Updated: Jan 4
On a normal day, you would hear the birds chirping. This was not a normal day. On a normal day, you would smell the scent of the Christmas bush, softly hinting of honey and buzzing wildly with bees. This was not a normal day. Today, the birds were quiet; the air, heavy with soot. The cracking of tree-limbs, as they broke under the pressure of fire and cloud, was deafening. This was definitely not a normal day.
In a fire, we’re taught from an early age, to “Get down low, and go, go, go”, because that’s the safest place to breathe. There are no guarantees that you’ll survive, but that’s the best you can hope for. The saying is drummed into our brains, because it’s highly likely that we’ll forget what to do when it counts. We’re taught to be careful with doors. Touch the door gently before opening it, to feel if it’s hot. If it is, you can bet that the door-handle will burn your hand, so take care. Close doors as you exit, to block the oxygen from the fire.
Your ex-wife had driven by earlier that day, and stopped you in the street. She said your son had been naughty at school, and you should get in the car to go meet the principal with her. Without a thought, you got in.
You asked your ex-wife, why hadn’t she called you with this news, and she said she didn’t think. She just got in the car and started driving. From her car, you rang to tell me what was going on. Disappointed that you were with her, I told you that I loved you. I said I’d come pick you up from the school, seeing you were in her car. I had a little to finish up at work, and then I’d come straight there. I ignored the feeling hanging over my right shoulder; the soundless whisper in my ear, that intimated something was terribly wrong.
I waited outside the school for about an hour. There was no sign of you, and I went looking in the carpark and surrounds to see if I could find her car. At least I knew what she drove. No sign, anywhere …
I walked into the school administration building, and asked the principal’s assistant about a meeting with you regarding your son. There was no meeting. Jason was fine, and had been in class all day. After school, he’d gone home. You had not been seen at all.
My began to heart race. My mind became awash with worry, and bounced from catastrophe to catastrophe. Where were you? Had you lied to me? Were you in danger?
Calling your number, I got no answer; just your voicemail. I called Jason, and the phone rang out. Getting back into my car, I cast my mind over the course of our relationship, to reassure myself that you were true to me. We had met three years ago, when you came into my café for lunch and a coffee. It was 3.15pm, and I razzled you about how late you were leaving it to get lunch. You were lucky we hadn’t sold out of everything; it had been such a busy day. I had 20 covers for breakfast, as well as 13 lunch platters delivered to neighbouring businesses, and all before getting hammered for lunch. We sold out of everything except a new granola I had just started to trial. So, we hit it off over breakfast, so to speak. We ate every meal together since.
I loved how you would get up from the table first, to start doing the dishes at home. You were so thoughtful, and dependable. I knew I could trust you to share everything with me, including the chores. I loved how you would greet me when I got home from a long day at work; like a puppy about to wet himself, you would race to the door exclaiming, “You’re home! You’re home!”, and I couldn’t get inside because your hugs and kisses would not let me in! You made me so happy. So secure.
Frantically, I drove home. When I arrived, it felt like you had not been there for days. The mail was in the letterbox. The hot water tank dripped a little overflow into a watering can. Our neighbour waved to me in recognition. My spidey-senses tingled. You had not been home, so where did you go?
The next most obvious choice, was that you went to your parents’ to collect Jason. My body began to vibrate with dread, as I drove there; to an empty house. I called you again; no answer. I called your parents, and they said that they hadn’t seen you. Jason wasn’t with them, because his mother had collected him earlier. Now, where were you?
As your ex-wife had picked you up, her home was the next most obvious choice. I had her number, but I felt so horrible at the thought of calling her. Part of me dreaded hearing her voice, because she had been such a big part of your former life. Another part of me dreaded calling her, because I worried that she still had some sway over you. And this other part of me was just hating the fact that she had some of you, and I never fully had all of you. We might have met three years ago, but I had seen you for five years before that. I had heard your colleagues talk about you as their fearless leader, their dear confidante, their treasured comrade. You had such charisma; and my eyes followed you everywhere, even while you were still married to her. I never let on, and I never tried to seduce you; but I felt something for you long before we exchanged names.
I picked up my phone and found her number. My breath caught in my throat. I consciously inhaled and exhaled, and inhaled again to remind myself to breathe. Just breathe. It can’t be as bad as I imagine. I pressed her number and called. No answer. Predictable!! Just as I was trapped in the moment, she called me back.
