The Struck by Lightning Tree

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Ada loses everything and finds love.

 

The Struck by Lightning Tree

My name is Ada Johnson and for the beginning of my life I lived at a place called Fogged-In Mountain. It’s a rural place, far out in the country, with forty acres of steep wooded hillside, a creek that ran close to the house, and a rutted driveway that went to the road.

The road was dirt for three long miles before it got to the hard road. The state crew came twice a year to grade it, but it was difficult, especially in winter, to live there. Over the years, most folks had moved away. There were still a few old falling down places people came back to every summer, and one mean old man who lived even farther up the road than I did. His name was Pappy. We were not kin, but since he’d known me all my life, he felt like he could tell me what to do. I felt lucky to be born in a place that I liked, that way I never had to leave it.

My house was made of sawn oak logs that were chinked together and was exactly what a log cabin should look like. A comforting house. Downstairs, there was a large kitchen and a sitting room with a stone fireplace in between them. Upstairs, two small bedrooms tucked under the eaves. Dad had enclosed the back porch for a bathroom, and I had running water and electric. It was exactly all I needed.

I built log cabins. Little ones – they’re a doll house. I made all the parts from materials I got in the woods, small sawn logs, little rocks for the chimney. Dad did this first and Mom made all the extras: a tiny broom with straw tied to a twig, cotton curtains, a hand-stitched quilt for the bed. They did this as long as I remember, and after they died, I kept it up for myself.

The only thing different about my cabins was that I included my tree. There was a giant oak, before the house was. It was at least one hundred years old and had always been in my life, towering over the house like a huge protecting friend. Since the tree and the house were rooted together in my mind, it was natural for me to craft them together.

I loved my tree as much as my house. From my bedroom window, I looked out in summer and saw baby birds in their nests. In winter, the squirrels chased one another on branches piled with snow. At night when I lay peaceful and quiet, my great tree swayed and made singing sounds to put me to sleep.

But then the storm came. An awful storm that roared through my mountain with a horrible fierceness, howling and mad. The hail raged on the roof until I thought it would whip away. The thunder crashed louder and louder, but the worst was the lightning. It aimed directly at me. At first, it hit high on the hill, but that was just playing. When it struck the tree, I saw a gigantic arc of blue green out my window. There was a deafening crash as great chunks of tree exploded through my windows – I dived under the table.

For a long time, I cowered there as the storm subsided. The din on the roof lessened, the sky lightened, the wind became more peaceful. I stood in my open doorway as the rain dripped off the roof of my porch. The smell of charred wood and smoke was all around me. My tree had a long, clean split in its bark, from the point of impact at the top of the trunk, all the way to the bottom. It was terribly wounded. For a long time, I watched the clouds move off and the rain drip and prayed in my heart for it to feel better.

Then Pappy’s ancient truck ground down the mountain and he walked in my yard, kicked at the exploded chunks of wood, and hunched his head into his jacket. He had a hard face, not a nice one. A stubbled chin, ratted cap, and fierce old hawk eyes. But on this day, as he studied my tree, he looked like he could cry any second. “It’s done for, Ada.”

I shook my head.

“When a tree this big, gets hit this hard, it’s got to come down, otherwise it’ll fall on your house.”

Pappy worked in lumber all of his life, but again I shook my head. “No!” I told him. “You’ll see it will live.” And I walked off my porch to the tree, to this round indented place, which was really a knot, and I put my hand there, because it was the heart of the tree. I closed my eyes and willed my energy and all my healing into that wounded tree. In my mind I said it over and over. Live. Live.

I was in love once. His name was Billy. He was a good-looking boy with soul blue eyes and sometimes he’d say, “Ada, you and me, we got the same heart. We got the same mind. We’re always going to be together.” And I’d feel the rightness when he said it, but Billy had a weakness, a sadness, a hole inside him couldn’t nothing fill. Many a time I lay by his side when he was sleeping and put my hand on his heart. If I could have filled that hole, I would have done it. He didn’t live long. Mountain roads are hard in winter.

