“Shouldn’t you get under a tree?” I ask, looking at the sky. It’s turned from an oppressive grey to a bruised purple.
“Why?” My little brother pipes up.
“Because of the lightening,” I say.
Gareth leans toward the window on his side and presses his face to the glass so hard he squishes his nose to one side. I do the same and I wince at the cold glass. It makes my cheek sting.
“Where?” Gareth asks, and for the first time I hear wonder in his voice and not a persistent whine.
“Out there,” I say, not taking my eyes from the glass.
“Muummmm,” he whines and I roll my eyes. He dosn’t believe me, but then I’m only six.
“Yes, the lightening will appear outside, if it appears,” Mum replies.
I do a quick glance and see that Mum is keeping her head back and her eyes closed. She isn’t asleep, she is scared. I know. This is what people do when they think there is something bad about to happen. I do it as a kid and so do adults, except it changes when you get older. You don’t grab a bear and a blanket. Instead, you have to pretend to sleep.
“Are we safe?” I ask.
“Yes,” Dad says. “The wheels are rubber.”
I get this. The electricity can’t get through you if there is rubber on your shoes, or tyres. The car is a big metal box though.
“Don’t touch the doors,” Mum says.
“What about th glass?” Gareth asks, his face presses as securely as mine.
“No,” Mum says.
I know that isn’t true, that the glass won’t be electrocuted, but I sit back anyway. Dad is driving slow. I can see another car in the distance and it has pulled up under a tree. I look at Dad and he looks at Mum, but they both shake their heads.
“Should we tell them,” Dad asks.
“No,” she says, “they won’t believe us any way.”
Years from now, when I’m adult I will watch a documentary about a man who is electrocuted not by lightening, but by a junction box in a woods. I’ll watch as he loses a hand and yet still becomes a famous chef, possibly because of the missing limb. But then I won’t be watching for the electrics, instead I’ll be looking at how he manages to screw up his life, electrocution or no electrocution. That night, as a six year-old, I say nothing, but I always wonder if we were right not to tell that other car. Don’t get me wrong, as far as I’m aware nothing happened. The other family was fine. But they caouldn’t have known that trees are like lightening rods. Their branches reach for the sky and give a direct path to the ground. And that is the lightening’s purpose, to reach the soil.
But we slowly travel past them. I wave. No one waves back. The rain makes them look sad and cold.
I notice that the hairs on the back of my arm have lifted, and I can smell ozone. It is probably my favourite smell in the world. The scent of a lightening storm.
Then it hits, the first one touches down on my side of the car but miles away. I’m not sure where we are but apart from a few trees all I can see is grassland.
“Mum?” Gareth cries as the rumble sounds, as loud as a train.
I should be scared. But I’m not. Instead, I smile. This is weather. This is what living is. Not being in danger, but the sheer intensity. It’s beautiful.
When I’m older, way older than twenty, I will be travelling through another electric storm. Except I’ll be in the front and my eyes won’t be closed. I’ll have a smart phone in my hand tracking the storm and I’ll be watching the sky as my partner looks for somewhere to take cover.
“It’s okay,” I’ll say over the roar. “The tyres are rubber.” He’ll give me a funny look and we will pull into a service station where I will stand at the window and watch the sky fracture. Knowing that for every strike there is a corresponding one that reaches for the stars.
But that long night ago, my six year-old self promised that I would always watch the lightening. I would always let myself experience the hair raising and spine tingling. As the thunder rolls across the plains I feel the change in pressure in my neck, and I can’t help but laugh.