The Lightning Chamber

The sun shone down onto the kitchen sink piled high with a week’s worth of dirty dishes. Madison struggled to maneuver his rolling walker over to the counter. He turned on the NOAA – All Hazard Weather Radio that his son bought for him.

“For the Miami Beach area…partly cloudy, hot, and humid with a high of 90 degrees, thunderstorms in the evening, chance of rain 80 percent…”

Throughout his life, he felt more at home with machines than with people. No one could believe he was able to find someone as warm and understanding as his wife, Angie. Through their years together, for all of his brilliance as a scientist and inventor, he was not wise in the matters of the heart. Until Angie died, then his heart painfully came alive.

The weather radio continued to replay the forecast, filling the kitchen with cold scientific chatter until it finally got Madison’s attention.

“Thunderstorms in the evening…chance of rain… Hey, Buddy, are you even listening to me?”
Madison swore at the radio while smacking the radio’s glowing blue bar until it stopped its repeating.

What was happening to him? He never heard voices before, and they were happening more frequently. Only yesterday, he had an argument with a bird that landed on his kitchen windowsill, squawking at him for making excuses for staying inside.

Oh God, why would he answer these voices as if they were real?

One time, he asked Angie if she thought he was mad; she laughed with a soft bird-like trill. Her laughter was natural and melodic, whereas his erratic laughter and behavior struck most people as odd and eccentric. Only Angie knew what to say to him.

“Madie, my love, you’re not mad; they just don’t understand you. They do not have the ability to look beyond your voice, beyond your behavior. And it doesn’t help, that your hair is always wild, especially after being out in a rainstorm.”

Madison reached up almost expecting to feel Angie’s hand smoothing out his long curly hair.
Her soothing voice continued in his mind.

“If only you could let the storm heal you…the lightning can spark those feelings buried deep in you. Brighten up your eyes, the windows to your soul.”

Through the years, his rational, scientific mind had always refuted her spiritual beliefs. He only paid attention to what made sense to him, tuning out the rest.

It seemed like all of the bad things that could happen to him came at once. His wife died only two months ago after a long illness. The last few days of her life, he hid himself away, not going into their bedroom that had become the ‘death chamber’ to him. He sprained his ankle, the day before the funeral resulting in his decision not to attend. It was a terrible excuse, but her death filled him with such unexplained loss and despair. He buried his head in his old research papers, anything to distract him from his uncomfortable feelings. The day after the funeral, he broke his other leg. Nick, his son, said it was a deserved punishment. Their already shaky relationship had become more troubled.

Madison swallowed the pain medicine his son dutifully brought him. He found no good reason to move about so he spent most of his time sitting and sleeping in the La-Z-Boy chair in the living room. In his mind, the bedroom had become a ‘sacred chamber,’ the closed door like a guardian warding off strangers.

Madison ate only when he was hungry, which was not often. Nick would bring him groceries and other necessities. The infrequent and short visits suited Madison fine, who did not like his son’s criticism on how he lived his life. Ironically, they shared a common interest-weather, especially lightning and thunder. Florida had the highest amounts of lightning strikes in the nation and his son was a meteorologist in Miami.

Madison rolled back the wrinkled sleeves of his unwashed shirt and sank his hands deep into the water, scrubbing at the crusty and greasy plates with a soapy rag. His son would be coming this evening. A sink full of dishes would not be an acceptable sight and he wanted to avoid any confrontations.

He wrung out the rag, closed his eyes, and tried to visualize his wife, the peacemaker in the family. Instead, the angry face of Nick appeared for a brief moment and then the image violently whirled down the drain and was gone.

Out the kitchen window, birds scattered through the sky, squawking their warning of the upcoming storms.

###

The rain pelted his windshield as Nick pulled into the parking lot of his father’s apartment building. He climbed out of his car, pulled out his umbrella, stepped into a deep puddle, and swore aloud as he ran for the entrance. As he swung open the door, a bright flash of light and a crash of thunder encouraged him in.

Thunder always brought memories of his mother who had often tried to cover up the sound with her own laughter. She had a lovely sense of humor, in contrast to his father whose rare, strange laughter would come at such inappropriate times.

In the foyer, he pushed the button marked Madison Wexler and waited for the buzzer. The locked door clicked and he yanked it open. Having no patience to wait for the elevator, he stomped up three flights of stairs and down the long corridor to his father’s apartment.

He reached the apartment exhausted and agitated. Taking a few calming breaths, he finally knocked, and then impatiently rang the bell. The door slowly opened. His father blankly stared at him. At one time, he had despised his father’s cold, piercing, blue eyes, but at least they were more alive than the double pools of dead calm water that were looking at him now.

“Can I come in?” Nick finally asked.

Madison nodded, backed up, and turned his rolling walker, leading him into the living room. He shuffled to his La-Z-Boy chair and reclined in it.

