The Thunderstorm – Part I

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The lofty pine is oftenest shaken by the winds; High towers fall with a heavier crash; And the lightning strikes the highest mountain — Horace.

Meteorologists agree that during a thunderstorm there is a charge of opposite polarity in the upper and lower region of the cloud; however the exact processes by which this occurs remains, in part, a mystery. Collisions and freezing taking place inside the cloud cause a build up of electrical charge. When the electric field becomes relevant, it causes the surrounding air to become ionized, leading to the formation of plasma, which is much more conductive than the previous non-ionized air. A massive spark then occurs between the two charges within the cloud, or between a cloud and the earth surface.

Of all the different types of lightning, one is peculiar and has prompted many hypotheses, as well as legends such as the Anchimayen, mythical creatures the Mapuche people describe as children sometimes taking the form of fireball flying spheres. This rare atmospheric electrical phenomenon is called ball lightning. It is similar in nature, but not identical to St. Elmo’s fire; it has been reported by many eyewitnesses, but its existence is debated among the physicists due to the lack of scientific evidence. The term refers to glaring, globular-shaped masses which can largely vary in diameter and colour. These luminous balls tend to be attracted to metals; as for the weather conditions in which they are more likely to be observed, they are said to arise during an especially powerful thunderstorm, but they last longer than bolts of lightning, and travel in the atmosphere at a much slower speed. Their behaviour is quite unpredictable; and the noise which accompanies them is similar, according to reports, to the purring of a cat.

As I got into the refuge, exhausted and sweaty from the long hike, I desired nothing but to take some refreshment and rest for a while. I had been all day in an abnormal state of mind: I was in unusually high spirits, my stamina felt inexhaustible and my mind roamed incessantly trying to follow a meandering train of thoughts. All my senses were wide awake and kept delivering to my brain a somewhat amplified perception of reality. The alpine nature was not lush, but appeared to me so brightly coloured, that it was almost blinding. I had at first planned to walk to Pass Padon, but once there, an awe-inspiring view opened in front of me: the gigantic mass of the Marmolada, with its northern face consisting of uneven, dark limestone culminating in the immaculate gleam of the ancient glacier.

As I stood on a rocky pinnacle on the ridge, an abyss thousands of meters deep opened under me: but as I said, I was feverish. In my delirium, it seemed to me that if only I had stretched my arm towards it, I could have touched it.  So I decided to go on walking, and quickly descended to the bottom of the mountain, half running, half rolling; and once down in the valley, I saw lake Fedaia and decided to continue all around its perimeter. I saw animals peeking out of their dens, flowers and stopped to discuss with another hiker whether the minuscule white dots in the middle of a distant slope where sheep or cows. He was in a hurry, though, and strangely I met no one else on the way.

By now, the excitement was beginning to wear out, and I was feeling tired. I sat on a worm-eaten bench and listened to the waitress with genuine interest while she described to me the simple, yet nutritious menu of the day. After a while I was served my frugal lunch: not by the same girl who had taken my order, but by a gray-haired man, presumably the owner of the shelter.

“What a bright blue sky”, I said. I was feeling unusually chatty. “I can’t imagine a more perfect day for hiking”.

“You’d better be back down in the valley by mid-afternoon, or you might get into trouble”.

“Why? The sky is clear. It doesn’t look like it will rain anytime soon”.

“Living in this hard place, I’ve had to learn to tell the weather. We natives of these mountains can interpret signs you well-learned sophisticated city people can’t see”.

He turned to the window. I looked outside, too: the leaves were moving. In my feverish state I had not noticed that a gust of wind had began to blow and a few clouds were passing quickly over the peaks, casting dark green shadows on them. Also, I had not noticed the sweat on my forehead, and on the skin of those around me, wouldn’t dry up. The day had been annoyingly warm, the air muggy and stagnant.

“I’ll resume my walk in minutes. But first, let me enjoy this delicious soup of yours”.

