I lean against the hot breath of wind, feel the sting of dirt and eucalyptus leaves glancing off my skin. I am unable to tear my eyes from the horizon, sure of the slow grey form reaching a long arm towards the coast. Another gust. The power lines, rubber already glistening in the brutal sun, wave wildly.
They shut the power off a few hours ago. Everything seems quiet save for the whip of wind howling through the streets. I am alone with the baking pavement and dirt of the road. Maybe they’ve already evacuated. I continue to walk, eyes half-shut against the stinging air.
Animals stare at each other in the neighbors’ yards. Dogs pant and sniff the air, flustered chickens group together, feathers torn and askew in the wind. Giant 4H steers shift in their stalls. A horse trots nervously back and forth along the fence, eyes wide.
The smell of smoke finally reaches me and immediately I return my gaze to the horizon. The long grey arms of smoke, pushed across the land by the wind instead of rising, are now stretching their long fingers towards the town. A black wall rises from the hills in the distance.
I reach the top of a small hill and see my house a few hundred yards away, sitting on a few acres of land. I see the small chicken coop I built with my grandfather, painted a deep forest green I’d chosen because I couldn’t bear to look at any more brown. The garden, wilted from its former glory under the punishing heat. The barn and stall where I used to care for an old rescue horse. The barn is filled with coal now, supplies for an old stove my father had rescued from his childhood home. The cats must be somewhere in the fields, focused entirely on the gopher holes before them, eyes never looking up. In the corner of the property are two massive eucalyptus trees. I can see their leaves shaking frantically.
By the time I reach the house, the black wall has risen like a fortress around the town. I hear the phone ringing as I open the front door. I don’t answer it. I know what it is.
My heart races but my hands don’t shake. I go to my room, and give everything I own a new gaze. I will the colors to reach me a little brighter, I want to know the exact footage of the room. I walk across it and count. I reach my hands up and can barely feel the bulbs of the ceiling fan. I feel a little satisfied and think about all the times I could never do that.
I turn to my book shelf and pull out the journals, a book I need for school, an art book. I place them in the middle of the room on the floor. I turn to my desk and carefully unscrew the connection to the computer monitor, rip out the cords for the keyboard and mouse. Once freed, I shakily lift the massive tower and place it next to the books. I look at the photos on my desk. Me and my best friend after what the photographer didn’t know was an uncomfortable night. Bad photocopies of art I found on the internet and printed at home. I go to my closet and open all the drawers. I pull out the band t-shirt from my first concert, my best-fitting pair of jeans, underwear, socks. These I place in a careful pile next to the computer tower.
I stare further in my closet, see the discarded art, elementary school notebooks, a cheap acoustic guitar I never learned to play. On the highest shelf is a massive pink candle that has been burned a quarter of the way down, dust stuck to the sides. On its face are pictures. Near the top, just below the melted wax: a teddy bear, a dress, dolls. And further down: a bike, a graduation hat, a wedding ring. It was meant to be burned at each birthday, I was meant to reach each picture with the passing years.
The smell of smoke has made it indoors. I turn to the animals. The dogs are inside, tails wagging, the whites of their eyes forming large rings. I open the door to the field and call for the cats, struggling to keep the dogs behind me. This isn’t when the cats are used to coming in. They’re not hungry, have little reason to heed my voice. But I call and shout and entice them in any way I can. Finally I see a dark figure moving through the foxtails. One cat bounds towards me. Another slinks from behind, tail low. I close the door behind them and they turn and stare through the glass, tails twitching as I call for the last cat. Nothing. The black plume has breached the wind and risen into a great column in the not-so-distance.
I begin to circle the house, struggling to keep the desperation from my voice as I call for the cat. I need to make her think I have something good for her. She should be excited to see me. She should come bounding towards me when she hears me. I make one circle around the house, shoes filling with foxtails as the parched ground cracks beneath me. When I reach the back door again, the two cats and two dogs are sitting on the other side, still staring intently.
One tear escapes my eye. It disappears almost immediately into the air. I call out once again. I begin to walk into the field. A grey and white figure moves in the corner of my eyes, and I look into the neighbor’s yard, where the cat is leisurely making her way towards me. I take a large breath. After a few minutes of patient enticing, the cat approaches me nonchalantly. I scoop her into my arms in one swift motion, she screeches in alarm. She struggles against me and swipes against my hands. I don’t let go. I make kicking motions at the door to keep the others from running back outside. My hands are bleeding when I release the cat inside the house.
The phone rings again. I go to the laundry room and grab a large black trash bag. I return to my room and fill it with the clothes and books. I bring this and the computer tower to the front door. I put a pair of hiking boots next to the pile.
My parents should be home soon. They’ll bring the animal crates. They’ll bring a case of water and tie-downs so the large crate for the chickens can sit in the back of my dad’s truck. They’ll gather all the important things I don’t know about. My mom will go to the shelf in her office which has a long piece of red tape along it and fill a bag with its contents. She will grab the $100 in cash she doesn’t know my dad told me about from the false bottomed drawer in the desk. My dad will go to the garage and look at the antique motorcycles and boxes still unpacked from his childhood home. Then he will hook the trailer to his truck and use the tie downs to secure one or two of the motorcycles, depending on the time. My brother will get home from school and go to his room and emerge with a black trash bag and a computer tower.