Let us blaze

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Freya Morris

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I’m burning. It started with a whiff. Everywhere I went people said ‘What’s burning? Can you smell that? Something’s burning.’ And I caught it. It wasn’t like cigarette smoke. It tasted like burnt hair and flesh. I didn’t think anything of it until I spotted wisps of smoke in my hair. It drifted and clung to my curls like a ghostly aura. A trail of billowing clouds followed me like a steam train.

People pretended not to notice. But when Emily at work brought in her new bundle, I knew they were staring at me. So I ran to the bathroom for all the heat I could feel coming off my head. Ash and embers littered my hair like dandruff and I spent ten minutes dumping water on my head to put it out.

That worked for a while: escape and dampen. But it flares up when I least expect it. Like when I was watering my spider plant, I plucked a runner looking to establish itself away from the mother. There was nowhere for it to go but in the bin because I didn’t want another plant. But my sleeve caught fire and I couldn’t put it out with water or sand. And it only died down when I got the baby out with sorrysorrysorry and buried it in its own pot.

This is why I avoided my sister’s bump. I didn’t want to put them at risk. But weeks after the main event, my sister caught me off guard. Babe in arms. And woosh, up I went. Smoke billowed from me, and I didn’t realise how easy I’d go up, how flammable I had become. I was a ruin: a bundle of dead wood wrapped in veins of string. When I decided to bury my own sapling, I guess I had dried right up.

But now there was life, and it was burning through me, consuming me in fire. And the words I couldn’t speak to myself crackled through my ashen lips, and my sister knew. She just knew to let it burn through. And then she found arms that squeezed the oxygen from it, and tears that put out the roaring flames and her words cooled until I was nothing but ash. And I told her that I was nothing. Nothing but ash.

But my sister brought me a pine cone and wrapped my charred, black bones around it and told me it was a Jack Pine. It can only grow when everything before it has burned. And she took my hand, and we went out back to witness it blaze and bury it.

And now, I wait.

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