“No hurry, my friend. By no means I want to sound unwelcoming. But weather is unpredictable at these heights, and it’s better not to be taken by surprise by a summer storm. I had a bad experience when I was young”.

The man moved the chair in front of me, and sat down at the table. Curiosity must have shimmered in my eyes, for that hyperactive mood had not subsided completely yet. Encouraged by my attentive stare, he started to tell his story.

Written in response to Writing 101, Day Seventeen: Your Personality on the Page

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Where Are Her Children?

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Mr. Wilson is ringing at the door. Two policemen are with him. He tried earlier today, but Mrs. Pauley was not at home. Why are they looking for her? Wait, I know why! When we were playing football and hit her window, she threw a bucket of water at us! One of the smaller kids must have told his parents and now they’ve come to tell her she must stop. It wasn’t fair, coz we didn’t break her window or anything.

Now she’s opened the door. I can’t hear what the guards are saying, but she’s talking loud. Her face is red. She says she won’t leave coz this is her home.Why, leave home? Oh! Now I get it! Mum said she’s not paying rent since Mr. Pauley died. They’re throwing her out! Where will she go? She’s screaming now, while the landlord and one policeman are holding her by the arms, while the other one is putting red and white tape across the door.

I hate her, she’s mean to us, but now they’re making her cry. I thought they were only giving her a warning: there’s no need to hurt people like that. Just coz she’s behind with her rent, and so what? It’s no big deal, why can’t they just talk and sort it out? Maybe every neighbour could donate some money and in the end we could give it to her. So she can stay another month. Or maybe her children could pay for it. Mr. Wilson was always nice to her when she was still paying. Now he’s so mean. Grown-ups are fake. I don’t want to be fake. If they were taking away my mum, I’d protect her. Where are her children now?

Written in response to Writing 101, Day Eighteen: Hone Your Point of View

The Flies

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“I came earlier today but you did not open.”

“I didn’t hear you”.

“I know you were in”.

“I was sleeping.”

“I rang like 14 times”. That innocent look was so annoying. Did he really think she was that simple? “And screamed, too. Your neighbours must think I’m crazy”.

He said nothing.

“However, it’s late and I’m hungry. Have you got anything to eat?”

“We can have some pasta”.

“Ok, I’ll cook spaghetti then. Where do you keep the tomato sauce?”

“It’s over there”.

“You want us to eat this?” She held the bottle upside down without stopping to stare at him.  “How long has this bottle been left open on that shelf?”

“I can’t remember”.

“If you can’t remember, then it must be a long time”. She tossed the bottle in the bin. “OK, I’m not that hungry after all”.

She looked around at the mess that was her boyfriend’s apartment. The bed was unmade: stained, mismatched sheets hardly covered the mattress. A heap of dirty clothes was piled up in a corner. Dust everywhere. Black, fat flies where buzzing over the kitchen table. The thought of them grazing on the tomato clots almost made her sick.

“They’re obnoxious.”

“Yes, they are. Give me that cloth, will you?”.

She took a rag from the back of a hair, and handed it to him. He started slapping the air.

“It’s high time I killed all the flies. Indeed”, he said.

There was a minimal, yet awkward pause.

“You do that”, she said.

 

One week later she went back to his place. They were supposed to meet there at two and a half. Instead, she found a note on the door saying “I’M AT THE BAR”. She stepped back. What? They had a date and he had gone out, seriously? She thought about it for a moment: maybe he wanted her to join him there. No, it couldn’t be. If he had meant that, he would at least have written which bar.

What a loser. At least, it was a progress: he had passed from hitting the bottle first thing in the morning to getting drunk in the early afternoon. Very well: if he was trying to get rid of her, she certainly would not stand in his way.

She dropped the heavy bundle on the ground and kicked it against the door with a grunt. Then she walked back to the car to fetch a biro. She stomped to the door again, tore the note off and scribbled something at the bottom of it, then put it back in place.

Starting the car, she considered turning off her phone. What for, anyway? She knew he would not bother calling her. She screeched away.

