Family Teeth By Mark Furness

May 4, 2015 Comments Off on Family Teeth By Mark Furness

The wind hits me. Wakes me. Scorching smoke. I’m lying on my side. Alone. On a bed of brown grass. Smoke like steel wool in my chest. But I have to breathe. Acid in my eyes. Prickles in my skin. I remember. Lunch: benzodiazepines and beer. Again.

I roll face up. Tall trees with orange heads in silver haze. I guess I’m in a bushfire. Where is she? I tracked her here. How long ago? Did I start this?

I stand. Stagger. Find my keel. Put my back to the wind. I sail. Let it push me. I look down. Feet. Moving. Socks, no boots. I hit a wall. Real. Corrugated iron, rippled, silvery. A wooden door: old, half-hinged, half-open.

Inside, against a wall: a sink, a tap. God I’m thirsty.

Less smoke inside. Floorboards rotten. I imagine a tightrope. I walk the floor joists to the tap. Turn it. Empty. A groan, a sad old animal in pain, about to fall. No, no. The shed is rocking in the wind. That’s all.

The shed is lined with timber slabs — wrinkled, grey, hand-cut by axe and saw — plastered with crumbling sheets of newspaper. Stories of drought, mustard gas, atom bombs, the price of wheat, a shearers’ strike over wide cutting-combs, a serial killer using arsenic tea, a cure for polio, a missing child. A lifetime’s worth. Vroom! The door is aflame.

There is a way out. Down a wooden slab chute to the dirt underfloor. Where shorn sheep were once pushed. It must lead outside. To the dam, water. I slide down. I can’t stand, so I squat. Less smoke here. Less light.  Crackling above.  Nothing stops. Does it?

I see a figure, its back to me. It sits in the dirt against a wooden post.

“Sweetheart?” My voice, I think. It’s that sort of place.

Shoulder length hair on the little figure moves. The wind’s work? I shiver, shuffle closer. A sleeveless dress, skinny arms, bare feet. I move to her side. I see the leather and bone face. No eyes. Ants walking in those holes. She is cradling the chalk shell of a baby.

I fall back. Whack! Crunching pain on my ankle. The steel jaws of a trap have me. I jump, smash my head into the under-floor. Ruby oil runs down my face. I search my scalp, push a finger in the hole, fiddle with torn membrane. I see the nail spike, winking at me.

I fall. I hear my heart. Blood finds my open lips. I spit it out with filthy words. I wipe the sticky blur that’s in my eyes. It won’t clear. Tears are better. I don’t have any. The smoke thickens. So does the heat and crackling. I see a hole in the wall. Crawl. The steel teeth in my flesh and bone jerk me back. The teeth are chained to the post. So are my daughter and her child.

© 2014 Mark Furness

Mark Furness is a writer based in Sydney, Australia

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