A bad marriage is like a bushfire, and the best advice for getting out alive is the same for both. Make a decision: leave early, or stay and fight. Of course the warning signs are different, but metaphorically sound. Consider the following example, does any of this sound familiar? Are you denying the rising smoke?

That slow rising black smoke comes over the hills on a hot afternoon like so many long nights in front of the TV, a slow doom blackening the sky. The sirens whirl quietly at first in the distance. He stays late at work too often, she forgets a birthday or an important memory. Husband and wife exchange gifts on a Christmas morning, and while the kids excitedly unwrap their toy cars water pistols and Barbie dolls you gaze across the lounge room floor into the sad pile of misunderstood desires that lay in each parent’s small pile of trinkets and books relating to interests made once in passing but not truly held, gifts that have been chosen based on blasé comments from conversations that were only partially attended.

Perhaps that doesn’t matter so much, the wife thinks, this is a day more for the children she supposes, we didn’t have children back in the days of boundless love and devotion, the afternoons laying in each others arms were possible only due to the lack of little tikes tearing around the tiny flat that grows smaller by the day. So the first sirens go sailing past, they are after all only distant and most likely on their way to deal with some small matter in town, somebody else’s fire.

But then one day she takes the older children to school and in the car park get’s chatting with an old friend from high school, a friend whom she once spent a teenage night with in his car, driving around town on the far end of adolescence comparing dreams for the future. She hopes for a future in law, fighting for human rights. He is less ambitious, just wants to avoid being like his dad. Should be easy enough, he jokes. That night she remembers seeing a mess of books and maps on the backseat of his car.

Now here he is again a decade later. The boy is back a man, collecting his nephew from the same school they both attended as children in this country town. Where has he been all this time? He has been living overseas, taking groups on hiking expeditions he says, in South America mostly and some time in Nepal. No children. No marriage.

What have you been up to? You still with that guy? And the warning signs can now no longer be ignored. The sirens have woken her late at night, the blue and red lights are casting offensive shadows into her bedroom through the blinds. She stumbles through the flat, looking for bearings but it’s a house she doesn’t recognize, I poor drawing from the teenage dream of a future and when finally she reaches the door and open it there is a tall man with no face, in a bright yellow uniform and he says that the fire is coming, you must leave now or stay and fight. And so she makes the call, a friend gives her the number of a friend in who deals with Family Law in Sydney.

What do you take when you must leave now? The children of course. The husband? What if he wants to stay and fight?