By Ann Christine Tabaka

Thunder echoed through the night, as lightning streaked the sky, illuminating the heavens. The rain fell so hard that the sound of it kept Valerie awake. She pulled the covers over her head to block out the bright flashes and sound. Curling up, she hugged the pillow tightly. She remembered hugging her stuffed teddy bear in the exact same way many times before when she was young. She chided herself, “Why should a grown woman be afraid of a little thunder and lightning?” But she knew darn well why.

When Valerie was very young, she was always home alone after school, while her mother had to work to support them. One day there was a horrific thunder storm. The lightning was so close she could hear it crackle. It was back in the 1950’s, and they had a black and white television set with tubes in it. Her mother always told her to unplug the television and other appliances whenever there was lightning. As Valerie leaned over to pull out the electrical plug, a flash of lightning struck the side of her house where she was standing. She was momentarily blinded by the brightness, and felt the heat right through the window. All the hair on her body stood on end, and a prickly feeling ran from her hands to her toes. Valerie dropped the cord and ran out of the house screaming. She never even stopped to lock the door. She ran through the downpour to a neighbor’s house, then pounded on the door while crying. Later, after the storm had stopped, the neighbor lady walked her home. The white clapboard siding under the window where Valerie was standing was singed black from the strike. She never forgot that experience. To this very day, she always felt trepidation during violent storms. 

Now Valerie lived in a wooded area surrounded by the nature center. When there was a severe enough storm, large trees would sometimes fall, making loud cracks like the sound of a shotgun. CRACK! KABOOM! Another tree fell to its death. Several times in the past, smaller trees would fall over her deck or driveway and would have to be cleared out. She always feared that one of the huge tulip poplars that loomed on the hill behind her property would fall on her house and destroy it, possibly injuring or killing her and her cats. 

The storm continued on through most of the night, and Valerie got very little sleep, if any at all. Around 6am, the storm subsided and the sun came out. Valerie came crawling out from under her covers too. She discovered that her two cats had joined her under the blankets and were huddled at the foot of the bed, happy for the safe place and warm company. “Good morning scaredy cats,” she said, laughing at her own pun. “Let’s go outside and see how much damage that nasty old storm did last night.” Richter, as in Richter Scale, and Smudge scurried out, jumping onto the floor, ready for their adventure. Valerie threw on her jeans and a sweatshirt, then slipped into some old moccasins. She called to the cats, who ran to her, full of excitement knowing they were going outdoors. They both sat quietly while Valerie attached their cat harnesses and leashes. They knew the routine. Once outside they could happily leap at butterflies and bees, while being kept at a safe distance so as to not hurt the valuable pollinators. 

Standing in front of her house, Valerie was almost in tears as she looked around her small meadow gardens. She wrapped her arms around herself, hugging herself, and took a deep breath. “We will get through this,” she said to her two companions, as she surveyed the damage. Her favorite native Cardinal flowers were beaten down by the heavy rain and wind. Most of the meadow flowers were lying flat on the ground, or broken, looking like sad fallen soldiers. The gardens did not look happy. It was going to take a lot of work to prop up the salvageable plants, and clean out the destroyed ones. “Well, I guess we best get started,” she whimpered under her breath. Richter and Smudge looked at each other, then up at Valerie. They had no idea what she was saying, or why she seemed so sad. They were all outside, and the sun was shining, and birds were singing. It was a glorious day as far as they were concerned. They were ready to romp, and jump, and play with all the wild critters, while being safely restrained from harming any of them, or themselves. 

Just then, Valerie looked down to her lower area that ran alongside her neighbor’s driveway. There was a medium sized black walnut tree laying across it, and shattered to bits, as black walnut trees are apt to do. She quickly walked down to the fallen tree, and saw her neighbors standing there looking at the mess. “I am here to help,” she announced. “Let’s get started.” Peggy and Jeremy smiled, then replied, “We called the nature center, and they are sending over one of their land-management people to check things out. “Oh great!” Valerie exclaimed. “I’ll just stick around if you don’t mind. I may have a few questions to ask him about suggestions for my meadow when he is done talking to you.”  Richter meowed loudly, letting Valerie know it was not okay with him. He wanted to romp through her meadows and play, not stand around and wait. “Oh, be quiet you trouble maker you,” Valerie sternly said while looking him straight in his beguiling jade green eyes. Peggy and Jeremy laughed. Peggy asked “Do you always talk to your cats as if they were people?” Valerie blushed and shrugged her shoulders, “Yeah, kinda.” she timidly replied. 

