Friday, January 13, 2017

Lightning, a story

this is a story I wrote a while back (and was published) but I thought it needed a little work so I pulled it out and revised it


a Branford Perry story by Stephen Brooke

June feared storms. This shouldn’t be surprising as she had been struck by lightning three times in her life. I didn’t stand too close to her during bad weather.

We were doing a show down in Lisbon, at the old train depot. Arts and crafts — June with her silver jewelry, me trying to sell my paintings. All of this was familiar territory for me. I had done plenty of shows over the years. Not so much for June.

It seems that every little town the railroad used to pass through has an abandoned depot to turn it into some sort of community center or museum, something that will bring shoppers to what is usually the not-so-nice side of town. Craft shows can be a part of that, at least in the minds of their organizers.

I knew it was not at all the sort of venue where I should be showing the artwork. Wrong time of year, wrong sort of advertising, just the wrong place altogether. Better to spend ones time and money on the shows in larger cities, the ones in the artsy downtown districts. But June wanted to do a show with me, maybe thinking it would be something new and exciting.

Yeah, I knew better. I said yes anyway. Lisbon was close enough to home and pleasing June was something I liked to do. Maybe it would be okay, I thought, as I parked my truck near the depot, freshly painted in white and green. All ready for the next train to pull in.

It didn’t take much time for me to set up my tent, that gorgeous summer Saturday morning, put out a table for June’s trinkets, hang paintings on my racks. Too little time, perhaps; I’m used to organizing and doing things myself and, although I did my best not to show it, June was mostly in my way. I tried to share the experience because I was, after all, in love. Still, it’s in my nature to be efficient and self-contained.

She took charge of our cards and fliers, arranging them on the card table up front. June had designed them, that being the sort of thing she did for a livelihood. I’ll admit, though, that I thought I could have done just as good a job on them. We were both artists and both had reasonably high opinions concerning our own work.

Once we set up, there was plenty of time to look over some of the other displays. It would be a while before  the potential customers showed in any numbers. A few spaces down from ours, an older woman in dark attire – pretty much the regulation artist uniform – was setting up jewelry cases. “Good morning, ladies,” she cheerfully greeted us with a wave of her multi-ringed hand. At that time of the morning it was probably still real cheer. “Let me know if I can help you with anything.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d been mistaken for female, being small-boned, long-haired, and fond of wearing aloha shirts. If she recognized her mistake, she didn’t correct it before we moved on to the next vendor.

We were both in those flowered Hawaiian shirts that day and wearing fanny packs, to boot. “I’m sure they suspect that we’re lesbian lovers,” I told June. “I’m the cute one in the couple, of course.”

June gave me ‘that’ look. She never really appreciated my humor. I don’t think she liked the whole idea of me being mistaken for a woman, either, nor my ‘who cares’ attitude about it. The truth is, I may be insecure about a great many things — oh, yes, that’s for sure — but my masculinity has never been one of them.

It truly was a lovely summer day. It was also a summer day in Florida which meant a good chance of rain, wind and storms later on. I knew about such hazards and had a well secured and covered set up for art shows. Too well covered, perhaps, as it got pretty hot under all those plastic tarps as the sun rose higher. Not much to do about that so I just sat and smiled at the browsers, hoping one might become a buyer. A long shot, to be sure, but I was used to this sort of waiting game.

June, on the other hand, was new to the outdoor show experience. Soon came boredom, followed closely by complaints. “You should talk more to people when they stop.”

“Maybe.” I wasn’t going to argue the point, though I know folks like to browse in peace, more often than not. No sense in putting them on the spot or making them uncomfortable. Nor am I known to be the most talkative person. No sense in putting me on the spot, either.

Be that and all other things as it may, I didn’t talk more to people when they stopped. Instead, I engaged June on the subject of the teenage boys playing energetic punk-pop on the old depot platform. “Sound a bit like Green Day,” I offered.

She didn’t know who Green Day was. Our conversations took such turns too frequently, I’m afraid.

I’m afraid, too, that June wasn’t finding much excitement in our day’s outing. She abandoned me, after a while, to stroll about and gossip with other exhibitors. I sat and watched the clouds multiply in the afternoon sky, first only a few puffballs, then larger cumulus towers and mounds, shifting from white to ever-darker shades of gray.

From the west, out toward the Gulf of Mexico, came a subdued rumble, sensed as much as heard. The breeze was picking up some and the chill of rain was in it. Well, it was about time to pack it up for the day, anyway. Sales had been few — prints, some small pieces of jewelry — but folks had picked up our handouts. Maybe something would come of that. Some do like to think about things before buying. Or they hope that they can get a deal if they wait.

June was nervous. I suppose I had never taken her fear of lightning very seriously; I love lightning storms myself, not that I would stand out in a field during one. That, however, was not my concern at that moment. I wanted to get our stuff under cover before the storm arrived. Trying to break down the display and getting it stowed away in the wind and rain is an experience to be avoided, yet all too common at outdoor shows.

Having gathered our equipment into orderly groupings — with June once again getting in the way of my all-too-obsessive routine — I went to get the truck from a parking lot around the block. I pulled it into the last parking space before the corner, not really that far from our exhibition space.

“Oh Bran, just move it forward,” said June, “and let’s get done quickly.” She seemed quite insistent that I should park illegally.

And I, just as adamantly, refused to park in the turn lane. After all, it would save, what, fifteen or twenty feet of distance? “This will do fine,” I replied. “Let’s load up.”

Light rain was sprinkling and the occasional thunder rumbled, still relatively distant. “Oh, come on. Please. I want to get out of here.”

I realized there was real panic in her voice, as well as a certain frustration with my ways. Still, I was loathe to pull that truck forward. I’ve always been a person who respected boundaries and hoped others would respect mine.

This was no time to explain things, assuming I could explain things at all. I knew that. Then again, I was also in love with June and men in love do things against their nature. And then do them again.

So, perhaps not as graciously as I might have, I started up the truck and drove it forward. All the while, I was thinking I could already be partly loaded up and fumed a bit that I could let myself be turned from my course.

Now, it was raining harder. And, yes, the thunder sounded more closely, as lightning flickered along the dark belly of an approaching front. We hurried to finish getting everything into the bed of the truck.

“Go ahead and get inside,” I told June. “I’ll throw on the tarp and tie everything down.”

To her credit, June didn’t desert in the face of fire, even though I took my time and perhaps tied things down a little more securely than necessary. I could tell she was impatient, none the less, and that she had her eye on the skies.

She probably never realized how hard it was for me to break the rules like that, even little, seemingly unimportant rules. She never realized a lot of things. Right then, that didn’t matter to me, as we drove through the storm to my place. We would spend the night wrapped in each other but not really knowing each other.

One thing I do know about her, though.

June finally did find some excitement that day.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

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