Inside, the man was sitting motionless. Everything in the room was silent. A couple of minutes had passed since the car had left: now he could remove the scrap of paper. As he opened, something bulky and colourful fell in the doorway. Something had been added to the note: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY”.

 

Written in response to Writing 101, Day Twelve: (Virtual) Dark Clouds on the Horizon

The Condo Kids

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I lived in Bankville. The apartment block housed a dozen families. The building looked ordinary until a condo meeting decreed it needed painting. They chose salmon pink. The house turned from a nondescript white cube to a party favor.

Life was easy. I had several friends: a guy obsessed with tractors, the Butcher’s Son, the Bitch, and the Brother of the Bitch.

The Butcher’s Son was way younger than us and had a tiny dog. The Brother of the Bitch was a slight child with a big head. He had a bad habit. Their windows overlooked the entrance of the building, which made it an ideal spot for peeing from the balcony. He held it till someone was walking to the front door, then he broke the seal. He had a good aim.

The Bitch dressed like a cheap prostitute. Layers of heavy makeup and tons of hair gel finished off her look. And those fishnet stockings! She had started while still in elementary school (I mean wearing make up, not walking the streets). That’s why my mother referred to her as the Tart, the Gipsy, or the Thief. The last one was because she caught her stealing from a hide in my bedroom. The banknote was well concealed inside a stuffed animal, I have no idea how she found it. Could she smell it? Maybe. She was born with an instinct for crime.

Until then, we had been besties. She liked Michael Jackson. She was a compulsive liar and manipulative. She bit her fingernails. We communicated through knocking on the wall that divided our flats. Our parents complained. The knock-knock meant “I’m ready to go out – meet you downstairs”.

We played outside. Volley was a favourite, so were bikes, hopscotch and building huts. No, not huts: miniature condos. Tractor Man provided the cardboard boxes and other material discarded by his parent’s hardware shop. He was a natural retailer: he knew all the item codes, drank thinner and ate sawdust (figuratively). He looked forward to taking over the family business one day. We liked each other, and the bitch became jealous. She craved for attention. She played mischief, made up things, and of course played innocent. Big mistake. We were young, but we weren’t born yesterday. We trashed her.

One day the two siblings got a mynah bird. First thing, they taught him to say “Mr. Hideousheart is an asshole”. Mom slapped her in the face, with her mother’s endorsement.

Tractor Man was spoiled. He would invite me at his place, then would not let me use his toys. In his early teens he realized he didn’t really want to drive a tractor: he’d rather be a deejay. The beat became too loud. A quarrel over music volume put an end to our friendship. Then I moved.

 

Written in response to Writing 101, Day Eleven: Size Matters

A Day at the Beach

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The dunes are scattered with pebbles, lolly sticks and cigarette butts.

Paddle boats are aligned a few steps from water’s edge. A whale-sized lady is stranded beside one of them, her towel sprinkled with sand, one corner of it folded on her knee. A tall tanned guy hops down from a high chair and sashays to the pole on the left. Seconds later, a yellow flag has replaced the white one.

Three girls tiptoe on a trail of crumbled sea shells and pass a couple who is strolling on the shore. All styles of beachwear are represented here: fluo bikinis, leopard print swimsuits and floral trunks, as well as sober navy slips and classic black two-pieces.

Children splash in the low water. Near a buoy, a slim, yet toned man rows on a small red boat. He’s wearing a whistle around his neck. Various heads appear and disappear behind the waves.

The beach resort boy pants while he drags some chairs on the sand. Now, he has to close all the umbrellas. He pulls a tuft of hair aside. This is going to be a long day at the beach.