The day of the storm, it was March and I was cold, and I was angry. I was thirty-five years old, a big, capable woman who lived alone on her own land and made her living with no one to help her. I lived rough, I guess I looked rough. I couldn’t see no other way to be.

***

Spring came. My creek gurgled and raced. The dirt road was a long and undulating mud hole. Every day I went to my tree and put my hand on its heart and gave it my love. And my tree leafed out. Tiny buds, they opened, they blossomed.

Pappy stood in my yard and shook his head. “That sap was already in there,” then he pointed to the center of the tree where the great limbs branched, to the exact center of the strike. It was charred solid black from the lightning. “All that’s dead there. When it goes, it’ll crack on your house.” Then he cocked his head and his eyes caught at me, “Did you never hear of a tree that’s been struck by lightning?”

I shook my head.

“It’s magic wood,” he told me. “When you build something with it, it’s stronger. When you burn it, the fire is hotter. If you breathe in the smoke, you do crazy things.”

But that made me harder against him. I folded my arms across my bosoms and drew my head in like a turtle. “No,” I told him.

***

June was the time the school kids came to see me. They parked the bus on the hard road and walked the last three miles up the mountain. They were mostly ten and very good observers. I showed them how I made my cabins. “How do you make the doors swing?”

“On teeny tiny hinges.”

“You should put a bird’s nest in the tree,” a little girl said, and I thought how I could do that.

“Is that real cement in the rocks to make the chimney?”

A million questions, then they’re silent, then they nudge each other and whisper, “I could do that.”

Over the years, Mrs. Henley had always been their shepherd. She scooted them all to the creek where they ate their bagged-up lunches. But the year my tree was struck by lightning, a man came. His name was Linwood Jenkins. He was close around forty with sandy balding hair, a big wide forehead, and a happy grin.

He told the kids to call me Miss Ada. He held his hands out, “When you talk to her you say – Miss Ada.”

“No,” I told him, “just Ada.” I intended to say it strong and I did so. He looked at me then – in my eyes. We were eye level to one another and his were warm and brown and laughing. I think he expected to see an oak-like woman as strong as the floorboards, but he didn’t see that.

I was curious about a man standing in my yard with a bus load of children. I expected . . . bullish, and censor, a mind-set thick with plaster. But I didn’t see that either. I saw caution, yes, but something in there flashing, like the way my creek was, over and over.

He drew back and I did also. He cornered the kids and I answered their questions. We sat on different levels of rock and eyed one another. Birds darted in and out of the bushes and the sun shone. I told them how I made my rugs and curtains. The boys wanted to know how I made my roofing shingles.

“It was a nice time,” he told me. He didn’t shake my hand the way a man shakes hands with another man. Then he said to the kids, “You thank Miss . . . I mean Ada.” And he winked at me then, a quick, easy kind of wink. Something he, no doubt, did every day. But, in all my life, I’d never been winked at.

“Thank you, Ada,” all the kids waved and went down the path past the last place by the rock where they could see me. They went on, but he stopped and just stood there. He waved.

I waved back.

***

Three days later, while I was collecting sticks and moss for my cabins, he walked in my yard. I’d not heard a car and concluded he’d parked on the hard road and walked up the last three miles. He was winded and red but not about to admit it. He stood on one leg and breathed in deeply, then stood on the other leg and breathed in deeply. Finally, on the inhale of the third breath, he asked, “Would you like to have dinner?”

Of course, I had imagined what it might be like to have him say this, but now that he had, all my feelings horrified to one. I lived in blue jeans and tee shirts. I did not own a dress. When Billy died a woman from the church had lent me one of hers. It was a Saturday morning. Did he mean tonight? “Tonight?” It was a shrill cry that echoed.

He looked at me intently. Was I more loose wired than he figured? Then he righted himself, he didn’t stand on one foot or the other, but up on both feet. He lowered his head and studied the ground in between us, “Next week,” he raised his eyes. “How about that?”

I nodded.

And then he did something – something I’ve always remembered. The sun was shining on top of his balding head and he gave me the biggest, widest grin I ever saw. He spread his arms as wide as he  could and shouted, “One week, Miss Ada, and it’s out to dinner!”

