Author: Lisa Conti

Until today, I had only seen government-sanctioned flames. And I had never felt them; never known how heat could change so rapidly with distance. Never smelled smoke. Never felt so guilty. Of course, I would never take fire above ground; and I would never burn anything, I mean, not really. I know that it’s people like me who jeopardize our safety. I’m sorry.

Her face is still with me as if it’s permanently scorched onto my retina; orange-lit skin and expressive, flipbook eyes. Maybe those eyes are the only ones who’ve ever really seen me. She looked at me and smiled. I think she saw my spirit. I can’t let her flickering image go.

And then the questions come. Why didn’t I ask her when I had the chance? Is black money your only income? Have you ever been burned? Do you believe in the ban? Is Tana your real name?
I unbutton my shirt, take it off and fold it into a small square. I inhale one last breath through the thick cotton then slip it into a zip-lock bag. I shouldn’t save the evidence, but I ignore my good sense and tuck it into my bottom drawer. I follow her instructions for the rest and drop each clothing item, one-by-one, into the bathtub. I wash my hair and drip five drops of eucalyptus oil into the hot water stream. The steam folds the smoke away, and I emerge an obedient citizen again.

We haven’t had a wildfire since the Climate Control Act of 2022. In the last fifty years, asthma, COPD, cancer, autoimmune and inflammatory disease rates have dropped dramatically. Global temperatures, sea levels, and icebergs remain constant. Yet today, Tana gave a below ground unsanctioned fire tour. And today, I smelled smoke for the first time.