“We’re taking Jason camping, and we’ve decided to get back together. I think you should stop calling him.” And with that, she hung up.
I was speechless. I got back in my car, and started driving. I had no destination; I was numb. I just drove. Out beyond the extremities of town, I drove. Past the “last fuel for 300 kms” sign, I drove; without a look at the fuel gauge on the dashboard. Into the long stretches of nothingness, I continued into the night.
My mind was blank. I just couldn’t think. Until, without warning, I saw the cloud hurling up into the night sky in the distance. I drove nearer toward the blaze. Luckily, I had installed the Emergency+ app on my phone; and using that, I called for the fire brigade. I had no idea where I was, but that app had a GPS signal and they could track me as long as I had the location turned on.
As I approached the small farmhouse, I saw her car. Unbelievably, I had found it without looking; and now it was outside a house on fire.
Her car started, and turned toward me, and sped past. I detected Jason in the back seat, looking like he was fast asleep; and your ex-wife in the front, driving. But, you weren’t with them.
When I stopped out front, I grabbed my swimming bag from the front passenger seat and got out of the car. Reaching in, I pulled out goggles and a towel that was still wet from this morning’s early swim at the ocean baths.
The fire looked like it had started in a back corner of the house, so I tried the front door to get in. It was locked. I picked up a big bush rock in the front garden, and smashed it through that front door. I put the goggles over my eyes and the towel over my head and shoulders, and entered the darkness and smoke. The stink was unmistakably toxic, thanks to the carpet burning, and the poisonous gases from the paint peeling from the walls. The towel went over my mouth and nose in a desperate attempt to keep breathing.
Meanwhile, that spidey-sense of mine was in overdrive. I could feel your presence, off to the right of me, and I had an inner GPS signal on you. Whatever had happened between you and that woman in the past, was nothing compared to what you and I shared now. Your heart and my heart were joined, forever; like the trunk and crown of the same living tree.
I got down on my hands and knees, and called out your name. Off in a far bedroom, I heard a desperate wail, and I scrambled in that direction. As I got to you, I could see that your mouth had been gagged, and your wrists and ankles were cable-tied. I had nothing to get the cable-ties off, but I was able to untie the scarf around your mouth, and you spat out a rag. You couldn’t move with those cable-ties, though; so, I had to leave you to find a knife or scissors.
I crawled to the next room, the bathroom, and felt in the dark through the drawers and cupboards. Finding nail-scissors, and hoping they’d be enough, I returned to you in the bedroom. You were beginning to lose consciousness, and though I tried to cut through the cable-ties, the nail scissors were too dainty. I had to go further, and risk you being suffocated by the smoke.
The most likely place, to find something sharp enough, was the kitchen. I had no idea where it was, but I guessed it was where the fire was worst. That’s where I scurried towards. And then, in the corner of my eye, I glanced at something shining on the floor. It was reflecting light from the flames, and flickering in the thick haze. I clambered to it, to find a filleting knife with a dark smear, like blood, on it.
Clutching my sleeve in my hand, I picked it up. Strangely, it was at this point that I realised that I had an advantage; I had been in a fire before. I knew how quickly this could turn bad, and I knew what to do to survive. I had the scars on my feet and hand, to remind me of how close I had come to losing my own life.
When I got back to you, you were already unconscious. It ended up easier for me to leave the cable-ties on, so I could drag you out along the floor to the front door. That’s why there are cuts and abrasions around your wrists and ankles; I gripped the cable-ties, so I could drag you out. I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you any faster. But I’m so relieved to see you awake and safe.
That day started out like any other, you know? You woke before me, as you always do, and snuggled into my neck to smell my skin. I can’t help myself when you do that; I have to have you. I have to love you deeply, and honestly, and bravely. And then I watched as you went to have a shower, and I started making breakfast for us both. I watched as you put on your uniform for the day, and as you ate your Bircher and drank your first cup of coffee. I love watching you eat. I hold my breath to see you place a spoonful of muesli into your mouth, and smile as you taste it’s sweetness and enjoy it’s crunch. Your love of life is infectious! Your love of coffee is legendary. I live for your arms around me and the scent of your hair. I love you like no other.
