island pines, if you squinted …
I flopped into a green-striped deck chair on the patio, boneless with relief. Now our holiday could slide out of its jelly mould, quivering blue-green perfection.
You checked the Fires Near Me app at least 10 times before dinner. We were ringed by triangular icons. Mostly yellow. Two orange. No red, yet.
You flicked on the six o’clock news. Seventy-one fires burning. Smoke visible from space. Three firefighters perished.
Why do firefighters always “perish”? I asked. No plain old dying for them.
You flicked off the TV, spent a long time in the bathroom. After DoorDash Thai, you shuttled between Fires Near Me and TikTok. Four orange triangles, a trio of dancing goats in polka-dot pyjamas. I pretended to read. An orange-and-black jacketed Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None.
We didn’t fuck, just pushed the greasy pad see ew containers off the bed and turned out the light. After the smoke alert we lay braced, unsleeping. Your phone screen flickered yellow, orange, red.
I fell into a pixel-flimsy dream. Disco goats with burning hooves bleating pe-rish pe-rish pe-rish to the tune of Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!
Your voice cut the synth pop.
We should get out. Before they close the roads. It’s going to get a lot, lot worse.
Scrunched on the edge of the bed, you stared at the wall. As if you were holding a séance and the ghost of our future had just shown up.
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Faye Brinsmead’s writing appears in journals including X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, MoonPark Review, New Flash Fiction Review, Flash Boulevard, South Florida Poetry Journal and Twin Pies Literary. One of her pieces was selected for inclusion in Best Microfiction 2021; another was nominated for a Pushcart. She lives in Canberra, Australia, and tweets @ContesdeFaye.
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