The Astraphobe

Brian Malone

When the lightning zapped blue, blue, blue and the walls trembled at my touch, my father knew I was panicking. This happened every time it stormed, but he did not want to tell me that finally my fear was justified. Stereo scratch and black and gray dots and black and gray lines made the television mostly useless, but the newsman flashed and flickered once or twice. Just enough to say the storms were intense and stay inside. My mother had called, but her voice cut out. Driving, twenty minutes, branches in the road.

The power went out and the sky was only a low growl but the blue-white flash incessant alongside my rapid blinking rendered my memory epileptic. My mother would not call again. She’ll be fine, my father promised. She’ll be fine. She’ll be fine. Just the road, just concentration. Hey come here I wanna show you something. I wanna show you it will be okay. He brought me upstairs.

In the staircase, narrow, with arms stretched, palms pressed against the walls climbing up like in a submarine sinking in the movies, with blue lights flickering and all the ground unsteady, I gasped. We reached the bedroom and out my window the trees bent over screaming. Becky’s house next door, stable, yellow-paneled, resilient, crowded the view, its proud brick chimney daring the winds, the hail, the wet, the flash. My father brought me to the windowsill. The carpet blue, the blankets covered with books and toys, the room with all its comforts failed. My father said to look out there, look out above the trees. The view of screaming pines and splintering branches bent across the yard, the carpet threads scuffing my feet, my knees. The thunder shook the windowsill and the vibration surged like how a cat can purr one second and swat the next.

When I played at Becky’s house on so many afternoons with her kids, we spent our time in the fort in the basement where there was a trunk with clothes for make-believe and plastic swords for pirate fights. Swashbuckling upon a sea imagined, unsteady, waves pummeling over starboard. Ahoy, we’ll plunder, land ho.

Look to the sky, my father said, my arm shaking as if staticky. Lightning’s perfectly safe if you watch it from a distance. Lightning struck and our vision blue-whitened for half a minute. We fell onto the carpet, blue and thrashing. I would remember my father’s panic. Was it us? He shouted. Was it Bea? Was it Becky? Neighbors on each side. He started down the hall to check, then down the stairs to check, then to my bedroom to check. Finally, he pointed out the window to Becky’s chimney, charred, jagged, smoking.

After my mother arrived and power returned, she saw the firetruck and all the lights red, blue, and still the sky’s occasional blue, blue, blue. She saw our driveway smattered with bricks, smoldered where they split, so she parked by the curb. Becky’s kids stood by the road dazed and frazzled. Becky and her husband Chris talked with the rescue crew. My mother called to them and brought the kids inside by the television to watch the dots black, gray, black, gray. The station flickered, switched from weather to a TV show. The low growls in the sky and the flashes lessened. The pines stopped screaming.

My father and Chris took a wheelbarrow down the driveway after the storm passed. I watched them carry the bricks to the wood line. Later, my father spread his palms to measure. A brick hit our house, he said, half a foot below the window in your bedroom. Half a foot! The firemen said some big staple in the ceiling of Becky’s basement, something metal they don’t use to build houses anymore, had stopped the lightning. Their house had almost exploded. Lucky, my dad said. Lucky.

When in the staircase again, arms stretched, palms pressed against the walls for support although no longer stuck inside a submarine, I imagined the basement next door, the fort, our pirate ship, blasted out as though from cannon fire. Then I imagined the window where I watched a fork splice through the sky and blue, blue, blue, and how the glass would have shattered if the hot half-brick had hit only half a foot higher. I saw the smoking brick hit me and saw how the whole world slipped away. There, safe, at the top step, my fingers, like static, trembled against the wall.


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