Chapter One of ‘A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists’

Harry was Caddy’s settling down. She settled into him like a pillow on the couch, a blanket pulled over her, and footy on the TV, falling asleep by three-quarter time on a Friday night. He was knowing that everything would be OK; he was kissing goodbye for a little too long before heading out to work; he was waking up on Sunday morning with plans for each day-by-day, for the little things that build a wall around two people and keep them safe.

Every day Harry was the same and every day Caddy grinned to see him. She loved to feel his tummy under her fingertips while he stood at the sink washing dishes, her arms wrapped around him from behind. She bought him a hammock where he could drink beer and listen to the cricket on the radio. He wrote songs about her and let her sleep in.

Eventually, Caddy and Harry got a cat called Skerrick and got married. They knew marriage was silly, but somehow, after it had happened, Caddy woke up every day to a Harry a little more solid. Every day, Caddy was a little more sure. They moved to a house down by the dirty river, their neighbours a cluster of gigantic, carefully-lettered oil holding tanks, lit orange by the setting sun and looming into every horizon. Skerrick settled down too, started sleeping through the days and laying on fat.

Then one day when Caddy had ridden her bike into town, searching out something special for dinner, a hot north wind sprang up and the scrub along the dirty river caught fire. The tanks were well protected, a barrage of water cannons surrounding their perimeter. But on that day, as on many summer days, the city’s power supply was overwhelmed, the pumps failed and no water got to the cannons.

She felt the whole earth shake when the tanks went up. She thought it was a terrorist bomb down at the train station, though there’d been nothing like that since 2014. She pushed through the cram of people at the Docklands market and craned her neck down to the Cross, but everyone was looking the other way, to the south-west, towards her home. The whole sky burned and only the strong north wind stopped the black cloud engulfing them, even there. Five kilometres away.

She unchained her bike and started to ride. She knew Harry would need her, that he’d want to know she was alright. The trees were on fire along the edge of Footscray Road, and by the time she had reached within a kilometre of home there was nothing but black.

That was two years ago. Well, two years, three months and three days ago. Wait. Four days.

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