Lightning Goes to Touch the Ground by Curtis LeBlanc

Michael Baker brushed his hair, placing the comb to the roots where they parted, running it from side to side. It was important to be presentable, to clean up before day’s end. It was something every man should do before climbing into bed. Woman or no woman, it was a proper task.

He leaned in towards the mirror and looked up his nose. With his finger he brushed away what had gathered around the edges of his nostrils, the stuff that his body had made to complicate matters.

He was not a new man. He knew this staring at the reflection of his face. I am the same stillness at the bottom of the lake, he thought, the same Michael Baker. He coughed and spat what came up into the sink. He left the washroom.

His slippers had his feet feeling a touch heavier than they had before.

It was just last night that he realised he had fallen into old love with Denise. It just happened, and it happened like this: He said, “Dear, how was your day?” and she answered, “Michael, you already know.” And it was true, how could he not know? Forty years he had been living with this person. Forty years and this was what it had come to.

Old love: it’s not talking and then making space for the silence. It’s these things and more, as opposed to staying near, keeping close enough to catch every part of a conversation. When you’re in new love you want to hear it all, the tongue touching to the bottom of the mouth, the clicking and smacking of the lips. You would kill yourself to hear those sounds, no matter how insignificant.

Michael understood it was the effort. He understood they weren’t making it anymore.

In the kitchen, embroidery hung from the walls. The counters were impeccable. Denise was boiling water in the new electric kettle. She stood over it, watching as the water went from still to simmering to a rolling boil. A person could leave the kettle be, leave it there on the stand, and it would boil, even stop once it had. And when it had cooled off, the thing would come alive again and heat the water right back up.

“The man at the bank called me Dennis today,” said Denise as she poured the hot water into two cups, the steam running up and over her hand as she did. “He took my card from me and he said, ‘What can we do for you this morning, Dennis Baker?’ He never even looked up from his desk. He just assumed I was a man.”

“And what did you tell him?” Michael asked. He sat down at the kitchen table and took the cup from her.

“I said ‘I’m sorry, it’s Denise.’ I said it in the nicest possible way.”

Michael lifted an elbow up onto the table. He picked at the tips of his fingers with the nail of his thumb. “Did you get the money for Kyle?” he asked.

“Yes, I did.” She took the chair opposite of him.

“How much?”

“Forty dollars,” she said.

“Forty dollars?”

“Forty dollars.”

“You want to make the kid a millionaire?” he said.

“Michael, he’s your grandson and it’s his birthday. Don’t be cheap.”

“He’s barely eleven, Denise. He’ll spend it on drugs. You wait and see. This is when they get them, when they’re young. You know what I read in the Gazette last week? That this place, where I was brought up, I read that right here is the crystal meth capital of all of Canada. The article said those perverts make the drugs using stuff an honest person would never think of, bottles that you and I keep in our garage. They’re feeding the stuff from our garage to the children, to the kids in the schools. It’s the same stuff I use to clean the bottoms of my work boots.”

Michael stared out the window and into the backyard. He could see clouds of a deep mauve amassing over the other side of town. A storm was coming. Early evening of a prairie summer and you could almost be sure of it.

In the field behind the house he could see the shapes of people. They were sitting in a circle beneath one of the birch trees, dressed in bright colors, the four or five of them.

One of the shapes stood up and held what appeared to Michael as some kind of elongated jerry can. Another got up and began pouring out bottles into the wide end of the contraption.

“Denise, do you see that? Those people, out there in the field.” Michael pointed towards the window. “What’s that they’ve got?”

One of the shapes got down on one knee while another one raised the contraption way up high, the tube of the thing leading to the other’s face.

“What the hell is that they’ve got there?” Michael said again.

“Leave them be,” Denise said. “Let them have their fun.”

“It’s always fun, Denise,” he said. “That’s all it is, right up until we have a body in our backyard. The parents will come knocking. They’ll want to ask us why. Why didn’t we stop it? Why didn’t we do anything? Awful is what it will be.”

The phone started ringing on the wall. Denise and Michael Baker sat across from each other at the table, neither of them getting up. They bobbed in and out of their tea. “This is when they call,” said Michael.

“It is,” said Denise. “But still I want to answer. What if it’s Kyle? It could be the grandkids.”