***

I lived off my land, by my own wits, from what I made by myself. And when I bought clothes, I bought thrifty. There was a thrift shop in town and Maybelle was the lady who ran it. She’d known me all of my life.

“I need a dress,” I said softly. There was no one else in the store, but I wanted to keep it secret.

Her face got concerned, “Who died?” 

I shook my head, but it was worse than death was really. “A date,” I whispered.

Her eyebrows lifted to the top of her head. “A date,” she smiled. “A very special date?”

Well, I didn’t know then how special it might be, but it was a first date. A first date, at thirty-five, with a whole man, out to dinner.

Maybelle looked me over closely, “You might live through it.”

I wasn’t sure as I searched the racks, the bins, the piles she’d set by the window. I wanted more than a dress. I wanted a new skin, a magic cloak that I could slip inside of. So, I’d emerge from the door of my cabin like a butterfly emerged its cocoon. I’d see him flabbergasted, in awe. Speechless. Senseless. Dazzled.

I wandered and hunted, drifted back in her storeroom and found an old wooden trunk. The hinges whined as I lifted the lid. Did you ever want something, need something, wish for something so hard? And there it was! Soft faded cotton, blue and white flowers, lace at the neck and on the sleeves. I held it to my face and breathed in deeply. It was musty, yes, and old, but deeper down there was this essence, this fragrance, this quiet sense of female . . . power.

On Saturday night I was scrubbed, combed, lipsticked and perfumed. And something more – I’m not beautiful really – but I am.

He rounded the rock ten minutes early. I saw him through the window. He was not winded, and I suspected he’d collected himself on the other side before he proceeded. He advanced slowly up the pathway in a nice pair of pants and a sports shirt. His shoes were clean on the top but covered with mud on the bottom. I took a breath in. He stepped on the porch and I heard the boards creak.

It’s alright. It’s alright now.

My door was open, just the screen. “Knock, knock,” he said it softly, quiet. Still the maleness of his voice was like a rattling.

I stepped in the open doorway and stood there. For one split second I saw his eyes, his guard, the utter loss of his jauntiness against me. Yes, indeed, it was enough.

Then, he righted himself. He inhaled slowly, “You sure look pretty.”

“Thank you,” I nodded.

***

I didn’t know what a man thought of when he stepped on a woman’s porch to take her to dinner. There was the eating part, and hoping for laughter, hoping for talking. Hoping for more.

I did know as a woman, I hoped that there would be no awkward places, or long silent pauses, or sitting and staring, wanting the evening to end and it just be over. I hoped for a good time, a really good time. But I was totally unprepared for the current beneath us. And he was also. I saw his face over and over. On many occasions, I saw it engulf him, just as it did me, this incredible, swiftest, headiest river. 

 I was not the ideal woman he had dreamed of. I think he was often stunned to find that I was her. And he was incredibly hungry. You wouldn’t think a man named Linwood Jenkins had too much animal in him, but he did. But what surprised me most was my own most overpowering hunger, my unbelievable wholeness against him. I was a spider spinning him in layers and layers of webbing.

All summer long, he lived inside my cabin. We collected rocks together for my chimneys and twigs for my little beds. We lay warm and naked beneath my covers and watched the birds feed their babies in my tree. The breeze blew in the curtains gently as the creek gurgled and played. In deepest night, we lay together and the branches of my tree swayed softly in the moonlight, sighing and singing, rocking us like a cradle

“Let’s get married,” he said one morning. It was late in August and we lay side by side and the sheets were warm around us. The house was quiet and held those gentle secret shadows.

“Yes,” I answered.

“When school’s in session we’ll live on the hard road and when it’s summer, we’ll live up here.”

I shifted myself to where I could see him. His hair was out to the side and he had that sleepy half grin that made me feel gentle towards him. But now I began to feel a fear I had no name for, “I just can’t do that.”

“Sure, you can,” he jostled against me. He rubbed his chin with his hand. “Why can’t you do that?”

I didn’t know. I never had, I never could.