At the persisting silence, Nick defensively asked, “Are you mad at me, Dad? I offered to take you out for dinner, but you said not to bother, you had already taken something out.”

“Not mad. Had a fine dinner…can take care of myself.”

“Alright.” Nick turned away glancing at the messy apartment, a stack of unread newspapers sat by the La-Z-Boy. He walked into the kitchen and put away the groceries he had bought.

At the steady sound of rumbling thunder, he came back to the living room. Once more, he thought of his mother’s laughter, sad that he would never hear it again.

The constant barrage of lightning played out its drama in the large picture window, lighting up the living room’s most impressive piece of furnishing, a massive floor-to-ceiling wall unit. A clutter of gadgets sat on the oak shelving, covered in dusty spider webs and insect carcasses. His father had always been the ultimate collector, never throwing anything away. Robots assembled from old artifacts sat with their mechanical arms dangling. Electronic eyes seemed to stare at Nick.

He turned around to see his father’s blue eyes, the same color as his, all of a sudden light up.

“You’re thinking why do I still have this stuff?”

“I remember when Mom joked about all your stuff being a Radio Shack on steroids. Back then, I didn’t even know what she meant.” Nick laughed at the memory.

“Yeah, Radio Shack. I used to shop there.” Madison’s voice was flat and humorless.

Nick pulled a chair next to his father’s La-Z-Boy and sat down. His father tugged at a blanket, pulling it up over his knees, brushing away any attempts of assistance. Frost seemed to seep into the room, and Nick shivered while his naturally curly hair frizzed in the humidity.

He listened to the rain bouncing off the window and remembered something his mother use to tell him when he was a child. He decided to break the silence and relieve the chill with the warmth of a favorite memory.

“I used to cry during storms because they frightened me. Tears and rain seemed to go together. Mom, always the optimist, had a spiritual way of looking at things. She would tell me ‘rain was like Heaven’s wet fingers’ and I would remember her comforting, wet, soapy fingers dripping down on me when she bathed me as a child.”

“You were such a mamma’s boy, so needy.”

“Yeah, well, you weren’t there when I needed you, Dad.”

“When do you need to be at work?” Madison asked, looking at his watch.

“Always changing the subject when it gets too uncomfortable. I have a midnight shift. I have plenty of time… if you want me to stay?”

Nick looked at his father’s drawn face and observed a sadness he never remembered seeing before.

“Are you all right, Dad?”

“Go on with your mother’s story. I’m listening”

“Mom would say ‘lightning was like Heaven’s sparkling eyes.’ She could look into your eyes and see into your soul.”

“Your mother told me that my soul must have run off to join the circus, but since she liked going to the circus, she would bring it back to me. Sometimes your mother made no sense.”

“Mom and I used to go to the circus. You had more important things to do. Laughter is good for your spirit, Dad, good for your soul.” Nick gently laughed again. “So, did Mom ever bring it back?”

Sadly, Nick realized his mother’s humor was lost on his father who took everything literally. His father could benefit from a little ‘circus in his heart and in his soul.’

“Just continue with the story, already,” Madison said while tapping his fingers along the chair’s armrests.

“Whenever she heard thunder, she would call it ‘Heaven’s expressive voice’ and she would laugh aloud, her voice full of life, an explosion of spontaneous excitement that was contagious. My laughter joined hers and I knew I had nothing to fear. She was a little bit of Heaven on Earth.”
“Pretty story…but still think it’s a bunch of nonsense… never could grasp Angie’s beliefs. Science is all there is…you of all people should know that. There is nothing beyond that. Can’t believe you held on to these tales all of these years.”

All of a sudden, his father laughed, a strange guttural sound as if someone told a vulgar joke. Then he coughed and sputtered, pulled the blanket higher over his body, and closed his eyes. Soon all that could be heard was his snoring.

“I guess I’ll be going,” Nick said to his sleeping father.

He rushed out of the apartment and stepped out into the rain, the anger growing deep inside him, wanting to burst out.

###

At midnight, a lightning bolt shaped like a hand with long, pointed fingers reached out from Heaven in search of its destination-the top of the roof over Madison’s apartment building. It left a tiny smoldering hole, which the rain quickly extinguished. One lone bolt created an arc that struck a satellite dish in the same location directly over Madison’s bedroom. The satellite dish glowed and sparked like a flying saucer, its outer rim charged with a bluish-white otherworldly neon ring of light.

Madison awoke to an explosion that shook his apartment. A few seconds later, the living room windows lit up with blinding white streaks of light.

A college memory filled his mind of taking lightning pictures from the top of the Old Observatory during the middle of a thunderstorm. Angie had stood next to him holding an umbrella over their heads. Static electricity would sing in the guy wires holding up a tall weather tower on the roof. He remembered his fearlessness, his obsession with weather.

