The books could burn. So could the curtains. The fridge. The TV. The antique writing desk.
Cali took a long look around her house, wondering what she’d forgotten to pack. It was barely nine and already the hot westerly wind was powering across the tinderbox gully, across the long-parched riverbed, across the oil-laden leaves of the eucalypts that were waiting, a feast for the flames dancing up escarpments not ten kilometres away.
Smoke burned at the back of her throat. The heat pushed through the air like an oven door had been opened, shaking the summer-singed leaves and desiccated berries of her lilly pillies as she heaved a heavy-duty black box towards the open boot of her SUV.
The box’s base gave an ominous crack as she put it down. It slid in next to the small suitcase, as per usual. Years of notebooks, hard drives, and filing boxes containing a plantation’s worth of failed drafts, all red lines and scrawled notes – combustible, in more ways than one. A gust roared up and blew open the cover of a white wedding album that sat on top of the pile. Her heart quickening, Cali slammed it shut. If she’d ever actually been that strange, preened, forced-smile, got-life-figured-out kind of person, she certainly wasn’t anymore.
Over the top of the car, she stole a quick look at the bush behind her house, thriving with lyrebirds and wattlebirds, black cockatoos that had taken refuge in the canopies, rosellas pruning new growth in the gums, and sleeping bush rats, bandicoots and possums. For a moment the bush held her gaze; birdsong, and leaves dashing on leaves, all of it waiting on an answer to a question she couldn’t quite make out…