fire escape plan – Carina

fire escape plan

Words Carina Griffen

when i was little i had a fear. i would walk to school and imagine the streets engulfed by flame. i would imagine it like that scene from star wars with the lava pit, and then i would shiver, and it would be gone.

so it’s feburary seventh, 2009, and she has a baby in the bathtub early that morning

adults all singing for twenty four minutes i’ve been living next door to-.

radio starts to crackle with warnings. a death knell looks like the arrow on the dial pointed to CATASTROPHIC. we were spared. nothing to worry about.

when i was little i had a plan. when the fire finally came for us, i would grab my diaries and seal them in a ziploc bag and tie them to my waist under long sleeves, and i would grab my toy monkey, and i would grab the bracelet my friend and i made, and i would grab the hose from the water tank and help dad start up the motor.

he would pull the line, and it would go chugchugchugchug- and suddenly water would come rearing out of the nozzle like a saving grace. (one day i would be strong enough to start it by myself and baptise everything.)

and my mummy would have the shoebox with the passports and my parents’ wedding certificate, and woolen thermals because you can’t wear your jammies or they would melt, see, and she would have my little sister, and they would go to the dam.

and i would be a grown up, and i would stand next to the motor and start it up again if we needed, so my dad could hold the hose

and if the water ran out, if the treeline caught aflame, if anything went wrong,

we would run to the water

when i was little i had a nightmare.

i would dream that the muddy pool would start boiling, like the tortellini my pa cooked in a big pot. i would dream that my friends and my neighbours would run to join us and maybe they would make it, maybe they wouldn’t,

i would think of the photo albums and our hard drive and the chickens we would not have time to save, their feathers and beaks, and i would think of the painted mug i made for mothers’ day, i would think of our plastic christmas tree melting in the garage, i would think of the little pieces of my ten-year-old life and how they would look dissolving in the sickening heat.

i would dream of what fire would look like from below. dream of how long i could hold my breath, if that would even matter. dream of that moment where waves of incineration would rush overhead, where the trees would look like sparklers on new years’ eve, where the oil in the eucalypts would light like a camping stove, where the air would be a branding iron, and i would feel a cold jolt of adrenaline as if i were making up for seeing all the world scorched clean.

when i was little the world wouldn’t end in shellshock or invasion, in intent or in action, in the chemicals at the war museum or the way you asked your dad what nuclear meant, in any of the ways you saw on dvds whirring late at a friend’s house, eyes wide with anticipation. when i was little the drought broke, buckets under ill-prepared beams that hadn’t seen rain in fifteen years. the fall beat down like holy water, and it would never end,

when i was older, the world wouldn’t end in the ways we read about in high school english, in coal mines that chilled you to the bone or planets sunless for seven years, it wouldn’t end like the movie you watched on your first date or the hotel mirror on your best friend’s mixtape, wouldn’t end in bathroom graffiti or your first taste of vodka, it wouldn’t end by your own hand, not really,

when was eighteen, the world still wasn’t going to end in fevered coughs, end in double-layered cotton, end in the second great market crash of your lifetime. the world wouldn’t end in a pixelated button, empty arena, a car veering through pylons, a newspaper gone mad. couldn’t end on purpose, couldn’t end by accident, even the cyclones weren’t going to do it, the floods, the ballot boxes, the brutal hope,

when am there, finally, when the world


i will feel the smoke enter my lungs and i will stop drop roll the paper up the way my fingers have memorised see the glint of her teeth and i will seal my diaries in ziploc bags and wear the friendship bracelet she made me.

everything will be sharp, alert, for a sacred second. my heart will bleed in seven places and i will see angels at last and the crackling of the river gums will be accompanied by the last post on trumpet. water will take me like a forgiving grave and it will broil me until i am mixed with the ash of the leaves and no matter where i am i will end up in the dam in my hometown, end up with the car bonnet buckling under the heat, the train tracks out of town will snap like shoelaces pulled tight, and everything will be resolved and we will be alight:

god is a tongue of flame that travels uphill.

when i was little

the world was going to burn.