June the tenth literary fictions gas nozzle icon

Mother was sitting at the kitchen table making her deviled eggs, nails red against the white of the eggs. Lex walked past her on his way to the sink to get a drink of water but she didn’t look up. He drank half a glass full and turned to face her.

“Now, Lex,” she said, pointing the knife at him, “this discussion is at an end. You are thirteen years old and that’s old enough to understand the importance of attending family gatherings, especially since some in the family are getting older and won’t be around forever.”

Father, mother, Lex and Birdie all got out of the car and greeted the family with kisses, handshakes, and clichéd greetings. Mother handed the deviled eggs to aunt Vivian, who always took charge of the food. Somebody gave father a beer and he sat on a camp stool ten feet away from everybody else and lit a cigarette.

Grandma Pearl was the guest of honor. It was her ninetieth birthday and she was the center of attention. She had her hair done the day before and had slept sitting up all night to keep from mashing down her cotton-candy curls. She was dressed in a new lavender pantsuit and slippers to match.

The girl cousins didn’t eat much because they were excited about going into the pool and believed they might die in the water if they overate. After a few bites, they each got up from the table, one at a time, and got into the back of uncle Herm’s roomy van and changed into their swimsuits, giggling all the time. When they were all changed, they stood around awkwardly, feeling exposed, not knowing what to do with themselves, their bone-white arms and legs on view for all to see. The boy cousins—Virgil, Vernon, Monte and Dickie—gaped at them and snickered. Vernon made howling sounds like a wolf baying at the moon, while pimply faced Dickie made pig snorts. Lex took one glance at them and looked away, finding the sight of them more than he could bear.

All the cousins were ready to go to the pool, but aunt Vivian wouldn’t let anybody go until after grandma’s cake had been cut. She brought the cake forward from the trunk of her car where she had been keeping it to keep the bugs off and set it on the table in front of grandma. There were nine candles, one for every decade of grandma’s life, but aunt Vivian was afraid to light them because the wind had suddenly become gusty and she was afraid that grandma might catch her hair on fire.

After the picture was taken, aunt Vivian sliced the cake, putting the pieces on paper plates with a plastic fork on each plate. Vernon picked up a piece in his hand and stuffed it all into his mouth at once, causing the other boy cousins to do the same.

The wind picked up and the paper plates and napkins left on the table began to scatter. Mother and the aunts had to scramble to keep everything from blowing away. The uncles sat and laughed at them and drank their beer and smoked their cigarettes.

Watching the sky, Lex smiled. He loved a good thunderstorm, the present one especially, because it reinforced his belief that the picnic was a bad idea in the first place. He was glad the day was spoiled. Even grandma was glad and the whole thing had been for her.

When the rain became a drenching downpour and the lightning became closer with every strike, aunt Vivian, with the help of uncle Herm, got grandma into the back of the van. She screamed with every lightning strike and pretended to be so scared, but Lex knew her and he knew she was enjoying every minute of it. She’d have something to tell her friends—her dramatic escape from a terrifying storm.

“When the storm started,” Birdie said, “the lifeguards told everybody to get out of the pool, but a few stayed. They thought it was a lot of fun. Sharonda was one that stayed. There were about six others. She had just come up out of the water and was standing at the edge. I didn’t see the lightning that hit her but I saw the flash. After she was hit, she fell into the water. The lifeguard blew his whistle really loud to get everybody’s attention. A couple of boys got Sharonda out of the water and they started working over her, trying to resuscitate her, but I knew she wasn’t breathing. Somebody called an ambulance, but it hadn’t come yet. That’s when I left.

He turned away and put his fingertips on the window, the water only a scant fraction of an inch away—he could almost feel it. As the car moved slowly and cautiously through the deluge, it gave one the impression of traveling underwater in a tiny submarine. When the rain finally stopped, it was going to be a terrible disappointment.