4 min
1 217
Runner up
Grandma was the first one who let me hold matches. Mommy and Daddy were such scaredypants, they would yell at me just for sneaking out of the kitchen when the oven door was open.
“You could burn yourself!” Mommy would say.
She got so angry at me that one time I said we could add paper to the stovetop when the fire did not catch. She said it was dangerous, and not to joke about things like that. I did not think I was being funny. I saw Uncle Henry do it one time when he was starting a bonfire during the summer months we spent by the lake. He took the cluster of tissues he always has in his pocket and threw one onto the fire. I ran into the house when the flames started to grow, not because I was afraid that they might eat me, but because I knew that sometimes Uncle Henry keeps used tissues in there. And Uncle Henry has a big booming cough that I didn’t want to catch, or else that would be another reason why Katy would try to avoid me in school. So I ran to our house. But I was never afraid.

Natural disasters are not all created equal. I like the idea of tectonic plates shifting, but only if they come closer together. So earthquakes are good, because they mean that the world around me is becoming smaller, and I am less little compared to it. Volcanoes can happen both when the earth moves closer together and farther apart, so I’m not sure how I feel about those. Avalanches mean penguins, so those are okay, but floods and tsunamis are terrible because I hate the smell of fish and never want one floating in my house. I always like to go down slides holding somebody’s hand at the water park, so I could make the best of a landslide as long as I am not alone. Hurricanes are the worst, because they have monster eyes that can see you. But wildfires are always good, because they bring whole towns or countries or continents together for a barbecue. Because we can throw marshmallows into the fire and Daddy can pull out a guitar and play the one song he knows, and we can hold hands and dance around it. We can if we don’t run away.

It’s the sixth day the wildfires have turned our forests into powdered sugar ash, but Mommy and Daddy will not let me touch it. They say we need to pack up our house so that we can be out of New South Wales before the fires travel more up our coast. We’re moving to Melbourne, which is still close enough to the fires that the air will smell like hot pretzel stands. But there Mommy will stop having nightmares about having to save our family from a burning house.
It might make more sense to leave Australia, I heard Mommy whisper to Daddy through the wall at night. It was late enough that I wasn’t supposed to be able to hear them. But that’s not how ears work. I can still hear, and maybe even hear better, when the lights are out and I’m tucked into bed. I heard Daddy puff the air out of his mouth the way he does when I’m ignoring his instructions.
“I’ve told you, the problem isn’t with Australia. It’s the whole globe—you hear about fires in California, tornados in Germany.”
“The world is bigger than California and Germany.”
“That’s why we can’t leave Australia. Leave this country, and next thing we’ll be floating somewhere in the Arctic. We’ll get lost in a canyon in Arizono, or however they call it. Most we can do is just keep ourselves safe and always be ready to move.” Daddy groaned, or maybe just sat down heavily on the bed. Then either Mommy’s stomach growled, or else that was the sound of a humpback calling from the bay.

Mommy has packed my clothes for me already. I am allowed only two dolls that I have to carry in my butterfly backpack. It was hard choosing which ones would have to miss seeing the pretty flames. I wish I was staying with them. I chose Raggedy Annabelle, because she has flaming red hair, and fire truck Andy, because he has definitely seen wildfires before. The rest of them I lay out on the back lawn, in a dark spot to the right of our backyard trees. This way they won’t get too sweaty while they wait for what they were never allowed to see before. I’m sure their faces will glow with excitement until their smiles melt off. I run back into the house and find my old sunglasses, which are crooked from when I left them in my sneakers before I went on the Bouncy House during Labor Day Carnival. I forgot they were there and stepped on them, but I told Mommy it was Timmy’s fault, because she was the one who said I should play with him. I put the sunglasses on Casey’s face, because that’s my favorite doll. Grandma got it for me during our weeklong Camp Grandma when Daddy and Mommy went to Venice for work.

Daddy has already thrown all of our boxes into the back of the car and his footsteps are tapping slowly through the hallways. He sticks his head out from behind our screen door, looks one more time at the tomato plants that are still green, but that he says would have been ready for eating, if we only had been here another week.
“I’ll need you out front in five minutes. Your mother is already in the car with Timmy, and you’re all packed.” I nod. You can only see his head from this point, his neck is hidden behind the door. It looks like a floating balloon that’s lost its string.

