Wolfy, my son, pulls an atlas off the bookshelf. He opens it at the first page, a map of the world.
“Show me where we’re moving,” he says.
I point at Canada then slide my finger across the North American continent, so wide and so cluttered with cities. I skate over the Pacific, past atolls present and precarious, my finger falling lower till it reaches a giant flat land mass at the bottom of the world.
“Here,” I tell him. “Australia.”
“Why?” He asks. “Tell me why again.” Wolfy has never lived outside Toronto.
“Work,” I lie. “And Nana. We need to spend time with Nana. And Pa.”
I don’t mean to mention my father as an afterthought but I pause because he is not the one who has asked us to come home.
“But you can work here,” Wolfy says.
“I could. But my job is taking us there.”
Wolfy shakes his head. “I don’t want to be on a plane that long.”
He hears people talking about Australia—how they’d love to go, but oh that plane ride. He’s parroting.
“It’s not so bad,” I say. “Remember? There’s movies, you have your iPad, your book.”
“But Australia has fires now,” Wolfy digs in. “Show me the fires on the map.”
I wave my hand in what I hope is a blasé fashion across a green stretch of forest that hugs the eastern coastline. “Here.”
We listen to too much news. Radio National Australia, online. Even here in Toronto, when I should be listening to the CBC or yet another car crash rundown on CP24, I find my way back to Australia. Wolfy is six but misses little.
He’s watching me. I assume I look careful and cautious, normally. These are qualities I’d use to describe myself, but Wolfy stares at my face like I am a reckless stranger. He speaks gravely. “We can’t go there.”
“Because the fires will eat up the cities.”
“They won’t let that happen.”
“Nana and Pa won’t?”
“No, well, the fire brigades.”
Wolfy has visited my mother and father every summer of his life. If he noticed how Pa had changed last summer, from alert to staring and silent at dinner, he has not yet let on.
“There won’t be any water,” Wolfy continues. “They will have used it all up. To fight the fires. We’ll get thirsty.”
“There’ll be water at Nana and Pa’s.”
Wolfy turns back to the map. “This map is wrong.”
“The green. It’s not like that anymore.”
When my mother said, I think it’s really starting now—he can’t even get himself out of the shower in the morning, I knew what she was asking. Listening to her, I scanned the lounge room, immediately calculating which items would go in the shipping container, which would get sold, which would go to the Diabetes Canada collection truck.
Wolfy is resisting bed, this is obvious. The sudden snow, as only Toronto can serve up, has covered the car out in the drive and there’s shovelling to be done and the shipping manifest to be checked and the washing needs to come up from the basement and where the hell are Wolfy’s snow boots which have disappeared, somewhere, somehow?
The atlas is mine—a Howards’ World Atlas, a tenth birthday present. The maps show discarded borders and demographic detail—population, capital cities, industry—long superseded. Place names and bar graphs I had traced, even at ten, wondering then what lay inside those black dots that denoted places, squares for regional cities, large circles for major centres—New York, London. Impossibly far off places to a ten-year-old stuck two thousand miles south of the equator.
Now I sit on the other side of that atlas.
This past few years, our annual journeys home have buoyed Wolfy and I. A dose of family and hugs and cotton wool warmth; trips long enough to spark nostalgia, brief enough to stave off reality.
But this journey will not be bookended by life in Toronto. Wolfy will no longer be the centre of attention, the apple of Pa’s eye. Nor will I for that matter.
And the green scrub, the bush, that I recall from my own world at six, from Wolfy’s world a year, two years ago, will be gone. Scorched.
He still knows who you are, mum said, last week. He’ll know who you are when you get here. Should do.
“I’m going to colour this map in brown,” Wolfy says, taking to the green bush on the map with a brown crayola marker.
I watch him scribble, wondering how much of that brown belongs to the fire updates on Radio National, and how much he has soaked up from me, as I airlift us out of Toronto and home, to somewhere entirely new.
EC Sorenson is a media producer and writer, recently published in X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, Tiny Molecules, Emerge Literary Journal, MonkeyBicycle, Tiny Essays and Literary Mama (forthcoming). She lives in Australia. Find her on Twitter @ecwsorenson.