“Erin,” Mom said when she came to tuck me in, “hunnie, you can’t keep that. I know it’s pretty now but it can change. Tomorrow you have to let it go.”
I argued. Alan was able to keep caterpillars in a jar in his room and they changed. I lay in bed and watched the lightning flash inside the glass container. My room glowed blue with every bolt. I drifted off to sleep and dreamt of being rain inside a cloud. I waited to fall to the ground and soak inside, giving life to a plant or a blade of grass.
I didn’t let the thunderstorm go. I tried, but I couldn’t bring myself to open the lid. It doesn’t want to leave. I told myself. Out there it will drift away. All its rain will fall and it will die. In the jar, it can suck the drops back up and live forever.
But I knew that wasn’t true. Nothing lived forever. I learned this when Grandpa died last year. I was only eight. Mom cried for a long time after that.
I hid the thunderstorm in the back of my closet, under a pink blanket with white horses, nestled against two pillows. After mom tucked me in, I fought to stay awake. And after I heard her door close, I shuffled to the closet and pulled the blanket back and smiled at the soft blue flash of the lightning.
Water pooled at the bottom of the jar from the tiny drops of rain. The next morning they were gone and the clouds were dark again. They waited for nighttime. Waited to be a storm.
The house was always empty when Alan and I got home from school. He was supposed to watch me but he couldn’t be bothered. I wasn’t cool enough. It used to make me sad but after I caught the storm, I laid on my bedroom floor propped on my elbows, half in my closet, and watched the clouds swirl inside the jar. Some days, when I got home early enough, the clouds would still be dry and, for a second, I would see Grandpa’s white hair in the wisps.
Dad lost his job a month ago. With him home every day I only got to see the storm at night and the lightning struck less and less. I was afraid it was dying. I took it outside to let it go. I knew it was time. I opened the lid and the clouds floated out. I wanted to cry.
A gust of wind blew and the clouds flew back into the jar. I shut the lid quick and just as I did, Alan snatched it from my hand.
“Give it back,” I yelled. He started to run through the yard. I chased him but tripped over a root from the big oak tree near the back fence.
Mom came out and yelled for us to be careful and yelled at Alan for teasing me. When she saw the jar she yelled even louder. Dad came out just in time. She was struggling with the lid.
“Oh Jesus Karen, let her keep it.”
I sniffled as they began to argue. I tried to tell them the storm wouldn’t change but they no longer cared; they were yelling things about money and bills. I jumped forward and grabbed the jar.
“Erin! Give that back!”
I ran inside and left them yelling. Alan came in right behind me. “Way to go stupid. It’s your fault they fight.”
“I hate you!” I yelled and slammed the door to my room.
That night I watched the storm but there was no lightning. The rain didn’t fall. The clouds just swirled inside. I drifted off to sleep and dreamt of being on Grandpa’s knee. Him bouncing me up and down singing, ‘Trot, trot to Boston. Trot, trot to Lynne. Trot, trot to Salem and home again.’
It was the anniversary of the day Grandpa died. We went to the cemetery to put flowers on his grave. Dad didn’t come. Mom said a prayer and while she did I thought of Grandpa’s white hair and the old person laugh he always had. I knelt down and pulled the jar from my coat. “Damn it Erin.” Mom said. She didn’t reach for the storm, just sniffled again and brought us back to the car. I knew the storm was dead. That eventually everything went away.
We drove home in silence. Alan kicked his legs against my seat but I didn’t care. I clutched the jar through my coat and just wanted to see the rain fall or the clouds swirl. Mom pulled the car to the side of the road just before the neighbor’s house.
She cursed, almost a whisper, and put her head against the steering wheel. I didn’t know why she was mad or what had happened.
“Whose car is that?” Alan asked.
A little white car with four doors was parked in our driveway behind Dad’s. Mom was gripping the steering wheel and shaking. She sped into our driveway and parked behind the strange car.
“Mom?” Alan called but she was out of the car and storming into the house.
I pulled the jar from my coat and couldn’t believe it. The clouds were dark and circling. My storm was coming back. And then I remembered the cemetery and what happens when you die. How everything goes up into the sky.
I sniffled and undid the lid of the jar. Thunder clapped. Alan jumped out of the car and the clouds vanished through his open door, carried on the wind and through the front door of the house.
B Thomas writes from New England where he unequally balances time between hiking, concerts, and quoting seemingly random movies. Get in touch at bthomas7.weebly.com.