30 Seconds To Mars – Year Zero
Scorched – The Christmas Fires of New South Wales. The credits rolled up the screen and the creature stirred within once again. Slowly she stood, flicked the switch on the remote and for a moment stood staring unseeing at the blank screen. A sigh and then the now suburban housewife turned back to her chores.
The pile of folded laundry was set on her bed and the mirror door on her wardrobe slid open as she searched for a hanger. And there it was. Slowly she reached a hand out and stroked it over the grade three fire retardant fabric, fingertips slipping across the white reflective strips set against navy blue, drawn back to another place and time.
Before she realized what she was doing, everyday clothing was stripped off and replaced with the crisply pressed uniform. Feet were pushed into boots polished to a high shine and trembling fingers closed the clasp on the black webbed belt. Hands lifted to her shoulders and shifted epaulets to perfect alignment and then quickly and with practised ease she wove her long hair into a tight regulation braid.
She lifted her gaze and stared at the smartly turned out woman in the mirror, face hardened by life and experience. Her hair had been short back then, worn in a similar style to that of her male colleagues. But it had been years since she’d last worn The Blue and it had grown out now.
Slowly she reached for the navy peaked cap bearing the emblem with the crossed axes and set it to her head at a precise angle.
This, this was what she had been bred for: The rank, structure and discipline; the adrenalin, the thrill of the fight, the sense of belonging to a greater purpose, not this suburban shadow that she had become.
A soft sigh escaped as she cast a glance back to the laundry on her bed waiting to be put away and frustration welled up. With an irritated sound she snatched the cap off her head, shoved passed the Basset doing its one-braincell-dance about her feet and fled outside, no longer able to face the woman in the mirror that taunted her for choices made and decisions taken.
There she paced back and forth, the wintry African sun beating down on her shoulders as she tried to order her thoughts and recapture the creature, willing it to go back to where it had come from, and failing. Eventually she gave up and pulling her pack of cigarettes out of a pocket she lit one and sank down onto the garden bench that overlooked the pool.
Brooding, green eyes followed the monotonous path of the automatic pool cleaner as it wound its way back and forth beneath the water as in relentless mockery of the carefully constructed and tired routine that her life had become.
How had she allowed it to become like this?
She had never held rank beyond that of volunteer crew member on A shift but she’d been good at what she did. Smaller than the men, she’d been the one sent into places they couldn’t get into. Lighter than them, she was the first choice when it came to precariously compromised structures. Quick to assess a situation and know her place in it, orders were carried out without hesitation and to the letter.
She missed it. Missed the close bond of camaraderie formed with her crew. Missed that while they acknowledged her gender at no time did they penalize her because of it and accepted her as ‘one of the boys’. She could cuss and drink with the best of them. But…
But she had also been a wife and mother. And that’s, where the big discrepancy had come in, for while the boys were husbands and fathers, she as wife and mother was held to a different set of expectations. Expectations she held herself to. Expectations that she was aware were driven by a need to compensate for her childhood by giving her children what she’d never had – a present and involved mother and father. And so, when faced with the panic and fear of her husband and girls when the horrific events of 09/11 had played out on TV over and over again, she’d made her choice. For them.
Taking a drag on her cigarette she stared down at the crossed axes and the EMFD embroidered beneath them on the peaked cap. She knew now, it had been the wrong choice for her. Knew now, that she’d still rather forfeit her life to save another rather than lose it in a senseless hi-jacking. She’d been in far worse situations than that.
The hi-jacking…once again the scene unfolded behind her eyes: The man with the blank expression pointing the gun at her head, the one with the apologetic eyes as he tried to pull her rings off her hands and then snatched her house keys away from her, the realization that they were going to take what they wanted anyway and she felt…nothing. Nothing at all. Not anger, not fear just…nothing.
She knew her husband, family and friends didn’t understand and thought she was simply in shock. Knew that they were all waiting for the shoe to drop, for the meltdown to come because to their minds she was being too blasé about it. But they were all wrong and she couldn’t seem to explain to them why.
She was built to withstand such things, trained to assess a potentially life threatening situation with a clinical calmness. She knew deep down that losing her own life didn’t frighten her as much as losing a loved one did. It was this that had made her such a bloody good fire-fighter – That instinctive need to help the helpless in a real and physical way without thought or fear of losing her own life. For if without the means to serve, what was the point to her life to begin with? But now…
Now she was relegated to washing floors, paying bills, making beds and doing the laundry while life went on around her. Other people’s lives, not hers. She was merely the silent observer, the stoic brick in the wall that held the proverbial lintel up. It was okay, but it wasn’t the life that was meant for her and she knew it, acknowledged it even.
Once again the scenes of the Christmas Fires washed in, igniting that deep seated desire to jump back into the fray, to get her hands dirty, to toss Fate the middle finger. But…she couldn’t go back now. It was too late. Even for a career fire-fighter, the early forties of life spelt the beginning of the end with most setting their sights on desk jobs and being pulled from active duty.
Her lips pursed together as she stubbed out her cigarette and tossed the butt into a garden bed. What was done was done, she’d made her choices whether for the right reasons or not. Now all she could do was move on and make her peace with it all knowing that with every whiff of smoke carried on the breeze, every report of an accident shown in newspapers or on TV, that the creature would stir and prowl about again until soothed back into submission.