 

Written in response to Writing 101, Day Eight: Death to Adverbs

A Little Red Sweater

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1) Man

She had taken him by the hand. They slowed down as they reached the shadow. He needed a break from the heat in order to recover from the blow. His heartbeat had quickened, causing his face to flush, and his head to pulse. He slackened the tie that was choking him and took a long breath. Inhale, exhale. It didn’t get much better. He didn’t want to lose control in front of her, but when they passed an old lady who was knitting on a bench, he couldn’t restrain the tears any more. A red baby sweater. His own mother had made one for Keith, too. His son. Keith was dead now. He held her hand tighter, looking for some impossible comfort. Tears filled up his eyes and everything – the trees, the knitwork, the woman by his side all blended in a blur.

2) Woman

He finally slowed down. It was hard to keep the pace in those high heels, so she had grabbed his hand in an attempt to stop him. She was worried that he might do something crazy, like running across the street and being ran over by a car, adding further nuisance to an already bothering situation. He loosened his tie. He was not panting any more, but she could see he was still in a shock: it wasn’t so hot, but he was sweating copiously, and his face and head were on fire. They passed an old woman on a bench.

“What a shabby old hag, and how boring and ordinary her life must be. Knitting? Which woman would dress her child with horrible handmade clothes? I’ll never end up like that”.

She felt him clenching her hand, then he started to sob. It was so embarrassing, but she forced herself to put up a sympathetic face. “Think of the money”, she said to herself. “Soon this will be over”. In a few days, the son he had from his ex-wife would be buried and they would finally be able to start with their new life together without too much disturbance.

She turned back to see if anyone had noticed them. Everything was quiet. Even the old woman still bent over her knitwork. Maybe she was a bit deaf.

3) Old lady

The sweater was shaping up nicely. She thought of her niece: she looked exactly like her daughter when she was a baby, except for the ears. Those floppy ears that spoiled an otherwise angelic face. She had obviously inherited them from Lisa’s husband. That sluggard! She had disliked from the beginning. She had been hoping for a break-up: after ten years of marriage the still had no kids. But then, little Ashley had arrived. That idler didn’t deserve such a lovely daughter. He looked like a bum, not like this man who was walking towards her hand in hand with his wife or fiancée. He was decent and well dressed in his suit.

Must have a good job, maybe in a bank. The girl is also nice. A little too young for him, perhaps. Could she be her mistress? Surely she’s with him for the money. But what are they doing now? Why does the man have such a blush? And now he’s undoing his tie. She’s got a frown. Maybe they’re having an argument. Better not to be involved. Let’s pretend I’m deaf and a bit senile. It always works. People never question: after all, I’m 83.

 

Written in response to Writing 101, Day Nine: Changing Moccasins — Point of View

I Was so Terribly Homesick…not.

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As we drive up the motorway, the familiar outline of the mountain gets nearer and nearer. He asks me:
“Didn’t you feel a catch in the throat, when you came back from abroad?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I bet you had been missing this place. You know, after being away from home for so long”.
“I was gone for less than a year”.
I try to dodge: I don’t share his patriotism. However, it’s not wise to contradict one’s boss. Was I homesick back then? Not really.

It’s the sunset. The black silhouette is growing bigger. I try to remember the night of my coming back. The plane had landed and my parents had come to pick me up.  My mother wanted to update me on one entire year of inane events of village life, and she intended to do it by the end of the journey from the airport.

Only a few hours earlier I was dragging my trolley in the busy streets. Children everywhere. Noisy teens in their hoodies insulting each other. Cheesy folk music from the souvenir shops. Random faces from basically everywhere. People queueing politely. Career opportunities. That sense of freedom that arises from being in a dynamic environment. Heavy clouds moving quickly in the unsettled, low sky, looked like a reminder that things can change. Evolve.

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But now I was in my parents’ car, and my mother kept talking. I had never noticed she had such a heavy accent. We all had. I had spent one year without hearing my own language. It was dark outside, but I knew what was there: nothing. Just a dull countryside, the proverbial “middle of nowhere”. I started feeling mad at myself: why did I come back? I felt trapped.

