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Writing in the Clouds
Clouds had been rolling in since before breakfast. By now, the clouds were swollen and pregnant, ready to burst. Curling finger reached down at us, drooping low to the ground like a man without a dream and looking more grim than the undertaker's wife.
Shadows were etched severly on the creases and folds of the clouds. It was a old face, wrinkled and worn from care and dread. Premonitions were written in jagged creases as if the tools used to carve the words were ripping through the fabric of the clouds.
The crackle of the radio was roared out by a monstrous rumble that seemed to make the house shake. Mom turned off the radio and fixed her eyes on the window as if expecting to see the thunder personified as some horrible beast. Mom was deathly afraid of storms. The looks that would paint themselves on her face would almost be funny if the terror wasn't so real. Her fear was a bottomless pool filled with man-eating monstrosities lurking in the darkness. She was drowning in it.
"Again?" She whispered to herself. "Wasn't yesterday bad enough by itself?"
Yesterday's storm. Bad. Big bad. Too loud. Bad. Bad. BAD.
The thunder made no reply; only an eerie stillness answered her.
Mom shuddered lightly, a ghostly breeze in a dead grove of trees, and made her way into the kitchen.
Sad. Mom scared. Bad.
“Zach! Go out and bring the horses in; it’s ‘bout to rain!” hollered Dad from the back porch. My brother's footfall on the concrete in the garage was a stampede of cattle thundering across the flat prairie land. The crash of the barn door opening was a gunshot in the quiet of a cemetary.
The thunder cracked furiously, wood being ripped apart, and I heard Mom shriek in the kitchen. From the tremors on the floor I felt the vibration of the screen door closing as Dad came inside to offer words of reassurance to Mom.
The scene that took place in the kitchen was so commonplace, I could be anywhere at anytime and know exactly what was happening. It was as if a movie was running on repeat in my mind: Mom would be curled up in her chair next to the stove with a mug of coffee in her hands. Dad would be standing behind her, looking out into our fields and resting a hand on mom's shoulder. Tonight's dinner would be heating up on the stove and the smell would be wafing over the entire kitchen.
Hungry. I want.
I was sitting in a rocking chair in the living room, watching the lightning dance it's entricate ballet across the sky and paint the mournfully grey clouds with strokes of gold. Or was it a pale green? I could never decide what color lightning was since my eyes and mind were far too slow to follow the speed of such and impatient and flighty thing.
"I hate the feeling of not knowing where it is or when it'll hit," Mom murmured bitterly into her coffee.
"I got an easy way to tell," Dad replied, smilingly. Dad was always smiling.
Smile always....but happy always?
"My ma taught me when I was a kid. Told me that you could count how many miles away the storm is by the seconds between the lighting and thunder. Each second is a mile."
Mom was incredulous. "Does that actually work?"
"Give it a try."
She smiled tightly.
"I'll be fine. Thanks."
Count miles between. Count. One. Two.
Zach pounded up the back steps. I heard the screen door slam again.
"Looks like it's gonna be a good one. Might destroy somethin' this time."
I knew this part of the routine the best: He grabbed a can of Mountain Dew from the refrigerator and plopped lazily into his favorite chair. Dad would give him a smile. Mom would give him a chastizing look. He would grin cheekily at them both then make a face at me. Zach always made faces at me. His leering face was a crocodile crawling up from the swamp to tease it's prey.
"What's up, Casper? Still haunting the living room, freak?"
Mean. Zach is mean. Sad. Hurt. Bad.
"Zach," Dad snapped, almostly unpleasantly. It was the only time he ever sounded harsh.
"What?" Zach whined defensively. "You know she doesn't care. I bet she didn't even realize I said anything to her."
Lightning lit up the late afternoon sky and I started counting.
"You don't know that! And you shouldn't be saying those things anyways. She your sister, Zachary."
"She doesn't care! She's never cared what I call her!" Zach scowled. A mercenary cocking his gun and holding it ready. He shot me a depreciating glare.
"Hey, Spazz, you don't care, do you?"
The thunder rumbled and groaned dangerously. It was a bear freshly out of hibernation ready to attack and kill. Its growls were ferocious and bloodthirsty.
I kept my eyes focused on the churning clouds outside and didn't answer Zach. I knew he wasn't expecting an answer.
