I understood the whys for lightning coming. Well, most of them. From science books and from those How it All Happens shows on that thing my grandfather calls the idiot box. Called it. Whenever he used that term, it made me doubt the things it taught me, and so maybe I wasn't really too sure about lightning, not until I stood and watched it, outside. Not just measuring its closeness to the house by the brightness of the flash through drawn curtains, by the speed and loudness of the thunder that followed it around.
The thunder, I thought I understood that as well. When I was even younger, it was the sound of clouds exploding as the lightning split right through. A little older, and I just understood it as the sound of the lightning fizzing, crackling in the air.
But never as the sound of a thousand bulbs - a long string, a chain of them, like snow-white Christmas lights - all shattering in sequence. Not until I found myself between a tree's branches in the middle of a storm. I wasn't supposed to be there, I know. They're nature's own lightning rods. Another thing my grandfather said.
I had to climb those branches, though, as soon as the bulb-smashing sounds started. Because there was no rain. I hadn't heard of dry lightning then, and had known those flashes and those bangs only when accompanied by the kind of rainfall that leads to flooding if it carries on for long enough. The rare-times I watched those split-second glare parades with curtains open, I used to get distracted by the movement of the raindrops on the glass.
No glass outside, though, and no raindrops that day either, and so I slowly came to see the lightning for exactly what it was. And, because it started so high up with all the clouds, I felt I must get higher too. And the highest things around were trees. Oaks and sycamores and elms, and ash, I think. And a clump, a ragged little copse of silver birches, with bark that brought to mind dalmatian spots.
It was an oak I climbed. It was spring, and I remember acorns snapping off beneath my scared but hungry fingergrasps and rubber soles. Some of the branches further up were close to rotten, and gave off dry wheezes, short phlegmless coughs, as I used them as handholds then footholds to reach ever airier places. If I'd have been considering that, and paid attention to my grandfather's words, I'd have known that I was scaling nothing but a hefty chunk of kindling, but, as it was, I just sat there, three branches down from the top of that tall oak and let the lightning leave those temporary greenblack slashes down my vision. Let the shattering noise come at me and rattle hard against my jaw. Like the punches that Bruce Lee threw in kung-fu films, and I took in schoolyards during fights. Took from softer lads than me, it turned out.
None of them were outside, treeclimbing as something tripped the fuses and blew a thousand lightbulbs all at once. None of them were swaying in the canopy, closing their eyes and absorbing the storm as a series of inky blue sparks. None of them chased me up there.
When the storm stopped, the air filled, faintly, with the memory of fire. I don't remember if my grandfather had said it would or not. It was quiet, and the wind was calmer. I kept my eyes closed until the patterns scratched across them faded. Trod tenderly on my way back down, going slowly; fearful, so I told myself, that I might fall if a branch were to break.