Then we got to Bankville. There was more street lighting than on the suburban road, but it looked like a ghost town anyway. It was only a village, yet there were nearly more banks than houses. No one was around, and how could they be? No pavements, no places to hang on, a village made for cars, not humans. The asphalt and traffic without the advantages of a big city.

The next day I woke up to resume my old life. In the morning there was some more bustle, but I noticed the demographics. The population was getting older, like in the rest of the continent. I stepped into my aunt, she grabbed my arm: “Don’t you ever leave again! Your mother will be lost without you! She’ll be all by herself!”. What? She wasn’t ill or very old or crippled, so what was the problem? And what did it mean, alone? What about my father? What about her, and the rest of the enlarged family? We were all too grown up for that sort of drama. In any other country, someone would have advised her to seek psychological help; but here, youth are hostages to the elderly.

The sky was out of my reach. There weren’t proper clouds, just a veil of mist that made the sky less blue. There was no wind and nothing moved. Stagnation. No rain, but also nothing happening at all.

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Written in response to Writing 101, Day Seven: Give and Take

Shipping time

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I don’t need to raise my head from the desk to know he’s here. Hysterically loud ska punk music introduces him, then a handbrake sound: the courier has arrived. He drives the same route twice a day, serving the whole industrial estate.

The usual wide smile appears before he steps through the door. He must be about 25. He lightheartedly walks into the office, ignoring the weight of the box full of spare parts. It’s hard to guess his ethnicity: light brown hair, fair skin and something about his facial bones say Eastern European; cheerfulness and high-pitch voice say something else. Judging from his musical tastes I’d say South American, possibly Argentinian. I’m not a good observer. I’m probably a better listener. As a linguist, in order to frame a stranger I have to hear him speak. I don’t have enough input here: not many words are spoken between us. There’s no time to chat. Parcels must be delivered, a schedule must be met. A greeting, thanks and the occasional joke.

He types on his device. After a few collections he already remembered my last name. I sign on the display. Sometimes I’ve run out of packing envelopes: no problem. He walks back to the van and returns with a pile of them, and a ream of shipping forms. Once I was late and made him wait a couple of minutes until I finished printing the shipping notes. He didn’t show any sign of anxiety or bother. Same laid-back attitude. If he was under pressure, it certainly didn’t show. “Everything will be alright”, his smile said.

I wonder if he’d show the same aplomb were he in my place, talking on the phone to annoying customers. I’m sure he would: he’s accurate and has good problem solving skills. He’s good at his job and doesn’t need to stay put: he can afford the innocent rebellion of a full-volume radio and a surfer necklace. I know this, because we never had any mishap, although logistics is potentially a big source of trouble in sales. The only time he was absent, we found a parcel abandoned near the gate the day before, and when we opened it, the content was damaged. The replacement had to refund us out of his pocket. The next morning, the ska punk hullabaloo was back and we sighed with relief.

Whatever his nationality, no doubt he’s not from here. While frustration and ambition gnaw at us natives of this once flourishing city-state, he strides around as if being a driver carrier was the best job in the world. What does he do once he’s finished his round? I can easily picture him meeting some friends in a pub, on the promenade, or on the beach. He wears no ring, which doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t have a family. Maybe he has kids.

Whatever is personal life is like, he has a secret that makes his radiant. His batteries are charged. He has the smile of someone who finds the drive to face his daily tasks in positive and enriching relations that will be resumed off working hours.

 

Written in response to Writing 101, Day Six: A Character-Building Experience

Death in the Time of Bureaucracy

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This morning I found a letter in my box. It read:

Dear Mr. Hideousheart,

please note that the Grim Reaper will be on strike until May, 07. We are pleased to inform You that any decease dating from May, 05 to the above-mentioned date will not be considered valid. You are therefore entitled to appeal within 24 hours from receipt of this message. A written application must be submitted by registered mail, together with a death certificate.

Regards,

The Ministry of Grief.

I had to tell Dad. But, will the graveyard keepers let me in, and open the burial recess for me?

 

Written in response to Writing 101, Day Five: Be Brief