“Kids don’t call their grandparents, Denise. But that’s fine. You get it. There’s something I’ve been meaning to do.”

Michael left the kitchen as Denise moved to answer the phone. He went down the hall to the front entrance. There was a bowl where they kept their keys, various other things, and from it Michael took the garage door opener.

He stood in the middle of the driveway outside, directing his whole arm at the spot where he guessed the receiver would be, and pressed the button. The garage door heaved open.

Michael went over to the shelves at the back of the garage and surveyed the bottles. He began touching them, this one here, another there, and taking them down, twisting off the caps. He smelt the contents of each container and then poured them into the sink. He emptied them.

Kyle won’t be making his drugs in here, he thought, not in my garage.

He rinsed his hands.

Back in the kitchen it was Denise now who looked through the window. She didn’t look away, not even when Michael returned from the garage.

He came up behind her and put his hand to the curls of her hair, just firmly enough to feel them pushing back.

“Who was it on the phone, dear?” he said.

“It was them,” she said, her gaze staying put.

“What were they selling?” he asked.

“Nothing. It was a charity,” she said, “for the handicapped children. They want to buy them basketballs.”

“Oh, well, I hope you gave them something,” he said. “Life can be such a shame sometimes.”

Whether she agreed with him was not obvious. She seemed to only notice the storm clouds in their threatening tumble closer.

“ know,” he continued, though there wasn’t much else to say, “for the slower children, for their families, it can be a hard life.” He took up his chair once more and assumed a position similar to the one he was sitting in before.

“Do you see that?” Denise said. Her finger was aimed out beyond the glass and at the colourful shapes beneath the birch tree. They were golfing now is what they were doing. Passing the driver back and forth, taking turns hitting balls to the far end of the field. It looked as though they might be laughing about it. “Doesn’t it look fun?” she said.

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing,” Michael said. “They can’t do that here. They ought to practice at the driving range, or play the front nine when morning comes. When we were kids we would sneak out onto the course at night. Harmless fun it was, but that’s where we got our strokes in. Someone should tell those kids to try it. They’re golfing in the backyard, Denise.”

“It looks that way, Michael,” she said.

“It’s raining now, even. I can hear thunder.” Michael had begun to work himself up. “A golf club is like a lightning rod, a magnet for the storm. This is exactly the kind of place where it happens, where lightning goes to touch the ground. Those kids have a death wish. They’re going to get killed.”

“Michael,” she said.

“...and that one there, the one in red,” he continued. “His swing is all wrong. He’s bending his knees in all the wrong places. The follow-through is off, Denise, it’s just no good. Someone ought to at least go out there and correct his swing. It’s doing him a disservice.”

Michael was standing now. He walked to the screen door in the kitchen, pulling his arms into the sleeves of his rain jacket. “I’m going out there, Denise. Someone has to tell them. Someone has to let them know.”

“Michael,” Denise started saying, but he was already out the door. And so she said it to herself, “Michael, don’t go.”

Michael cut across the backyard. He was going for the gate. The rain fell around him, the wind angling it in all directions towards the earth. The ground was saturated and the air howled through the holes of things.

But still, the teenagers – Michael was close enough now to make them out as so – swung the golf club high into the air. There was thunder and he could feel it on his face. It made ripples in the water that was beading on his cheeks, streaking from his hairline to his chin.

“Hey!” Michael called to them through the storm.

They turned to look at him.

“You have to stop!” he yelled. He broke into a jog.

As Michael came close enough to make out their faces, their noses and mouths, the brows of people he had never seen, they dropped everything and ran. They left the driver and the golf balls, the jerry can contraption and the bottles, both full and empty, and they ran.

Michael slowed to a walk as he came to the birch tree where the shapes had been. He thought about picking up the bottles, about disposing of the contraption once and for all. Then he saw the driver lying in the wet grass. It had been a long time since he had hit a golf ball. So long he couldn’t remember it, whenever it was. He thought he might like to get just one swing in. It had been some time since the last time that he did anything at all.

Curtis LeBlanc was born and raised in St. Albert, Alberta. He currently resides in Vancouver, BC, where he attends the University of British Columbia. His work has previously been featured in Is Greater Than and Fugue.