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“Well, what did you see?” I asked.
“It was a flash,” you replied. “Over there, near those clouds.”
“Must’ve been, I suppose.”
The subject died as quickly as it had come up, and we were back to talking about our families and our problems and the things that didn’t really seem to matter.
“There! I saw it again,” you interrupted. “By the horizon. It cut through those purple mountains off that way.”
“Which way?” I asked.
You pointed west, to where the last slice of the sun was sinking away. I stared across the flat landscape, waiting. The sky was a dull blue, splashed with fading rays of orange and pink.
“Doesn’t seem like it’s gonna rain,” I said.
“You never know, especially out here.”
“I like the rain. It’s peaceful.”
“Well, I wouldn’t really call thunderstorms peaceful. More angry, if you ask me.”
I looked over and met your calculating gaze. “I wasn’t talking about thunder. I don’t like thunder.”
“With thunder comes lightning. Isn’t that right?”
You smiled at me and shook your head slightly. The two of us fell silent, back to watching the swollen gray of the distant clouds. It was darker when I finally saw it; the crackling bolts of light that tangled together for mere milliseconds, illuminating the outline of the mountains.
“Holy crap!” I shouted.
“What do you think it is?”
“It’s heat lightning,” I said. “You know, lightning without thunder.”
“Lightning without thunder?” You looked doubtful.
“What else would it be?”
“I don’t know. I mean, where’s the thunder?”
“Wherever thunder goes to die, I guess.”
You looked over at me and started laughing. “Where thunder goes to die…” you repeated. “Damn. How do you come up with shit like that?”
I shrugged, not quite understanding what was so funny.
“So…you don’t like thunder because you don’t like lightning?” you asked.
“I’m scared of lightning,” I said.
You burst out laughing again. “You know the chances of getting hit by lightning are like one in 300,000? And that 90 percent of people survive, even if they do get hit?”
A shiver ran through us both and you stopped laughing immediately. I turned toward you and in the reflection of your eyes, I saw you in the forest, swollen gray clouds spitting down on the earth, the ground shaking with each crash of thunder. I saw the terror in your eyes because you were one in 300,000, you were not part of the 90 percent, and just like that, my world of hot summer nights and purple mountains came crashing down. I reached toward you and realized you were no longer there, that you had never been there, that you had left me once again, and given yourself to the lightning with no thunder.