"Boy, I just told you not to talk to your sister that way!" Dad was angry now. Dad hated being angry.
Lightning flashed again and I resumed my count.
"Zach, just behave," Mom begged tiredly. She disliked arguments almost as much as she hated storms. She was a bouy being knocked about by the waves in a hurricane.
The kitchen was tense. Everyone was pulled tightly taut and hanging by a spider's thread. Dad was frowning deeply at the back door, unconciously clenching his hands into fists. Zach was tapping aggravatingly on the table, his nervous habit when he was ready to start screaming. Mom was bowing her head over her hands as if she were praying. She was getting ready for the worst.
I saw it all when they thought I saw nothing.
"I really don't know why you insist on treating her so badly," Mom sighed, not looking up.
"I haven't done a thing to her!" Zach snarled, outraged. To be fair, I knew he really believed what he said. He really thought I didn't even know he existed.
"You think callin' her names and acting like she's some waste of space is nothin'?" Dad roared.
Thunder again. Louder than before.
Too loud. No more, please.
The thunder startled Mom terribly and she curled into herself, trying to look smaller as if she could hide from it. Her coffee cup was forgotten completely as she covered her ears and squeezed her eyes shut tightly.
No more. Please. No more. Mom scared.
"I don't know how you could act like this when your ma is bad off enough without your attitude," Dad ground out. He couldn't have sounded more sour if he sucked on a lemon.
"So now Ma's fear of storms is my fault too?"
"You could be more considerate."
"Considerate of what? Of Ma or the lump of wood taking up space in the rockin' chair?"
"Zachary Warner, you apologize to Lavender this minute or I swear to God, I'll take my belt to your hide!"
Dad angry. Make it stop.
The dark sky flashed a blinding color.
"Gonna make me apologize to a lifeless doll? I'm tellin' you, she doesn't even know who we are! She doesn't give a hoot if I say anything or not! We're nothin' to her! She's too stupid to care! She don't have the brains to even know we're related to her!"
A quaking, earth-shattering roar made the house tremble. A small tear slid down my cheek and I shivered with fear.
"You can say she's just different; you can act like she's normal; ya'll can call her just autistic all you want but she's always going to be a retard! A stupid waste of time and space!"
"You're making her cry!" Mom shrieked.
"She doesn't have any feelings! She's just a freak!"
A sickening smacking sound of flesh against flesh echoed from the kitchen and caused me to turn my head. Mom was wide-eyed and covering her mouth with boths hands. Dad was red-faced with fury, snarling at his son. Zach was holding a hand to the side of his face and hissing expletives I had never heard before. It all reminded me of a picture I once saw of two animals fighting for territory and the command of the pack, ready to rip each other's throat out for it.
Dad's voice was quiet and deadly.
"Apologize to your sister. Now."
Zach barked, "I don't have a sister and ya'll can go to Hell."
As Zach stomped out of the kitchen into the garage, a torrent of rain pelted the house. As I heard the growl of his car start up, Dad shook his head regretfully and sat back down, looking haggard and ancient.When the sound of my brother's car was barely a buzz in the distance, the only thing that could be seen outside was rain and shadows.
"Lavender?" Mom queried. She was panicky mother hen, searching desperately for her babies, hoping none had been killed while they were lost. "Baby, you know he didn't mean any of that."
"He hates...me," I slurred, voice thick and slow from disuse.
yet another flash of lightning.
I was too slow. The sound of the earth splitting and crumbling filled my ears. The lights flickered off and we sat in the darkness. Any of the remaining converstion from the kitchen disappeared, like everyone had been put on mute and all I could hear was the wind and rain.
The wind and rain that Mom was so scared of.
The wind and rain that Dad wanted to protect us from.
The wind and rain that Zach had predicted would cause us grief.
The wind and rain that isolated us until our house was a boat drifting, lost at sea in the middle of a hurricane with no land or hope of rescue in sight. There was a tattered white flag made of clouds waving and whipping wildly on the mast of our ship. Pleas for assistance or deliverance were written scrawling letters but in the obscurity of the darkened sky, there was no one to see it as it flailed and floundered in the drift.
The miles had been counted even though it all seemed so far away in the beginnning. The flashes of lightning and the claps of thunder were so close together now, it seemed like there was no pause between them.
The storm had arrived.