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I swear, this is the way I remember it. I swear I wasn’t afraid when those first flickers of blue flashed and forked through the clouds. Because by the time the lightning started, the blunt violence of the storm had already beaten from us all sense and reason, wiped us so that we were blank like a fresh sheet of paper. The storm wiped us, so that when the lightning came, it filled our empty spaces with wonder, and something like joy.
It started without warning, the storm. Nothing from the TV weatherman, who said it would be a sunny, perfect-for-a-picnic kind of day. My family had never been the picnicking type, though. Grandma always said, “I’ll take a fresh home-cooked meal over fresh air any day.” Whenever we took her out, she’d wrap layers and layers of coats and scarves around herself, doubling her size, and she’d cover her head with especial care with a heavy-knit cap, protection against the hidden beasts of the sky.
That day, the day of the storm, Grandma, my cousin Hal, and I were parked at Grandma’s old mahogany dining table in her apartment, each digging into a plate of spaghetti bolognese. A warm breeze blew in through the sliding windows; the panes went all the way up to the ceiling, and through the just-Windexed glass the glorious beams of sunshine made us almost feel like we were at a picnic.
Cousin Hal and I were at that age where our parents wanted us to start growing up, and they had dropped us off at Grandma’s for a cooking lesson. Of course, we wasted no time in proving our parents’ expectations to be optimistic: not only did we fail to help Grandma with the cooking, we made a messy game out of eating, too. The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente, and the noodles withstood Cousin Hal’s and my attempts to eat them the way birds pull worms from the ground. Grandma laughed at the little kissing noise I made after sucking in a “worm.”
Then the storm started. Cousin Hal had just slurped up a noodle and was squeaking out a particularly sensational kissing noise when the light in the apartment became breathlessly grey. At first, I thought that someone was playing with the living-room dimmer knob, but I had only to look out the window to see that it was the sky that had dimmed.