The dead leaves hung onto the summer wind, bringing with them spatters of ash and tiny pieces of yellow grass. The smell of burning trees lingered in the air like an overcooked barbeque that had long outstayed its welcome. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence for this time of the year. With summer comes the heat and the storms. The combination of both gives birth to a yearly terror. Although it was midnight, the sky lit up into an orange haze. Grey clouds were overwhelmed by the smoke and soot. They would merge together in such a way, you could not tell where one started and the other ended.
There was usually a sense of nostalgia on nights like this. This smell was a Christmas day; everyone opening presents, ignoring the inferno that raged in the distance. I remember chasing my neighbours in the back yard, a silhouette of children dancing beneath burnt leaves. Our shadows would make stark outlines against the orange cement. It lit up like a glow worm, reflecting the midday sky.
It wasn’t Christmas however and no one was celebrating. I woke up in blackness. Sometimes I feel like I am still in the dark. When I close my eyes at night I am there again.
My eye lids opened expecting the sun and its usual unwelcoming sting. This time it was an unfamiliar hurt. A whiff of heat caused my eyeballs to instantly dry. Streams of tears began to rush out as my body responded hopelessly to the unfamiliar situation. I did not know the worst was yet to come.
The toxic fumes of black smoke invaded my nostrils and my mouth went dry. The roar of the fire was overwhelming and in that moment I truly believed I was in hell. It’s amazing, the instinct to survive. You’ll never understand it unless you’ve nearly died. It’s such a helpless and terrifying sensation. Your whole body wants to explode in terror and your mouth can only let out a whimper. A small tiny cry that could never fully convey the fear that raged within.
I rolled off my bed and hit the floor with a hard thump. The carpet was still relatively cool and the air more breathable. Part of me wanted to stay here, this place where my mum spent years tucking me in at night. It was a passing thought and nothing more.
I began to crawl hopelessly towards the direction of my door. I had a fair instinct as to where it would be. My body scraped against the carpet; my bare and exposed legs were rubbing furiously, creating a heat of their own making.
When I reached the door I was relieved to find it open. It meant that I could stay low where there was still tiny pockets of air to breathe. My heart stopped however when I discovered why. Just outside my door I felt the lump of a body strewn across the floor.
Her hands were still soft but her hair was rough and singed from the fire. She didn’t move at all. My cries and furious shaking of her body was hopeless.
When I think about her lying there it’s not her death that makes me angry. My mum dying just makes me sad. What makes me angry is the smoke. The dark black smoke that would not let me see her face one more time.
Before I somehow found my way to freedom I took a moment to feel her face in my hands. I traced the funny outline of her slightly uneven nose. I could feel the beauty of her big eyes and deep sockets. They were a unique shade of green, a colour I would never see again. Her lips were quite thin like mine. I had a compulsion to find her lip balm before I escaped. Her mouth was so dry. The ears; tiny little things with multiple earring holes. I wondered how she managed to fit so many.
I started to weep uncontrollably. Water fell from my face as though a fountain had erupted in my chest. My body convulsed and I did not know whether it was due to the smoke or sadness; probably both.
A familiar voice called to me.
I looked up from my dinner plate and saw her staring at me. She has my mother’s ears but nothing else.