The Best Australian Stories 2011 Melbourne: Black Inc, 2011. (Originally published in Overland 201, 2010).
Edited by Kalinda Ashton and Samuel Cooney (Overland); and Cate Kennedy (The Best Australian Stories 2011).
The feet were the first to break away. I put on weight quickly in the months following the fires, and so my feet spread out for balance. They reverted to feet from some human prehistory, all stiff hair and hide, the toes blackening. Whose feet are these? I looked on dumbfounded as they tried to stuff themselves back into the shoes at the end of the bed. Stamping around the hotel with that neolithic gait, the unfamiliar, cavewoman pelvis; and whose feet had I dragged out of the aftermath?
When we were told it was safe to return, I didn’t. I got in my car and drove straight to the city. For two days running I did nothing except eat, and eat, and eat. Sleepless at the all-night food palaces – hummocks of dumplings, tapioca milk and those edible ghosts that dangle in the tanks. But no matter how much I ate I couldn’t get full, so I booked a room. Now, when I wake in the dark, I can no longer feel my feet. How women say, “she’s let herself go.” I’ve uncoupled them.
There’s a lightness inside all this heft you can’t measure. A buoyancy of accumulating fumes and heat that I’m fighting to weigh down. It threatens to slit me right open. The problem is, I am not fat all the way through. It’s the empty parts inside me that are expanding, and so I have to keep adding kilos, layering on lipid thickness, to keep myself contained. But in the dark recesses of my body something is still on fire. There are embers that won’t be put out. I can feel the flames crackling in my gullies and burning through the sawdust walls of my stomach. Every morning I am starving again. The pillow smells like cigarettes, although I’ve never been a smoker. I dream of Pompeii. Of casts crouched speechless in the ash.