Fire

“You’re all out? All the kids?”

“Yes. The girls are around here somewhere. I just saw them.” Their mother looked around, shielding her eyes against the smoke and staring against the orange light. Her littlest girl was crying in her arms. After a few seconds, she seemed to forget what is was she’d been looking for, turned back to the neighbor and said, “Yes. We’re safe.” She didn’t pay attention to the screaming child other than to start bouncing her gently against her hip.

“And you?”

“Yeah. We’re here.”

They nodded to one another. Yes, here, together. The hillside before them erupted. With a crowd of other neighbors, behind a line of fire trucks, they watched in silent fascination as the fire got bigger. They’d been moved a mile away from their homes; impossible to tell if anything was saved. The flames looked like a fatal sunrise against the horizon.

One of the mothers screamed. The others turned to stare at her. What good would it do to rage? And it made the smaller children upset.

Farther behind them, against a low brick wall, sat Lizzie. She was eating an orange. It was the last thing she’d saved from the house.

Absently passing a wedge to her sister, it occurred to her that the house actually might burn down. For some reason, she hadn’t thought it would.

“Are we going to be homeless?” Julia asked from beside her, wide, brown eyes fixed on the hillside.

“No,” said Lizzie. “If worse comes to worst, we’ll live in a tent.”

“Oh,” said Julia. “That’s alright, then.” She was nine, and wanted to be crying against her mother’s leg. But she was trying to be grown up, and Lizzie wasn’t ignoring her like she usually did, so she stayed put on the wall.

A terrible groan resounded and boomed off the hillside. It was the third one they’d heard during that endless night. It started whispers among the adults.

“What is that?” Julia asked, covering her ears until the sound stopped.

“It’s the trees,” said Lizzie. She remembered the first time they’d been evacuated, Julia still little enough not to understand. She’d heard the same sound then.

“What are they doing?”

“Dying.”

A fireman had told her that the first time around. The noise had sent her into fits, made her start crying anew. The fireman, face smeared with ash, radio held tight in one hand, had told her it was just the trees being ripped from the ground. No need for alarm.

“I feel bad for them,” said Julia, who privately thought of all the trees on hillside as her trees.

Lizzie pictured them burning, falling. Her trees, too.

“Yeah,” she said, and slid another orange wedge into her mouth, made herself stop thinking about it. “Well.” And what were they going to do if their youngest sister didn’t get to have those trees?

Julia leaned her weight against her sister’s shoulder. They sat, helpless and grieving, and watched them burn.

Fire

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Joined February 2008

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