I run up the stairs to my room and look at all of the things I’m gifting to the fire. My collection of eraser shavings is almost large enough to stuff a pillow, but Mommy said we didn’t have room for it in the car. If somebody else moves in, will they know what to do with them?
When Katy moved out of her smaller house and into her new princess castle, I went to meet her at her old house to give her a Whizzy Dizzy. She loaded it in the car and I never saw her play with it. But when she left her old room, you could not tell she had ever lived in it. There was space to do three cartwheels, once her bed was gone. Her mom painted over the mark we made hanging up our wet artwork on the walls. She filled the hole I made last year when trying to do a cartwheel. The room looked asleep.

On my shelf in front of all of the books that I’m leaving is a picture of Grandma. I grab it and run down the stairs, out the screen door, and into my backyard one last time. She needs to see the fire. When she was in the hospital she told me about all the bonfires she built in summer camp as a kid, and how much she had to force the wood and sticks to listen to her.

“Fire needs to be shown lots of love,” she told me. First the long sticks and brambles, then the skinnier sticks for the kindling. And never any wet wood. Through the car window I can barely make out the Snowy Mountains, tall white saltshakers being coated in pepper smoke. Look now, Grandma. The fire moves all by itself. It does not need any of our energy to paint the sky the color of cheese fondu.

A few words for the author? Comment below. 38 comments

Take a look at our advice on commenting here

To post comments, please
Image of Oded Lev-Ari
Image of Keith Simmonds
Keith Simmonds · ago
Congratulations for this brilliant success! Looking out for you in the next contest!
Image of Nina Powell
Nina Powell · ago
I love the connection with Grandma at the end! A truly lovely lady!
Image of Keith Simmonds
Keith Simmonds · ago
My support for this well executed story !
Image of Edith Honig
Edith Honig · ago
Your story is lovely. You manage to capture a tragic event through the authentic voice of a child.
Image of Naomi Braswell
Image of matt miller
Image of Naomi Weinberger
Naomi Weinberger · ago
We were in Australia during the fires. This is a poignant piece. Well done!
Image of Rita Shloush
Rita Shloush · ago
My compliments!
Image of Talia Shloush
Talia Shloush · ago
Amazing story!
Image of Musia Kirschenbaum
Image of Ariella Shloush
Image of Avigayil Shloush
Image of phyllis blackman
phyllis blackman · ago
I loved the story, the style was so clever, interesting, and fun to read. I see a future writer in the making!!
Image of Alice Burstein
Alice Burstein · ago
Lovely story - thanks for sharing.

Image of Lisa Block
Lisa Block · ago
At first I thought it was here and then, and was such a wonderful surprise to find that it was there and now!
Image of lauren cetlin
lauren cetlin · ago
Ahhh - through the eyes, heart and mind of a child. Tying it all together with Grandma's photo was so deep and touching.
Image of Rosa Marks
Rosa Marks · ago
Love this story 😊🔥
Image of Lynne Calman
Lynne Calman · ago
A unique and clever style--enjoyed your story a lot!
Image of Beckham Myers
Beckham Myers · ago
An excellent composition on a timely subject. The work of a very creative wordsmith
Image of Yali Araten
Yali Araten · ago
Enjoyed reading your story again 😊
Image of Michel Araten
Image of Zach Buller
Image of Jaime Drucker
Image of S Bol
S Bol · ago
What an interesting and well written story! Great job!!
Image of Sonia Epstein
Sonia Epstein · ago
Very fond(of)u <3
Image of Natalie Kahn
Natalie Kahn · ago
Yes Rebby. beautiful <3
Image of Josephine Schizer
Image of Nancy Rosenfeld
Nancy Rosenfeld · ago
I enjoyed your story and hope you continue writing.
Image of Wendy Weiss
Wendy Weiss · ago
enjoyed from beginning to end!
Image of Devra Dor
Devra Dor · ago
I could see all the images in my mind. I hope to read more of your stories.
Image of Wendy Araten
Image of Theo Motzkin
Theo Motzkin · ago
There seemed to be something a little jejune about the phrasing at first. I originally chalked this up to a stylistic difference, but as I read, I became increasingly convinced it was intentional. What a pleasant suprise to discover that this story is, in fact, meant to relate the point-of-view of a young adolescent! I'm genuinely impressed at how convincingly you captured that precocious voice, between the questionable, sometimes rambling syntax and the slightly disturbing musings (from an adult point-of-view, anyway). Excellent work!
Image of Yali Araten
Yali Araten · ago
Touching and beautifully written story.
Image of Diane Schrenzel
Diane Schrenzel · ago
Wonderful writing by an amazing woman!
Image of Zach Buller
Image of Bracha Rosenberg
Image of Sam Meyerson
Sam Meyerson · ago
An amazing story by an amazing author!