by Rae Spencer
The flash from the light bulb jolted her awake.
Anna had fallen asleep on the chaise, the newspapers scattered over her like a throw. At the flash, JD had dug his back claws into her thighs and bolted. Anna could feel her heart beating frantically. “These old lamps,” she thought. The lamp had been purchased the same year Anna was born, making them both 82 years old.
She breathed deeply to calm herself. At her last exam, the doctor had cautioned her to lead, well, a cautioned life. She had innocently asked if that meant no more weekly bungee jumping, and did she have to pace herself sexually? Briefly shocked, he had winked at her and later referred to her as a “game old bird.” Anna had gone home and washed all 19 windows of her house.
She pushed aside her afghan of papers and raised herself out of the chaise. Stiff from her nap, she shuffled into the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. Later, she would prepare a light dinner and enjoy a glass of wine. Her rituals of a life well led.
Comfy back on the chaise, she sipped her tea and returned to her dilemma. Yes, she thought, Leo would know. Seventy years of farming meant seventy years of knowing the ways of weather. Oh, Anna knew the basics. She had paid attention in science class, even though Sister Marcus had said girls did not need to know science to be the good mothers God had intended. Anna knew what she wanted. Leo, though, would know the where. The problem was how to obtain the information.
The past winter had been rough. Frigid temperatures and deep snows had lasted well into April. May had brought no improvement. Anna had watched her tulips and daffodils bloom, only to be trodden by torrential rains. It was now the beginning of June, and another wet, dreary day gave Anna no choice but to live the doctor’s cautioned life. A walk was impossible. Yet it was the only way to run into Leo, who paced the perimeter of his farm like an old Border Collie. Even though he had sold the place to Leo Jr. two years ago, old habits die hard. Like Anna, who walked her garden in good weather, Leo would walk the land. But how to ask a question about
summer storms, without raising the curiosity of a curious old man?
After dinner, she and her glass of wine settled back on the chaise to listen to the radio. Her niece often complained that Anna knew more about occurrences in Africa or China than she did of her own community. Anna chuckled to herself, wondering if some old woman in Bosnia was listening to American news, wishing that all she had to concern herself with was the new lingerie store at the mall and who was being voted off what island. The grass is always greener, thought Anna, as the newscast switched to the BBC.
That night, she lay in bed and began composing a final note to her niece. The practical daughter of Anna’s practical sister, Beth would dispose of her few possessions. Anna had collected memories and friends in lieu of things. She had traveled and moved and changed jobs more times than she cared to remember. You were always in control of your life, Anna thought. Clear weather was predicted for the weekend. She could go on her walk and run into Leo. That will take care of another detail. God is in the detail. Peaceful in mind, Anna curled her body into position, as JD snuggled his back against her soft stomach, where he had peacefully slept every night these past ten years.
The dream came again that night. Anna was at her childhood church, situated among the farm fields of northern Minnesota. She was at some type of summer festival, walking among booths and women in brightly colored dresses and herds of children chasing each other. Around her, though, people were bursting into flames, like Pentecostal tongues of the Holy Spirit. Before each burst she heard a clap of thunder, heralding the upcoming explosion. Anna watched as friends of many years, loved ones, smiled at her before becoming a human inferno. And although she would open her mouth to cry out, the thunder would crack, and combustion would occur before Anna could let out a scream. She stood, frozen in place, as the Minnesota farmland became a harvest of familial bonfires, their white smoke rolling upwards towards
heaven. At first Anna felt this a nightmare. But now, the dream bestowed upon her a feeling of grace. It was as if God was beckoning her,asking her to rise from her earthly ashes and ascend to him in a billowing cloud of smoke.
According to Leo, the old Lebovski hill had received the most number of reported strikes. This went as far back as Leo’s grandfather, one of the first immigrants to settle here. And the local weather predicted a thunderstorm beginning late tomorrow morning, its cold air coming from the north and very warm, humid air coming up from the south. Anna remembered a picture from a book, a man’s head, formed of clouds, his puffed-out cheeks outlined in red, blowing a swirling cloud of air from his mouth. She now imagined two heads on either side of a simple farm hill, blowing their hot and cold breaths at each other and creating Thor, the God of Thunder; while
Anna, standing between them, mingled the meteorological forces in her body until, like the Phoenix, she ignited in a burst of purple and red, to begin a life somewhere not on earth.
Anna petted the cat. A simple act, one that always soothed both she and JD. Since hearing of the approaching thunderstorm, Anna found herself silently saying goodbye to the pleasures of her life. She spent time petting JD and smelling his fur. A particularly fastidious cat, he had always smelled wonderful to Anna. Like the smell of a lover. She savored her tea, her time spent on the chaise reading, the nightly news and the affairs of the world. Anna would sometimes stop breathing at the realization that all of this would continue without her, as if she had never existed. She thought of her phantom Bosnian woman, pining for the dullness and accompanying security of American malls. The woman would never realize how often Anna had thought of her, prayed for her, wished that she were sitting in Anna’s house, enjoying a cup of tea and gentle conversation. Nobody would remember Anna, her joys and pains, the wails of despair and squeals of joy she had emitted throughout her life. She would simply take her memories with her, elements that would not turn into dust or scattered bits of who she once was. They, like her, would be forgotten.
Anna stood on the hill, rain pelting into her body like slaps from a thousand hands. She could see the lightening in the west. This is a good hill, thought Anna. Leo had been right. She thought herself quite a sight, an old lady in a red raincoat and a purple umbrella, standing alone on a hill in a late morning storm, waiting for death. She held her umbrella high, a lightening rod to the next world. With every clap of thunder she scanned the skies for the accompanying bolt of lightening. There were jagged hits still off in the west. Anna stood, as if waiting for a train to take her to the next stop. Three, now four strikes flashed near. Her world illuminated by the lightening, Anna felt herself standing in the final judgment of God. Proud and scared, Anna said a prayer of thanks for her life, and waited for the strike that would take her.
Rae: I am a new writer, being a late bloomer in many, many aspects of my life. I recently quit a well-paying corporate job in the Midwest to create a new life for myself in northern California. And, as we all know, the best laid plans ... I am still very glad to have made the change and look forward to channeling my experiences in future stories.To date, I have had a poem published in POETRY MOTEL and I recently won Best in Show in the contest sponsored by the Literary Arts Council of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Contact Rae.