Alexandra was seven years old and refused to answer to anything but “Alex.” She was terrified of thunderstorms, ever since she could remember, even, she thought, before she could remember. Which was why she had very quietly, very deliberately, gotten out of bed, tip-toed down the hallway to check that her Grammy was asleep—and she was, bathed in the blue glow of a tv set that sat on the floor and was longer than Alex was tall—, returned to her room, heart thudding, stomach twisting, got out of the soft, pale blue pjs that had come in the mail from the father she’d never met, put on her favorite pair of overalls, considered shoes but then dismissed the idea, snuck quietly down the stairs, lightly hopping over the seventh from the bottom because it always squeaked the loudest, move quickly to the back door, took a deep, deep breath, felt a bit of sweat start to dampen the back of her neck, bit her lip, opened the door and
ran to the center of the back yard, away from the tall trees, mostly elm, that bordered the yard and stood, instantly soaked, shivering and scared as above her the sky cracked white, and the lightning stood out from the blackness of the sky like the blue veins on the hands of the old women that would come over every Saturday to play cards with her Grammy, the following thunder so loud and deep that she could feel it inside of her, tricking her heart into a different rhythm. She wanted to scream, she wanted to cry, she wanted to run to the arms of a mother she barely remembered. Instead, she stood under a fierce rain, her long brown hair matted to her skin, her bare feet squelching mud, her stomach twisted and nauseaus from the bolts of
It’ll break the sky she though and no more blue and no more sun, just a broken black that will never ever be right again and I’ll be swallowed up by the emptiness. Her heart was fast, her body clenched. Seven year old eyes looked out at a violent universe and a seven year old’s promise held her still, kept her from running inside and clutching her stuffed animals, in particular the yellow teddy bear that was once her mother’s, a seven year old’s promise to the Grammpa who had died when she was five and had been the only person she’d ever let call her anything but “Alex” secretly enjoying the way his deep, somber voice shaped the sound “Xandra,” and whose last words to her had been “Xandra, don’t ever let fear stop you from anything.” His trembling hand clutched at her own, enfolding her fingers in dry skin and brittle bones, he eyes bright from pain and the need to make her understand.
“Fear, Xandra, it can make you do, make you stop, keep you from being . . . you. All you . . .”
His breath seemed to leave him, a spasm wracked his body. Alex was crying.
“Stand up to your fear Xandra, stand up to it.”
And so she did, from then on. She stood in the midst of the thunderstorm, scared, but facing the storm with a strength and determination that she knew, she understood in deeper-than-seven-year-old way, was her grandfather’s greatest give he had ever given.
“I’m not scared of you,” Alex screamed out, unable even to hear herself as the lightning split the sky and the thunder vomited noise. It was a lie, she knew, but like most lies she told, she knew that there was at least some truth to it.
A sudden lull in the storm, a sound of chuckling, dark, deep and far more frightening than the storm. Her stomach clenched and she could taste bile in the back of her throat. Then the rain and the lightning and the thunder and it was probably her imagination and she should be getting back in because she was soaked and getting chilled and besides, Grammpa hadn’t said you needed to stand up to your fear for a specified time period. Maybe she’d steal a cookie and some milk before going back to bed.
Alex went inside. A shadow moved from behind a tree, dark on dark and not quite there. Again a chuckle, this time only frightening the worms what struggled through the muddy back yard. Then, without movement, the shape, the shadow simply . . . dissipated, like your breath on a cold day in bright sunlight, barely visible and then not.