A navy-blue pickup truck with the nature center’s logo pulled into the neighbor’s driveway. A tall middle-aged man stepped out. The first thing Valerie noticed was he was quite handsome with streaks of gray hair at his temples, sparkling hazel eyes, and a warm smile. “Hi, my name is Calvin Thompson,” he said as he reached out his big strong hand to shake Jeremy’s hand, since Jeremy walked forward to greet him first. He proceeded to shake Peggy’s then Valerie’s hand, smiling each time. Valerie felt a strange emotion in the pit of her stomach. She decided she better leave and go tend to her gardens. After all, there was a lot to do, and no time like the present. Excusing herself, Valerie tried to lead her kitties back up to her property. She tugged at the leashes several times. The cats lifted their heads to peer at her through narrow slits of sleepy eyes. The kitties were now bored, and did not want to move from where they were napping on the neighbor’s lush soft lawn. Valerie looked at the others, then tilted her head. “Cats!” she muttered. Then she picked them up, one in each arm, and trudged up the steep stone steps to her yard.

After several hours of working in the meadows, Valerie was exhausted and sweaty. She decided it was time for a break, and to clean herself up. She had taken the cats indoors earlier so that they would not get all tick and flea bitten. Plus, they were spoiled indoor cats, and as much as they enjoyed an outdoor romp, they preferred their air-conditioned home with plush kitty beds, and clean cool water to lap up whenever they pleased. Valerie was also happy to walk into the air-conditioned house. She sighed a heavy sigh of relief and kicked off her muddy mocs. The ground was still very soggy from all the rain, and it was difficult to work in all that muck.

Valerie barely closed the door behind her when she heard a knock. It was Calvin. Valerie’s heart skipped a beat as she opened the door. “Hi,” he said with a cheerful grin. “Peggy said that you had a few things you wanted to ask me about your meadows.” Valerie managed to stammer out “Uh, oh, yes, please come in. Excuse my appearance, but I have been trudging through the mess outside all morning.” Calvin smiled even wider. “You look fine to me. I like a woman who loves nature and native wildflowers. Your gardens look magnificent, even with the storm damage. How can I assist you?” After about thirty minutes of discussing ways to secure the taller weaker plants, and to reestablish the areas that were washed out, Calvin bid his farewell. Before leaving, he stopped and turned, then asked Valerie if he could call on her again, maybe to go out for a cup of coffee sometime soon. Valerie blushed, and murmured, “Why, yes, I would like that a lot.”  

As the door closed behind Calvin, Valerie turned toward the cats and yelled “Yippee!” Then she started giggling like a teenager. The cats were so startled that they jumped up, and almost knocked over the end-table lamp. “Maybe thunder storms aren’t so terrible after all. And maybe, the next time a bad storm hits, I will have something better than an old pillow to hug on to.”

Ann Christine Tabaka was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize in Poetry. Winner of Spillwords Press 2020 Publication of the Year, has been internationally published, and won poetry awards from numerous publications. Her bio is featured in the “Who’s Who of Emerging Writers 2020 & 2021,” published by Sweetycat Press. She is the author of 14 poetry books.  She Christine lives in Delaware, USA.  She loves gardening and cooking.  Chris lives with her husband and four cats. Her most recent credits are: Terror House; The Scribe; World of Myth; Literary Yard, CommuterLit; The Stray Branch; CafeLit; Breaking Rules Publishing; Piker Press, The Academy of the Heart and Mind; The Black Hair Press (Unravel Anthology, Apocalypse Anthology, Hate Anthology); The Siren’s Call (drabbles); Potato Soup Journal: 10-word stories.

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