The lightning caused the five year old to run from the window, grabbing me, the nearest adult and crying ‘ it will start a fire. ‘ In contrast, the two year old stood there, smiling, turning his lit face toward me at every flash and laughing, then saying ‘boom ‘ as the thunder cracked.
‘Come and sit with me at the window,’I say to the five year old, ‘I’ll hold you.’ Reluctant tight arms have a strangle-hold on my neck. At the next flash her shaking face is buried in my shoulder. ‘ Don’t you know it will burn our house down? ‘ ‘Lightening starts fires.’ I do know that. I see and feel her fear. A real fear why pretend, it has happened. I say,’ that’s true ,it could happen, but it won’t tonight, do you know why ? It’s raining.
‘ I get a hard look. ‘It might. ‘ I realise my knowledge of lightening is perfunctory and a deep discussion on lightning strikes in the rain will need google research. I take another tack. ‘ What happens to the fire when it rains or we squirt water at it ?’
The thoughtful reply. ‘It makes smoke. ‘ ”And ?’ ‘Stops burning, but Nannie, it still could burn down but not if it is raining.’ I acknowledged that was true. We stepped outside into the rain long enough to get wet between lightning flashes.
The lightning and thunder light up the room and shake the house. ‘ So our house won’t burn down because it is raining, will it Nannie?’
I shake my head and say,’ You know, mum will drive you all down to my house, and you can leave your precious things there too .’
She says, ‘and the dog and the cats but we will open the gate for the chooks, mum says they will find a safe place in the garden, but Nannie, your house won’t burn down because it’s in the city. ‘
Is this a false security? maybe, so I reply, ‘ It is brick, so it won’t burn like a timber house, and we have no bush near us. I think it is pretty safe.’ Then we talk about, sometimes, there are house fires, and the fire siren goes for those, for trees down, and for car accidents.
This little one knows how people change in the face of death, of the unexpected, the too tiny and the very old. I can only guess at the sense to be made of her past experiences. One thing is for sure she likes to talk about fire when she wants and the one time I brought up the topic at all it was met with ‘I know that,’ and ‘I don’t want to talk now.’ My daughter asked me not to talk about fire to her. I have had to say it is brought up by the little one so it only seems fair to answer and let her keep drilling down as she makes sense of February 09 and the coming summer.
I forget sometimes that our family conversations are listened to, taken in, and retold back to me. That gives me a chance to respond and support the parents. The latest is concerning animal evacuation. ‘We are getting 2 cat boxes but we will have to get the old cat early. She hides under the house. They will go in the back with the dog. It will be very crowded.’ A supply of litter, food, bowls and bedding is to be assembled at my place, before Christmas.
The other suggestion is change of clothes and night wear for everyone. Then some favourite toys not played with everyday and activities to occupy the children as Mum and Dad stayed glued to the radio, computer and TV. All this planning makes the nebulous stressful concept of evacuating a little more concrete.
Some weeks later the five year old is staying in the city. There is a lightning storm and this time she is telling me to look and stop doing the dishes as I am missing it. We step outside and feel the rain. The next day she is talking to her mum telling her about the lightning. ‘ We turned off all the lights. It lit the room. Nannie didn’t see it all. She wasn’t even looking. It was OK. It was raining.’ In the night she wakes me as she climbs into bed next to me and snuggles down.