The lightning flash fully illuminates the sky for a second before I hear the deep crack of thunder. It’s low and lingering, rattling the windows in the living room. The couch seems to vibrate beneath me, where I sit, having just begun to read A Wrinkle In Time. I pause, a finger marking my page, and listen. My son fell asleep not too long ago, and I hope the sound didn’t wake him.
I think back to the afternoon. Today was hot and sticky, the air heavy with anticipation – like it was going to storm. We couldn’t step outside without sweat beading on the back of our necks, when walking to the pool in the middle of the afternoon. I was reminded how heavy air can feel when the humidity is ever-so-slowly climbing. The air felt volatile even with the blue sky above the pool, with water warm enough to be an evening bath.
“I think it might storm tonight,” I said to nobody in particular, as my son splashed with his dive ring on the stairs beside me.
“Thunder, mama? I don’t like thunder.” He was solemn as the dive ring fell to the step at my feet with a plop.
“I know, buddy. Maybe it won’t.” But he’d stopped listening.
“I want to jump to you!” he bellowed, before getting off the stairs to stand on the pool’s edge.
Then he leapt into my arms with a splash, covering me with water. Laughing, I lifted him above my head. His eyes matched the cerulean sky, and not a cloud was in sight. As much as I wanted to hope it wouldn’t rain, I also longed for a good storm by which to read a favorite.
When we got home from the pool, gray clouds started to roll in, obscuring the sun’s cheer. My phone’s weather apps chirped and told me we would expect storms late—right after my son’s bedtime. His eyes drooped as we ate pizza. Thunderstorms scare him, and I didn’t want him to miss out on sleep because of storm noise. I kept checking the radar as he pulled on pajamas, and after I helped him brush his teeth.
As he chose his bedtime books, I couldn’t help but notice his choices mirrored some of his favorites from last summer and set the soundtrack for almost all we did then. I recall doing this as a child, and as he chose his books, I thought about what I wanted to read later when the storms rolled in and filled the air with electricity.
“Mama!” He crawled into my lap holding a pink-and-orange covered book. “Let’s Read Chicka Chicka BOOM BOOM!” His enthusiasm was contagious. This is one of our favorites for hot days, when the humidity lingers like perfume.
We read it together; he read the letters and sang out the BOOMS and we both giggled as the letters tumbled down the tree skit skat skoodle doot. I love the rhythm and rhyme of this picture book and how it perfectly illustrates the adventures and antics of small children on hot summer days. I can picture my son getting into pickles like the little letters climbing the coconut tree, and wonder what sort of feats he’ll manage as he grows.
As soon as we finished his book, he fell asleep and I settled in to read. The first line of A Wrinkle in Time is simply “It was a dark and stormy night.” I find myself sympathizing with Meg Murry as her house is shaken and rocked by hurricane winds, and I hear the wind howling and the rain clattering as she tip-toes down to find her brother and hot cocoa.
The rain starts falling as I open the novel, and lightning strikes as Meg finds hot milk on the stove. Madeleine L’Engle sets quite the stormy scene and I wrap myself in the imagery as though it were a blanket. When Meg’s brother Charles starts to talk about Mrs. Whatsit, I can’t help but wonder how I would react if my son or one of my siblings began to talk about someone like her, in such matter-of-fact terms.
I’m drawn deeper into the book as the Murry children set off on their adventure, one involving a tesseract and their father. I remember reading this novel when I was a young teen, and listening to the summer storms we had in my hometown. There, the thunder reverberated and roiled off hills, echoing all around with each flash of lightning. Often, the sky would be fully illuminated by the flickers, but the tendrils of energy were nowhere to be seen—hidden by lush, green hills.
Here, as I look out the window, I can see the sky go on without interruption, but rolling thunder is rare. There are no hills in my corner of Texas for the rumbles to echo off. We get long, metallic clacks that took time for me to get used to when we moved here three years ago. I see lightning cross the sky haphazardly, lighting up my whole yard before I hear their thunder claps.
It’s both familiar and yet not quite. The sound is one I find comforting, even though it’s not exactly the same as what I grew up with, and it’s easy for me to find myself lost in a book as rain pours down pitter-pat on the rooftop.
I’m halfway through my book when I’m called from my reverie by the sound of silence. The hiss of the baby monitor beside me and hum of the refrigerator are all I can hear. I peek out the window and on the horizon I can see the distant flicker of light. The storm has moved on. My clock says it’s near midnight, and my eyes are scratchy with sleep.
As much as I don’t want to put the book down, I need rest. Tomorrow I’ll finish the novel. But for now, I’ll go to bed and dream of tesseracts, thunderstorms, and hot summer days.
A life of books. A life of soul. Karen Swallow Prior poignantly and humorously weaves the two, until it’s hard to tell one life from the other. Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more.
This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.