Ken’s voice was hesitant on the end of the telephone line. “Mom, did you hear that they found the missing wife of that army major in the ashes this morning?”
I closed my eyes and winced. “Yes, we heard it on the news. They haven’t officially released her name. It’s sad.”
His voice broke as he continued, “Tom found her. They called me into the fire’s headquarters to wait with him until they can transfer his parents from the eastern fire front. He’s really upset. They’re going to get some trauma counselors in. A few of the guys here need it.”
“Tell Tom we’ll be praying. It must have been awful out there. I don’t know what to say, Son.”
“I really wanted to be out there with them, Mom. They’re my buddies. We’ve always worked as a team.”
I felt a tinge of pride, knowing he’d been fighting fires since he was barely old enough. “Dad said after the news bulletin that if you hadn’t been electrocuted at work on Christmas Eve, you’d have been the first to volunteer.” I sighed. “You would have been with Tom this morning. In some ways I’m glad you can’t be involved until the doctor gives you the all clear.”
“That’s kinda why I rang, Mom.”
I blinked slowly, took a quick breath and wondered what was coming next.
“OK, Son, what are you up to now?”
“They’re sending a number of the fire fighters home. Some of them have been out here for almost a week. The fire’s out where I am. Most of the suburb is wiped out and they need a few of us to help with the clean up.”
“Yes, I understand. What did the fire captain say?”
“It was Cap who suggested it. He’s given me strict instructions regarding lifting and touching power cables.” His usual lilt returned to his voice. “As if I needed to be told.”
“OK. You really don’t need our permission, Son, but thanks for letting us know. Please be careful. Love you.”
“A telephone company has set up field communications for the volunteers. I’ll call when I check in after my shift. Bye, Mom.”
A few hours later, my husband and I were watching the six o’clock news. More victims had been found by volunteer fighter fighters and the military that had joined in the clean up. Hundreds of homes were destroyed in the state’s worst fire on record. News clips showed fire fighters finding dead domestic animals and native fauna in the ashes. We recognized a brother of Tom’s and a girl from Ken’s crew; they were piling up carcasses of chickens and ducks that had been unable to escape the flames. We cringed at the sight of burnt out cars--families had escaped with only their lives.
The phone rang.
“Hello,” I answered, still vaguely absorbed in the pictures.
Ken’s animated tone burst through the phone. “MOM!” he yelled above the background din. “I HAD TO CALL YOU!”
My senses jumped to attention and my husband drew closer to decipher the commotion.
“What is it? What’s happened?” I gasped in panic.
“IT’S OK, MOM. I’M ALL RIGHT, DAD!” He continued to shout.
We could hear frenzied exclamations in the background.
“Ken?” we insisted in unison.
Ken calmed as the noise eased. “You’ll never believe it. We’ve found so many dead animals... Mark even found a charred parrot still on his perch.” He paused a little before continuing. “We heard something like crying coming from one of the burnt-out houses.” He laughed. “Mom, you’ll love this.”
“What?” I asked in utter frustration. “What is it?”
“We found a live kitten under a flower pot near the back door. It’s totally awesome. We couldn’t believe it.”
We heaved a sigh of relief and laughed with him. “That’s wonderful, Ken.”
We said our goodbyes and hung up. Life found in a place of death. Thank you, Lord.
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