“You could, too, do that,” he said it softly, he said it coaxing.

So, I turned on him with a blasting, with a white-hot anger and shouted, “I will never, ever, leave my house, or my land, or my tree, or my anything!” And then there was this long, awkward silence, this total stopping. We were two naked people lying together and we knew it.

“I’m so sorry,” was what he answered.

***

Fall came and every day came Pappy – to sit on my porch and criticize my coffee. “Ada,” he’d start, and I’d throw my hands up. “This tree is dead, child.”

“Its got branches and leaves,” I pointed to my beautiful branches. “It’s just wounded, but its healing.”

“Its saps used up now. When it falls, it’ll fall on your house.”

But I wouldn’t believe it and said what I knew in my heart, “It will never, ever, hurt me.”

I’d lived all my life in the same way and could see no other, but loneliness was a constant companion. Loneliness sat at my table. Loneliness slept in my bed. Even now, all these years later, I know that it was loneliness that made me go in my yard and pick up all the pieces of my tree that exploded out when the tree was struck and go to my fireplace and light it.

It caught slowly, at first, then hissed and popped. Embers shot out and burned in my carpet. Once it went to the faintest flicker, so I got on my knees and blew not to let it go out. And after a while, it crackled softly. In the dimmest light, it sent out a warm, close haven that I watched intently. Of course, I didn’t believe in magic, but I very much wanted to.

The dry sticks snapped and caught and were consumed to the brightest embers, but did they burn more intensely than any other fire? I couldn’t tell, only that the room was deathly quiet, as it had been many years. A nestling fire and peaceful as I settled in my chair and breathed the gentle smokiness. The wood sizzled and cooked and after a while, my eyes closed. My mind began to go down a lazy pathway that was lined with daisies and sweet blue chicory. And it was a summer’s day, and the shadows of the trees wavered all around me. The branches grew closer and closer, until I had to pry them apart with my fingers. And there in this sunlit clearing, Linwood Jenkins sat on a blanket holding a baby.

He looked up when he saw me – grinned and waved. It was the most natural feeling. But then I stopped it. I sat bolt upright, took my poker and stirred my fire until it all came apart. There was no secret something. No unusual brightness. No magical power.

***

Did you know hurricanes come to the mountains? They sweep inland and rain and flood. They’re extremely destructive, and that’s what happened. On the night of the storm, I put my hand on the heart of my tree, “It’s alright now.” I held my hand there, steady for a long time and heard it sway in the wind as I fed it my energy, my love, and it loved me back.

When the blow came it was fierce and horrific. All around the mountain the trees snapped and broke like twigs. For a while my old tree held, it really tried to. But there was a rushing sound, an incredible roaring, then this terrible wrenching, and splitting. I dived under the table and covered my head.

The branches flailed at the windows. There was this hideous shudder, this agonizing whine as my tree crashed on the roof. The roof exploded!

I held my head and waited for death. But death, itself, did not come. Pain came. Confusion came. Fear came, and then came anger. With the most profound, spitting anger of my life, I looked up to see Pappy climbing in through the branches, peering through the rubble that was left of my house. “I told you, Ada.”

I was cut, scratched, swollen, and broken. Both hands were wrapped like I’d been in a prize fight. But on my very first day in the hospital, a balding, sandy headed man came in to see me. His name was Linwood Jenkins. He had a great big bunch of flowers.

Very gently he sat at the foot of my bed. He leaned toward me and whispered, “In the winter we’ll live on the hard road.” He smiled, he grinned, he winked. And for a long while, I said nothing. I couldn’t talk or think except to know I had no home to go to, so I nodded. Then he continued on in his happy manner, “In the summer, we’ll work and work and build your house back.” And because I didn’t want to be cold, or lonely, or homeless, I nodded again.

And ever since then, the cabins I built from my tree took on the most amazing power, as though they were real. The fires I burned from my tree, burned somehow brighter, charged with a lasting comfort. Storms have raged and blown, but this peace has remained inside me. The quiet promise that I will never be cold.


Submitted: June 07, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Suzanne Mays. All rights reserved.

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