Thursday, November 02, 2006

Ash Wednesday

This morning I woke to an unfamiliar rat-a-tatting on the roof. I almost leaped out of bed with my stackhat on and called for the allies to come save me when I realised that the unfamiliar sound was actually the pattering of rain on the roof. Nothing better in the world than that sound. I can't remember the last time I awoke to such a glorious melody. We need the rain, no one needs to say it twice - but yet there were all were this morning in the staff room, gathered around the window and staring at it come down in even sheets turning everything shiny and slippery and remarking about how much we needed this. I could have lay in bed all day though, alternating between listening to the rain beat down while I bury my nose in a book or just dozing with the rain as a background track.

The man on the radio was talking about how this summer they are expecting bushfires to rival those of Ash Wednesday 23 years ago, when over 500,000 acres of forest, land and homes went up in flames and many lives were lost. I remember that day. Everyone had been talking about the bushfires for a while and in school we had been learning about what to do if there was a fire. Stop, Drop, Roll. I practised it a bit, just in case. On that Wednesday in February Mum had told me that I was to stay inside because outside was dangerous. It wasn't a suggestion - though not many things were in my family. My parents had certain expectations of our behaviour, end of story. I didn't really understand why, if the bushfires were so far away in the country that I couldn't go outside in Melbourne. But of course the smoke had already begun billowing around our way at this point. I was 5 or so and my curious short arse had pushed the kitchen stool over by the window so that I could climb atop see the orange haze settle over our fair city and turn the backyard dark and dusty looking. It turned the sky too dark for an afternoon - plus it was hot. Way hot. The trees in the backyard were just dark shadows behind the film and there was a faint musky smell in the air that had somehow permeated through the walls of our double brick home. I pressed my forehead against the glass (which I did a lot - as I recall) and wondered about fires and whether smoke was like clouds and you could dance around on top.

Never being a girl who liked taking orders, I climbed down off the chair, opened the creaky screen door with my little hand and stepped onto the balcony. I was wearing shorts and sandals. I remember this because my sandal was undone and I had to bend down to buckle it up again. I went and stood with my face pressed in between cool bar railings and watched the sun try to fight its way through the haze. Orange behind haziness - that's what I remember most about that day: The colours. I stayed there for a while, on the balcony in the silence of the afternoon and watched that fog-like haze in amazement.

Mum came out a while later hysterical and screaming at me to get inside.
Apparently there had been a search inside for me first and then a worry that I had somehow gone off and gotten lost in the smoke.
I got a spanking for disobeying.

We all ran outside squealing with excitement the next time it rained marking end of bush fire season. I'll never forget it.