You had started work, early as always, with the first stop after swimming at the markets. Flowers, fruit, vegetables, fish and smallgoods, and then to your café. You are rightly proud of your achievement; your café is a testament to your hard work and persistence. I admire how you have persevered in tough times, and always looked for alternatives when things don’t go as planned. You’re a resilient woman, My Love.
You have an innate curiosity that leads to some very quirky situations! I never quite know what to expect, and yet, I know one thing: I’ll always be happy with whatever you suggest. I feel blessed that you are as sensual as me, and we share everything so that even chores can be foreplay! I’m grateful that you and my son have such a special, and formidable, relationship. My parents are a little jealous of you!
I knew, early on, that I loved you. Even though we hadn’t yet met, I had seen you working in your café. I couldn’t take my eyes off you. You always had a light in you that I couldn’t ignore. I would get up early so I could sneak into the markets to watch you; you would always be welcome, and your negotiation skills were matched by your ability to banter. You seemed to know everyone’s story, and your interest was never feigned. People, everywhere, adored you. How could I not?
Believe it not, I felt shy around you, to start with. I sent my colleagues in to get my lunch some days, because I couldn’t build up the courage to speak to you. Finally, after spending all of my lunch-break in the office fretting about how I’d ask you out, I ventured into your establishment. It’s clean lines and tidy furnishings were the perfect accompaniment to the works of art adorning the walls. You had a way of sponsoring local artists and enabling younger painters to exhibit without it costing an arm and a leg. Some of the art was painted by your own beautiful hand. I love your hands!
That first day, I was nervously determined to ask you out. I had wasted so much time dithering. And when I finally got inside, heart pounding in my chest, you made me feel like we’d known each other for years. In reality, we’ve known each other forever. Across time. Across space. You are the inside part of me that makes me alive. I can’t put it any simpler.
The day you saved me, was like any other. I woke, loving you. I went to work, thinking of you. My ex-wife abducted me with a story about our son, and my first thought (after Jason) was to talk to you.
We got to the school, and while I popped into the loo, she went to Jason’s classroom to pull him out of class. They met me outside the guest toilet, and she said that “everything was sorted”, so we should just go for the day and head up to the old family farmhouse.
I thought it was strange, and asked about the principal. Apparently, they’d met while I was indisposed, and we could just go. A part of me was happy to spend time with Jason, but I really didn’t want to be with her; and I said so. Jason knows that I don’t want to get back together with his mother, and he loves you; but when he said we’d go to the creek near the old farmhouse for fishing, I thought, “Why not?”. That’s why I went willingly.
At that point, I wanted to call you and let you know where I’d be; but, I couldn’t find my phone. I thought it must have fallen out of my pocket when I was in her car, and I looked for it when we got back in. When we arrived at the old farmhouse, I asked to borrow hers, and she lied that she’d already called you while I was in the loo. A bit presumptuous of her!!
We went inside, and that’s when things got ugly. And I mean, really ugly. In front of Jason, she accused me of abandoning her (when you and I know, it was the other way around). She accused me of having an affair with you (when we all know that I was already divorced, before you and I got together). She accused me of poisoning Jason against her, to make him think that you would be his only mother. Then, she got him by the wrist and flung him away from me but against the kitchen bench, knocking him out cold.
Grabbing the filleting knife, she lunged at me, just missing my carotid artery. In my surprise, I wasn’t sure what to do, but it made me backtrack through the small hallway. Jason lay there on the floor, separated from me by his mother; and I was getting further and further away, each time she lunged at me with that knife. She lunged again; and as I lurched out of the way, I hit my head hard on the doorframe to the main bedroom. I was stunned, but still conscious. It was enough though, because she had a long cable-tie in her pocket and quickly wrapped it around my wrists while I was foggy. She yanked it tightly and kicked me behind the knees, buckling them from under me. She wrapped another around my ankles, and stuffed a rag in my mouth, covering it with a scarf from around her own neck.
Dragging me into the main bedroom, she hissed, “No-one will have you. You belong to me.” And, with that, she disappeared.
Stunned, I sat on the floor, bound and gagged. I tried to move closer to the door, and heard her say something to Jason. I caught a glimpse of her carrying him to her car, and then they were gone.
Submitted to Reedsy for Contest #64 in response to: Write a romance that involves one partner saving the other from a fire.