Lungs on fire

By Dakota Brown

‘Tongue up.’

Cold metal is shoved into my mouth before I can even process her instruction. She doesn’t stop to let me adjust. She has no patience for me now. To her it’s probably a joke more than a concern that I’m always here.

She thrusts the thermometer out and examines it, her shriveled lips tight and her grey eyes wide as she nods her head; the I told you so face.

‘Your temperature is perfect, like always,’ she says briskly, returning to her desk. She starts typing away dramatically on her desktop, trying to look busy so that I’ll leave her alone to her solitaire.

‘But my lungs…it – it feels like they’re burning.’

My grip tightens on the bottom of the cheap, plastic chair. Frustrated tears force their way into my eyes but I blink them back quickly. She turns to face me, one eyebrow raised. She doesn’t believe me anymore. She smooths down the pants of the tacky nurse uniform that the school provided.

‘Alinta, I’ve seen you at break, and…well, I can see how it’s always been…hard for you to fit in here,’ she flicks her gaze over my brown, shivering legs then eyes me with a bored look on her sagged face. ‘But you can’t hide in the school sickbay every lunch. What good would that do hmmm? You can’t make friends in here.’

She walks across the tiny, fluorescent lit room and opens the door. A thick gust of hot wind streams past outside. I clutch my chest habitually and prepare to breath deep while the feeling of jagged, burning knives pierce my lungs.

‘Oh stop being a drama queen!’ she says with a giggle to cover her annoyance. She ushers me to move, her lips tight and impatient.

I stand tentatively, taking as many deep, slow breaths as I can despite the compressed fire in my chest.

‘Please…Miss…I don’t feel well…Can you please just – just write me a sick pass?’

This time she truly laughs; a crow-like cackle.  

‘So you can miss another Macbeth essay? Huh?’ she eyes me suspiciously with a sly smile. ‘Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to, missy. Claiming the same story you did back in August…what was it then you needed out of? A maths exam, right?

‘No! No…Miss, this isn’t that…my chest – it’s burning!’

The frustrated tears force themselves back up and, this time, pour down my face.

Any strength I had in holding them in now evaporated.

‘I don’t know why!’ I stop and breath deep, ignoring her judgmental gaze. The fire grows when I’m angry, all the way down to my stomach. ‘And I don’t know why…why the doc, couldn’t – couldn’t pick anything up…but I just…please, let me go home.’

I’m begging. Pleading with this old, pretentious tart and I hate myself for it. She steps close, her expression annoyed as she steers me towards the door by my shoulders.

‘I’ve had enough of these boy crying wolf stories, Alinta. Your doc thinks you’re healthy and I quite agree!’

She pushes me out into the unbearable Perth heat. My lungs scream harder than ever and I double over, clutching my chest.

‘Though your mental health…’ she spits and slams the door, though not before I hear her mutter the end of that sentence, ‘…twisted! Demented. I expect nothing else from…’

I block her drawl out and concentrate on standing up right. I breathe in. Deeper, harder, slower, to try adjust myself to the heat again. After a moment my lungs fade back to the normal degree of burning that I’ve become so used to these last few weeks.

That night I dream of fire. Bushfire. I am furious and on the pursuit of revenge, but at the same time terrified and alone. My whole-body burns, my hairs prickle, my lungs scorch and my throat dry. I look around at the blazing, bleeding bush surrounding me: at the roos making a run for it, their tails on fire, at the scorched, huddled koalas above in the trees, as black as dirt. I scream but nothing comes out.

Then I roar. I roar with desire and it fuels me; I’m ecstatic.

Suddenly I am the fire: taller than the trees, lighter than the leaves, the only bright ball in this pitch-black sea of bush.

I move fast though I feel nothing. Everything disintegrates before me and this satisfaction makes me travel stronger, quicker. I am glowing as magnificently as the sun: red, orange and white all at once. My body burns like nothing I’ve ever felt, every tendon and hair is alight. But I do not care, the fact I am accomplishing what I came here for fuels me and I push on in a rage of glory, floating effortlessly, diminishing everything.

Revenge. It makes me feel euphoric. Revenge, for the holes they drill into me, for the valuables they take from me. Revenge, for their thick smoke that suffocates my animals, for the forests they destroy to slaughter more beings. Revenge, for the oil in my waters and the plastics on my land, for the straws they absentmindedly throw away. Revenge, for their unappreciation, their disrespect, of what I have given them. Of what they, themselves, are. Revenge, for their unwillingness to learn.  

I jolt awake in a bed of sweat. Gasping and crying, I clutch my chest; it still burns, now harder than ever. The glow of the rising sun prickles through my thin curtain.

My phone buzzes with an alert: Breaking News: NSW bushfires moving at rapid pace.

A feeling of satisfaction moves through me as I read the headline and watch footage of the fires from overnight. I know that scene, I know that bush and I know that fire. I was it; I am it.

My lungs are burning because Australia is alight. Australia is burning because my lungs are alight. Revenge is a deadly weapon, and the Earth has it.

  • Dakota Brown
  • 20
  • Noosa Heads, Queensland
  • Word count: 990

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