Summary: Episode 4. After the fire burns through Bungan, Mish and Glen go to see if there's anything left of his house.
Characters: Mish, Glen
Codes: Mish & Glen
Disclaimer: ABC TV Australia owns the rights to the Fires series and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: Trigger warning for anyone who’s been affected by bushfires/wildfires.
1. What We Found
“Sorry I called you Spongebob Squarepants,” says Mish. Mainly to smash up the silence, because the tension inside Glen’s ute is thicker than smoke.
“You’re not that bad, you know. At least you have a job.”
“Even if it is teaching a bunch of arsehole kids?”
“Don’t call me an arsehole,” Mish knocks his elbow lightly with hers.
They lapse back into silence. Glen’s knuckles clench the steering wheel.
“It’s just up ahead,” he mutters.
Mish isn’t hopeful: there are tiny spot fires still burning along the roadside, and every tree is stripped black and bare. She’s seen more kangaroo carcasses in the past half hour than during her whole illustrious breakout tour up the coast road to Byron.
Glen slows the ute.
One side of the street is untouched, bar a few burning embers and scorched patches of grass. The other side is a wasteland. It doesn’t take more than a glance at Glen to figure out which side his house is on.
“Shit,” Mish says. “Shit, Glen, I’m sorry.”
The ute stops. They get out, walk up to the twisted hunk of brick and metal that used to be a house. Off to one side, part of a structure is still standing: charred deck, blackened panes of glass. The toxic smelling remains of a couch.
“I built that sunroom with my dad.” Glen’s voice is half-swallowed. “Nearly killed each other, but it was the last thing we did together before he died.”
“Must’ve done a good job,” Mish starts, then shuts up. What do you say to someone who’s just lost their house? Everything that comes to mind is inane or horribly morbid.
“I’m going to take a look. See if anything’s salvageable.”
Glen starts picking his way through the wreckage, crouching to poke at a picture frame here, a shard of broken china there. Mish watches him until she can’t anymore. She skirts the foundations, boots scuffing through ash.
She doesn’t even know if her parents’ house is still standing. What if it looks like this? What if everything she once considered home is gone?
Under the ravaged deck, coated in ash, she finds a lockbox about the size of a briefcase. It’s dented and singed, but intact. She shakes it; something’s inside.
“Hey,” she calls. “Hey, Glen.”
He makes his way over. “What’s that?”
“A safe,” she says. “I guess at least something important survived. What’s in it?”
“I dunno.” Glen takes it, turns it over in his hands. “It’s not mine.”
“Maybe it was your dad’s?”
He shrugs. “I’m gonna find something to pry it open.”
Mish follows him back to the ute. Glen rummages through the toolbox in the ute tray until he finds a crowbar and a hammer. It takes a good ten minutes, but he finally smashes the lock and levers the box open.
There are photographs inside, and letters, and trinkets – a necklace, a silver teaspoon, a tiny vial of sand – and Glen sifts through them slowly. When he looks up at Mish, he’s pressing his lips together like he’s trying not to cry.
“This was my mum’s,” he tells her. “The letters, they’re all from my dad. It was her keepsake box or something.”
“Her treasures,” Mish says. “Look at the photos. Is this you?”
She points to a faded, acid-washed photograph of a couple in their thirties, eyes squinting against sunlight, a messy-haired boy of about eight leaning against the woman’s legs.
“Yeah,” says Glen. His voice cracks. “I s’pose this is the only family photo I have left.”
He tucks the photo back into the box.
“Come on, let’s get you back.”
“I can hang out for a bit –”
“You should probably go find your own family,” he says. “Maybe they’ll be waiting at the evac centre.”
She slides back into the ute and stares out at the devastated wrecks of other people’s homes, watches them as they drive on by. Wonders if her parents’ house looks like this now, or if they live on the charmed side of the street.
Wonders if they’ll be disappointed when she tells them what she has to tell them, or if they’ll just be happy she’s alive.
“Thanks for the company.” Glen glances over at her, eyes crinkled. “You’re not such an arsehole after all.”
Mish hunkers down in her seat, pretending not to smile.