I have been trying to put my childhood in some sort of order recently and have been finding that the memories come as a series of snapshots. This is one of them.
And she is six and it is raining – a summer storm that drenches and quenches the earth and wind whips the trees low and lower still so the birds fly out with raucous cry and tender leaves not yet set to their stalk wrench and fall out and down to skewer the grass in a violent way that stirs something in her. It’s wicked weather she would think, if she were old enough to understand wickedness in all its glory.
She hears the first rumble of thunder that presages the worst of the passing storm and lifts her eyes up to the skies, black and roiling, punctuated with energy and jagged rents that tear through everything. Her small mouth opens in a wet o, all child lips and round eyes and her fine hair crackles as a bolt lands near by.
If it’s raining, you must use an umbrella, her mother has said to her before and she knows that this is true, that the black pall of fabric and wire keeps things safe and keeps them dry. That when an umbrella is open your patent shoes don’t get wet and your dress won’t lose its starch.
Umbrella in hand she eases open the door with only one look back to see if she has been spotted. Out into the rain she goes, onto the decking that juts off the house on the second floor and she is up off the ground some twenty feet, face to face with the weeping willow that fights the winds with every groan of her branches.
Another crack of thunder, a gash of light across the sky and she stops as the air shifts around her, ripples with energy that is cold and hot all in one. She is getting wet and she remembers that she is still clutching the umbrella and now she unfurls it and fights the wind for it and comes away victorious. It won’t turn inside out and she raises it up high in both hands as another clap and bolt come now, nearly over the house.
The wind turns her and she stops trying to guess which way it will go and gives into the fury and force and beauty of the weather and lets it move her, moves within it, becomes it as her feet butterfly the boards beneath her and she begins to spin in the rain. She laughs and spins and is whipped by gusts that should, by rights, take her off the deck and sail her out into the sky.
She’s laughing and screaming and laughing, and upon completing one of many turns she sees her mother, very angry, coming to the door eyes snapping a warning staccato in time to her heels on the floor, but the girl doesn’t care, and turns her back to the house and lets the umbrella fly as an enormous explosion rattles the woods around her. Raising her arms up and throwing her head back, she lets her dress lose its starch and she dances. She is breathing water and wind and air and light and she has no fear. She lives. She lives. She lives. She dances.