Apr/May 1999  •   Fiction

The Storm

by Paul E. Haslup

Her Grandmother's wasn't the largest house in town or even on her street, but it was stout and sturdy, with a covered porch across its front and down one side. The lights along her street had gone out around ten. From the surrounding houses, unseen voices pronounced their displeasure quickly and loudly. A storm had been blowing for about an hour, and the lightning had just begun to get bad. The winds probably blew down the lines, or maybe the lightning had hit something; either way the neighborhood was dark for as far as she could see. The nearby houses were alive with flashlight beams dancing about and the flickering light of candles freshly lit.

She had come out when the rain began around nine. She was sitting in the rocker with her knees brought up to her chest, throwing off her balance in the chair. She could feel the humidity blanketing her. It was awfully hot. The wind felt like steam, throwing the raindrops at everything, no matter which way one faced. The front had built up all evening, and the downpour did nothing to relieve the stagnant air.

"Carrie," a woman's voice called from inside the house, "you alright?"

"Yeah," she replied.

"Come inside," her grandmother asked through the screen door.

"I'm just watchin' the storm." Carrie's voice was edged with anger, and her answer had a shrill tone.

From across the street, a voice broke out in laughter. Carrie knew it was Mr. Toggle. His high-pitched laugh and intermittent snorting were distinct to say the least. She could see the flashlight beam dancing through the windows as he chased his kids about the dark house. Carrie smiled at the sounds. The wind changed direction again and blew the rain up onto the porch. The wet edge was getting closer to her with each crash of thunder.

"You want somthin' to drink?"

"No." Carrie replied.

As lightning cracked the sky, as if to designate where it and the air met and disagreed, Carrie began to count: one, two, three. The light lingered in the air. She barely got to four before the thunder boomed and shook the ground again. "Close," she thought as it rattled the old house and made her rocking chair move.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph," her grandmother exclaimed, "gonna bring this house down around us."

The baby next door began to cry again. He was only a few months old. He couldn't sleep with all the noise. She could hear its mother immediately begin to soothe the child in that tone adults seem to think calms children.

The screen door creaked open, and her grandmother appeared carrying two glasses of lemonade, the door slamming behind her. "It's close, huh?" she asked as she handed one of the glasses to Carrie.

"Four miles," Carrie answered, taking a sip from the glass.

The old woman took up the other chair and began to look up and down the street. "Seems to 'ave cleaned up the town a bit," she decided. "We needed a good one."

The baby continued to cry. "Sounds like the little one don't like the thunder." She took a sip from her glass. "You never liked the thunder much when you were little, either," she said. "I guess that's changed."

Carrie sat cradling the glass between her knees. Her grandmother quietly looked at the rainfall and the dark street. Carrie had told her about the argument with Chris, but she had said nothing. Now, Carrie was content to sit and watch, listen and smell the storm, while her grandmother seemed intent on finding something to talk about.

"People are funny," she began out of nowhere. "Paul, your grandfather, couldn't stand thunder and lightning. He'd start into the basement as soon as he could feel it comin' on. He'd be down there for hours, drinkin' away. When the rain stopped, he'd come up half drunk and complainin' about everything. I'd let him rant for a while 'till he'd go up to the bathroom." The old woman started to laugh. "Then I'd rope the door shut. Son of a bitch would yell for a bit, then fall asleep in the tub." Carrie had to laugh. "Yep," her grandmother smiled, "he never liked thunder and lightning." Carrie could hear feeling welling in her grandmother's eyes.

The headlight beams cut through the darkness and reflected off the water falling on the street. The car pulled to a stop in front of their house and shut its engine off. Carrie's eyes fixed on the fogged-over windows through the downpour. Her grandmother recognized the car too, and a small smile broke across her face. The driver's door opened, and a man stepped out into the rain. He did not hurry in the sheets of water, but walked deliberately up to the bottom of the steps and stopped. It almost seemed silent then, as Carrie and he stared at each other. He stood there with the water rolling off his coat, waiting. It wasn't until the lightning cracked the sky behind him that anything was said.

"I should be gettin' to bed." The old woman rose. "Here Chris, come on in from the rain and sit down," she said, offering her chair.

He looked at Carrie first before he climbed the steps and sat down. Water was dripping off him onto the porch and beginning to make a puddle. Her grandmother opened the screen door with a creak and went inside. They sat there alone, staring at the rain in silence. Carrie took another sip from her glass, and the thunder broke. "Fifteen miles," she thought.

Carrie turned and looked at him sitting there drenched. Then the power came back on. Lights and sounds broke the silence of the storm. Cheers went up from up and down the street, as if a miracle had happened.

"'Bout time," her grandmother stated from inside the house.