It is evening. Summer. A thin blue settles across my grandparents’ house. No lamps are switched on yet. Everyone is visiting out back where the cicadas have begun sawing when a phone rings loudly into the muffled dusk.
Either Dad answers or someone else picks up and hands him the receiver. The phone is perched on a stained, sable desk in the elbow of two hallways where light from the front door meets darkness from the back.
My memory picks up here, in the shadow. Dad talks mutedly, bathed in the watery glow seeping through the window of the storm door. Eventually, my grandfather will close the wood door with the knob built precisely in its center. He’ll turn the key on the interior side. Then, it will be full night.
Dad hangs up. He yells for my mother, his raised voice filling the space unoccupied by furniture or figurine. His long strides cover the hall quickly. The spring on the back door squeals. He calls for her from the screened-in porch, and I hear quick steps on the exterior brick stairs. Standing in the unlit kitchen, I listen. He tells her our house in Tennessee has been struck by lightning.
A thrill rings through me as I overhear the retelling. Our neighbor happened to be looking from their window when a fire snake strung itself from the sky to our roof’s ridgeline. He and another neighbor rushed over to put out the flames with our garden hose.
The wildness of a summer storm seems impossible in the calm twilight of my grandparents’ house. No wind shuffles the trees. No anvil-bottomed clouds pile near the darkening horizon. But, back home, a tempest raged. Some violent goddess of the sky, Astrape, with a mighty trident, scorched the earth. She aimed for us and missed.
I wonder then, about her fury. If the worst is still coming. If the squall will seek us here. I wonder then about the myth of safety. How we center ourselves so carefully on the altar of security that we never realize when it’s our turn to burn.
My parents wonder aloud about insurance; they consider driving home right then. Questions swirl a paisley haze above their whispers. Dark comes, and I am afraid a jagged line of light will pierce this dwelling, too, with fire.
The doorknob turns, and they enter, flicking the kitchen light on. I am standing right there, eyes flown wide, still listening.
Anna Oberg is a professional photographer who lives and works in Estes Park, Colorado. When she's not shooting portraits in Rocky Mountain National Park, she writes from home. Her short, nonfiction stories have been published in The Cleaver Magazine and Burningword Literary Journal.