• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 03

All the colours of the rainbow

“Hold your breath,” Teddy says as we drive past the old factory gate.

It’s not much to look at. Overgrown with weeds. A patchwork of wood nailed across the opening and a crown of barbed wire. But back when the factory was open, trucks chugged in and out all day. Hundreds of people toiled inside the tower, morning and night. That’s what I’ve heard, anyway.

I was just a baby the night it happened. The deafening boom. Distant flames. Dad was out of town, so Mum trudged up the hill with me in the carrier, Teddy pulling on her hand, to join the other neighbours watching. The factory burned: crimson and orange, even green and blue.

“All the colours of the rainbow,” Ted has told me. “It was beautiful.”

When we reach the bend in the road, Teddy exhales. That’s when the coughing starts: shallow at first, then deep and hacking. He wipes his hand on his jeans. I don’t have to look to know it’s red.

Dad says I’m lucky. I haven’t got the cough and I don’t get as tired as the others. It’s just the headaches. Mostly they’re mild so it’s easy to pretend I feel OK, but sometimes they’re so bad I have to lie in bed. I don’t tell Dad about the pain.

I see Mum in my dreams, not thin and pale like she was in the hospital, but bouncy and smiling like the mothers you see in toothpaste ads. I look like me but I’m also a baby again, nuzzled up against her. She leans down and cups my face and says, Thank god, thank god, you’re my miracle child.