Lara is awakened by the rumbling and grumbling warning of the storm that’s coming but she doesn’t want to open her eyes. She turns her face to the wall and pulls the covers up over her head to muffle the terrible and ominous stomach growls from the sky. Hungry storm. Maybe it will roll itself away from here. The rain starts as she drifts into a fuzzy dream.
It’s not much later when a booming loud crack shakes the house and makes her eyes fly open. She sits up and reaches across the space between their twin beds to give Ainslie a hard shake. Wake up, come on, wake up. This is a bad one. Better find your socks. They can hear muffled footsteps at the other end of the house, the creaking of the front stairs, and then their mom is hurrying them down the back staircase. Into the living room, she tells them. Count the heads.
They leap on to the couch beside their grandma because she’s the warmest thing to sit beside and they think it’s funny when she gets startled and whoops with the crashing of the thunder and the bright bursts of light. No electric lights have been switched on but they can make out their Dad sitting across the room in the armchair with their sleeping baby sister in his arms. Grandpa is perched on the rocking chair close by, and Mom is rushing around unplugging things that might conduct lightning into the house through the electrical outlets. No one is allowed to even think about using the bathroom. Lara has no idea what horrors await them there and no desire at all to find out.
Their brother presses his face up against one of the rain streaked window panes, even though mom has asked him not to do that. Come away from the window she tells him again, as she plops herself down at the other end of the couch, but her heart isn’t really in it and he backs up only an inch or two to make it look as if he’s listening.
Eight heads, Ainslie announces with a huge yawn. Flashes of lightning illuminate the room and the girls start to count together. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand…..and the booming crack that follows makes grandma jump and shout Oh My Goodness Gracious Me! She clutches both of her hands to her heart. They can’t stop giggling and neither can grandpa, although it’s not clear if he’s laughing at grandmas reaction too, or simply joining in because little girls giggles are so very contagious. When Ron decides to entertain them with a particularly grotesque face illuminated by the next lighting flash, they laugh out loud and beg him to do it again.
Mom and dad are watching the storm with much more serious faces, but they obviously have not passed their very real fears on to their kids just yet. This is not a middle of the night lark for them. The farm-house is surrounded by huge maple trees and if one of them is hit and falls on the roof, or goes up in flames, they want to know where every family member is and be able to get them all out and safely away. Lara imagines everyone piling into the car in rain-soaked pyjamas, but can’t think where in the world they’d go from there. And if a giant tree branch comes crashing through one of the windows into the living room, they’re all going to die in one big clump. At least if they were still spread out all over the house, some of them might survive. Then she thinks maybe her mom wants them to live or die together so that no one will be left behind all grieving and sad.
The next booming crash and rumble makes Grandma beg God for mercy. Ainslie climbs on to her lap and sticks her thumb in her mouth, and then makes a garbled sound as she is crushed too tightly in grandmas arms. Baby continues to blissfully sleep through it all. Brother has tired of the gruesome faces and sits at Lara’s feet with his flashlight shining up in to her face. He tells her how incredibly ugly she is and she tries to kick him but he’s too quick and she misses by a mile. And you’re slow and stupid too, he snorts. Dad tells him to cut it out. But his mind isn’t so much on his bickering children as it is concentrated on the fate of his livestock, and what damage might be done to his barn, and how much work it will be to gather up all the fallen branches that have broken off to litter the laneway and the lawn in this heavy rain with its wailing wind.
Suddenly there is another bright and blinding bolt, but this time it’s accompanied by wild snapping and crackling sounds, like the spitting noises green wood makes when you throw it on a bonfire. Even grandma doesn’t make a sound as everyone listens to hear whatever will happen next. Nothing much does. Except that the hard and powerful thunder claps appear to be finished waking the dead and have decided to rumble and grumble and drift away instead.
Well, dad says in a shaky voice. Something got hit. Close. He stands up and hands the baby over to mom and goes to the middle window to look out but it’s too dark to see anything. There are a few more broad flashes and thunder mumbles but as quickly as it arrived the storm is moving on. The house is still standing, nobody is on fire, and even the rain is petering out. It’s time for everybody to head back to bed.
But we want to know what happened, Lara exclaims. How will we ever go back to sleep now if we don’t know? Well, except for Ainslie because she’s already stumbling towards the stairs with her eyes half closed, sucking her thumb, twirling a strand of her hair. Lara obediently follows her, but her dads quiet words echo in her head. Something got hit. Close. What? How close? Maybe their back bedroom has been sliced loose from the rest of the house and is flipped up and opened to the sky and filling up with rain! But no such luck, everything is exactly how they left it. She climbs back in to her bed, pulls the covers up over her head and closes her eyes tight so that morning will come fast, fast, fast.
The kids all sleep in a little later than normal after their storm watch of the previous night, and the sun is up and shining in a clear blue sky when Lara tumbles down the stairs for breakfast. Dad of course never sleeps in and has been to the barn and back already with the morning chores done. Lara bounces on her chair and looks at him expectantly, waiting for him to explain the nights mystery. Of course he waits until everyone is there. He doesn’t like to say things twice.
When you’ve eaten your breakfast, he tells them, go out back and look at those new trees at the edge of the garden. Lara knows he means the two small peach trees which are just babies as far as trees go. They were planted partly grown a couple of years ago, about a dozen feet from the back door, and they’ve only recently started to blossom and produce a few pieces of small hard green fruit. But they’ve grown tall and green and lovely and promising. Lara is dismayed to discover that one of the trees has been split right down the middle and now each side of it is bent and broken and falling to the ground. The world around it is green and lush, and the air smells sweet and clean and clear after the rain. But this poor little tree is going to die. Lara glares at the sky. Damn you lightning she thinks, but doesn’t dare say the words out loud.
The damaged tree has to be cut down, and when it’s gone the other little peach tree withers and shrivels up and eventually dies as well. It was a gamble trying to grow peaches in this climate anyway, but still Lara thinks it’s incredibly sad that they didn’t make it even to being teen age trees, never mind adults bearing delicious pink and yellow fruit.
When the next violent thunderstorm blows in off the lake and wakens them in the middle of a hot summer night, Lara has a different kind of respect for its power and potential but not the anxiety she half expected after such a close call. There is a little icicle of fear, but mostly what she feels is fascination as she listens and shivers on her way down the stairs in the dark.
All this banging and crackling and crashing and flashing is stirring my soul, she tells her mother. Really, her mom laughs. Yes, really, Lara says, wondering why her mother of all people would find soul stirring funny. But then her mom gives her a quick hug before she starts her practiced rounds of unplugging everything so they won’t be electrocuted, and Lara knows it wasn’t what she said that was laughable. It was probably just funny that she decided to share something that profound with her mother, in the middle of a thunderstorm, in the middle of the night.
She also wants to tell her how a wicked storm makes her feel as mortal as a peach tree. But if her brother over hears that one, he’ll tease her mercilessly for days, so she wisely keeps it to herself. She is content to sit with her feet curled up underneath her, watching the storm unfold, listening to it rage, happy to be safe in the arms of her family.