Issue 103 Feb 2022
** Trigger warning: Male character stalks and kidnaps a female.
The hills are burning again.
They begin where our backyard ends. Past the empty rabbit hutches, the trampoline, forbidden after my cousin broke his leg, the pool and its chlorine miasma. The slopes roll for miles, golden, thick with sunburnt grass that rustles as sparrows and finches hunt for larvae and seeds. Their small chirps punctuate the predawn air, most days. Days when the patio door glass is cool against my cheeks, fogged from water collected between the panes. The dogs run over, push my legs with their long snouts, paw at the door. On those good mornings I let them out.
But today the glass is hot, threatening to blister my fingers. The hills are crested with flames which span the ridge in a flickering wall. The air is thick with grey particulate, the pool a vile slurry, the sky an unsettling orange. The dogs bark and whine.
Mom is in the kitchen. I hear the coffee grinder whir just as the electric kettle clicks off.
“The hills are burning.” I get as close to the glass as I dare. A thin tendril of fire breaks off, slithers toward our fence. It’s hundreds of feet away. I’m not worried yet.
“Saraiyah, come away from the window!” Aunt Meryl called. “It’s not safe during a lightning storm!”
I pretended I hadn’t heard and leaned up against the glass, watching the wind whip the tree branches and listening to the rumble of thunder. Rain poured down in torrents and was quickly turning the bare spot my uncle had cleared for an addition to the garden into mud.
As my finger traced a water droplet’s progress down the window I thought of the first time I could remember standing at that window during a storm, years ago--my first real memory, actually. It was when I had found out that I was unwanted, had always been unwanted.
I could still imagine exactly how I felt then, when I suddenly stopped the game I was playing with my cousins and asked my aunt why she was Emily’s and William’s mom, but not mine? Why didn’t I have a mom?
She had told her children to leave the room and then turned to me and told me I did have a mom, she just couldn’t take care of me. I had a dad too, she told me I must look like him with my tan skin and dark hair, but she had never met him, and didn’t think he had ever even seen me.
“Your uncle and I have been very kind to take you and care for you, don’t ever forget that,” she had said. Not that I would have ever been able to—since then she had reminded me on every possible occasion.