It was early morning, the milky light of late dawn. My husband and I lay in bed in his childhood home in the suburbs of Sydney.
It was December 2019. The house was silent, but still charged with a faint vibration of anticipation; Everyone is still sleeping, but easily. Remi and I planned to go to Queensland that morning, where we would camp for a couple of nights on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and then go diving the Great Barrier Reef. Although Remi had spent much of his childhood in Queensland, he had never had the opportunity to visit the reef. It was a dream trip.
It was also a promise to escape. We usually spent most of our time in a cabin in British Columbia. I’ve written books; He ran a film production network. We both worked from home so we could live almost anywhere. During the winters, we would sometimes hide on the bottom of the planet with Draw’s parents to escape the Cascading darkness. But that year the plan had failed. For weeks, forest fires had burned in the nearby mountains and elsewhere, the worst fires in everyone’s memory, fires already burning into the pages of history. We had accidentally traded one darkness for a darker, more threatening one. After spending weeks mostly indoors and hiding from the smoke, we really wanted to go north, into the damp jungle and sea breeze.
I had just woken up that morning and had spent ten, twenty or thirty minutes staring at my phone – who knows, the phone time was slippery – and got up from the bed and looked out the window when my husband suddenly straightened up and looked out the window too. He stared at the waving branches of a eucalyptus tree, the bark of which was peeling off in white tatters. We had a habit of doing this, waking up and looking out the window at the trees across the street to judge how thick the smoke would be that day: weak trees meant bad air.
The air that day was bad.
He turned to me and looked out the window again. His face was strangely slack, his lips drooping at the corners.
I thought I had woken him up abruptly and he was still dizzy and half dreaming. “Go back to sleep,” I said.
He looked at me, at the window, back at me, blinked with his mouth open and an almost curious expression, as if everything looked a bit unreal.
The rubber trees wave in a quiet, deaf wind.
The spotted pigeons go roo, roo.
Draw’s right hand was bent and held close to his body, like a small broken wing. He looked at it and then felt it with his left hand.
“Something is wrong,” he said. His eyes were childlike. “There is something wrong. I pay lilly sea. “The words melted on his tongue. He tried to get up from the bed, but found that he could not stand on his right leg and fell backwards.
I felt a cool, distant wave of panic. I knew I had to call an ambulance. But like in a nightmare, when I reached for my phone, I realized I didn’t know the number for 911 here in Australia.
I found out later that it’s 000, a number I’ll never forget: nothing, nothing, or void, void, void, or oh damn oh damn oh damn.