It was my family’s first Christmas since my stepfather left. I still remember that day so clearly. Somehow, his absence had impressed upon the family dynamic with such force that nothing would ever be the same after that.

Mum started drinking early that day. Earlier than usual. Maybe it was because she needed a way to deal with the chaos of our lives, or, she finally had a reason to. Extended family came and went throughout the day and in the late afternoon my dad arrived with my older brother. I stood outside with my dad and we ate Mum’s homemade rumballs. The air was heavy with the scent of smoke. There had been bushfires in the area and the sky was tinged an eerie orange.

‘Shit, come look at this,’ I heard Mum call from the lounge room.

I knew straightaway, that she was watching the weather channel.

Dad and I walked inside, my brothers sat on the couch next to Mum, staring at the TV.

‘They reckon it’s gonna get all the way down Cowpasture Road,’ Mum said.

‘That’s still pretty far away,’ I said.

‘Yeah, but fire moves fast, sis,’ my older brother added.

Mum turned up the volume. ‘We should go for a drive and have a look.’

‘Nah, they wouldn’t let you in close,’ my brother said.

I looked outside at the sky darkening and felt the room close in around us. Mum had a way of dramatising the most unsurprising news, especially the weather. She would spend half hour blocks watching the weather channel, trying to find something in the satellite maps and lightning radars to comment on or fuss over. It started with the weather, but as I got older, I realised this was her way with everything.

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