Sunday, 16 June 2019

Write-in 2019: 'The Brick Chimney' by Annette Edwards-Hill

At 8am it’s already 25 degrees and Jean and Cara’s mother insists they stay inside. They want to play underneath the old chimney and sulk for most the morning. Jean sits at the kitchen table drawing while Cara rolls marbles on the floor. There is a low humming noise, that gets closer and closer. The house rolls, then shakes. Jean is thrown from her chair. Jars of jam fall from the shelves and smash on the floor. They run through sugar, water, fruit and broken china, then out the back door to watch the chimney crash to the ground.

Eric shelters in a thin streak of shade under a tree and he’s still hot. An ant runs over his toe. The playground seems to be moving towards him in waves. He can’t stay on his feet, he crouches and watches concrete rip itself open. When the shaking stops he runs and doesn’t stop until he’s two blocks from home. The road is a gaping chasm. He takes off his shoes and walks through a dried-up dribble of creek. His house is standing but the horizon has changed.  The chimney is gone.

Ethel runs out of the factory as it shakes.  Her needle still in her hand. Outside she pauses, she’d usually turn right, but she goes left. It takes three hours to walk home. She is lost in the new dusty landscape.  Later the neighbour tells her nine girls had turned right and were crushed by masonry.  Ethel sits on the long-drop her father has built in a tent next to the fallen chimney. Already the stink of shit is stomach-turning. The tent shakes. Another aftershock. There is more shaking.  Ethel screams, pulling at her pants. She hears Eric laugh as he runs back into the house.

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