Another “old wives tale” for you… although I’m not sure why it couldn’t be a young wives tale or even an old husband’s tale, but, as the old adage goes, it is what it is.
Throughout history, a big part of what it meant to be human has been asking questions. What if I strike these two rocks together over this pile of wood? What’s over there, beyond the mountains? Could we ever touch the sky?
Writers ask a lot of questions, too. Sometimes our answers are just a bit different.
What Makes the Thunder Happen
by Curtis A. Deeter
Mama uses the intermittent flashes of lightning to feel her way to our emergency stash of candles. We tried to show her how to use the flashlight on her phone, but you know how mamas sometimes are.
“One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three—”
Boom. The knick-knacks on the mantle rattle, and a miniature version of Popeye falls and shatters on the linoleum floor.
The rain pounds the tin roof, each successive drop sounding like a BB hitting a can of baked beans. Trudy clenches her Blue Blankie close in the corner, rocking and sweating, chewing on its corners. This will be the first storm she remembers, and not fondly either. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was the end of the world the way the wind carries on, stripping siding and pelting our house with neighborhood debris.
“We haven’t had a storm like this since I was boy,” Papa says, pouring himself another glass of whiskey. He drinks to steady his nerves. He must be nervous a lot.
Purple flashes out the front window.
“One Mississippi, two—”
Boom. This time, I feel the crack of thunder in my teeth. Trudy screams and Mama drops something in the kitchen. She uses words she doesn’t think I understand, but I’ve been using them at school with my friends for a couple years now, at least since the third grade.
The shadows of the willow blowing like a rag-doll on the living room wall lull me into a half-sleep. I’m not afraid of the storm like Trudy is, but it’s nice to have a distraction.
“Hey, hey, hey. Watch it. That chandelier cost us a pretty penny. If you break it, it’s coming right out of your salary!”
One of the movers huffs, drops his end of the armoire, and massages his hand. The feet of the armoire crack, but don’t snap. The hardwood, brought up from the great oak forests of the United States, doesn’t fair as well.
“Watch it, pal. Those floors are brand new.”
“Hmpf.” If this job wasn’t for the Big Lady Upstairs, he’d have some stern words to say.
On her iPhone, The Big Lady Upstairs says, “I can’t believe these guys came so highly-rated. I don’t know who that Angie thinks she is, but talk about rude. I know. I know, right? It’s not even a hard job… just a remodel, really. Yes. Yes, of course I did. I even emptied all the drawers.”
In the bedrooms down the hall, the sounds of boots on wood and men at work echoes. She never used these upper wings of her home, but with grandchildren—finally—on the way, times are changing. Luckily, all the furniture was already down stairs in the basement. I just need these idiots to bring everything up without totally wrecking the place…
We are sitting in the living room, telling stories by candlelight. The storm rages on. It’s getting a bit warm in the house, but Papa thinks Edison will get the power back on soon.
Trudy, having chewed through the corners of her Blue Blankie until it’s no more than threads, snuggles close to me. Usually, I wouldn’t allow it, but I don’t mind. “What makes the thunder happen? Jaime, at kindergarten, says it’s God bowling, but that seems silly.”
“That is silly!”
She watches as the fleet of trucks pulls away, reading the logo on the side and grinning. Two Cherubs and a Truck… that’s about all you get, too. They leave divots in her yard, smash her favorite statues, and all the neighbors are nosying about, but at least the job is done. She has the biggest house in the neighborhood, and it’s about to get a lot smaller.
“Grandkids…” she says. “Who would have thought I’d ever have grandkids?”
With a few trial flickers, like when you test the water of a swimming pool with your toes on the first hot day of summer, the lights come back on. We all rise slowly, unsure of ourselves and our surroundings. Is the house still standing? Are our things where they’re supposed to be? The yards a disaster with tree branches scattered everywhere and a random play-set toppled over in the corner by the shed, which had brought down a section of our fence in the process, but we are alive.
And now Trudy knows exactly what makes thunder happen.