Then another crash of thunder seemed to come from his deserted bedroom. He rose from his La-Z-Boy in a daze and nervously made his way there. He felt like he didn’t belong or deserve to be going into this room, until the Door motioned him through with a “hello, stranger,” and he was on the other side. He rolled his walker over to an alcove where two winged chairs sat. Bluish misty light floated above the chairs and he looked up to see water filling the glass dome of a ceiling light fixture. Madison jumped with alarm as sparks flew out from the fixture. Water and electricity doesn’t mix. What was going on here?

Then his cell phone vibrated in his pants pocket. Everything was coming alive at once.
Madison had never in his life, seen or felt anything like this.

It wasn’t the phenomena called ‘ball lightning’ that he and Angie had once experienced in college. During that particular storm, they had watched through a window as sizzling whitish-blue electricity zigzagged along the top edge of a chain link fence. As it raced along, building up speed, it shot a rocket stream of intense blue light up toward the window. The light thickened into a grapefruit-sized orb. Madison and Angie sat mesmerized, as they watched this mystifying ball pass through the window with a popping sound. Amazingly, it did not break the glass. It hovered over them. Eventually, the ball lightning evaporated into the air, its whizzing sound fading away.

The sound of flowing water brought Madison’s attention back to this new phenomenon. More sparks flew alongside a thin stream of water dripping onto the round glass table that sat between the chairs. He rushed to get a lavender vase to collect the water. When he placed it in the middle of the table, a voice rang out as a few sparks splashed into the vase.

“I have always loved that vase.”

Madison shook his head trying to clear this new voice echoing through the room as he nervously paced.

“Madie, my love, you can’t have doubts,” Angie’s ethereal voice broke through each spark.

“This is beyond my comprehension. Things do not work this way.”

“It’s just a step beyond math and science…everything is connected in the grand scheme of things.”

Madison kept shaking his head and finally said, “It can’t be true. First of all, this voice doesn’t even sound like you… like my Angie…the warmth is not there.”

“Heaven and Earth’s frequencies are not the same, you know.”

“Like tuning in a radio signal?”

“It could be. I told them that a lightning storm could set everything in motion and grab your attention. I knew that you would need some proof. There had to be science behind it so I proposed using the satellite dish as a conduit for the ionization channels to project my voice through electrical sparks. Twa…laa- A conversation from Heaven.”

“Angie, the science is not exactly perfect though I admit it has possibility, if I had a few more moments to analyze it, I would let you know if it has a scientifically sound premise. You keep mentioning ‘them’? Who is helping you, and where are you? But most of all, I can’t believe I am having this conversation. Angie, you died and left me, and now you’re back trying to electrocute me.”

“Funny, Madie… The important thing is I’ve reached you. I know this whole thing is scaring you. Remember when Nickie was scared during a lightning storm? You both need to help each other now.”

“I’m not scared. Do not compare me with Nick.”

“I miss you, but Heaven has surpassed my expectations because it reminds me of you …a place filled with brilliance, a place that makes your heart sing with a selfish madness. I have been slightly cold lately, so looking for some Earthly warmth, to bring back the voice you remember. You’re my little bit of Earth on Heaven and I will continue to watch you with great hope…I am counting on you, Madie.”

Madison’s voice grew tense, “What will I do, now?” He carefully moved closer to the dripping water, nervously sighed, and whispered, “All of these voices lately. It’s just me and my madness.”

The sparks stopped and there was silence.

“Angie, are you still here?”

A spark broke through the beads of water and he heard gentle laughter.

“I’m always here. Heaven is closer than you think. You need to believe in yourself, Madie… take better care of yourself and reach out to our son. You both need each other, now more than ever. Remember when you see lightning, I’m not too far away. When you hear thunder, it’s just me laughing.”

###

Madison looked down at the water overflowing the lavender vase. The dripping from the ceiling fixture finally stopped. His cell phone was still vibrating. He pulled it out and it flashed 12:30. A mad thought went through his head. A thirty minute call from Heaven…what had just happened? Did he really talk with Angie? He could barely remember it. Now looking back at it, it seemed trivial, nonsensical, impossible, and unbelievable-he rattled off the list and looked at the cell phone that seemed to be agreeing with him.

“You need proof, Buddy. Without it, this new phenomenon is meaningless,” it declared in a macho voice.

So many voices, but which ones to listen to, to believe in? The chatty radio, the bird on the windowsill, the macho cell phone, the welcoming door, and then his wife, Angie in Heaven. He was smart enough to understand that they all originated within him. Projecting his thoughts, his wishes, his beliefs into voices he heard.

“But what if…”Madison started to say with frustration to all of the voices that had been competing for his attention. “What if there is something out there, that is beyond math and science? Something I’ve been searching for throughout my whole life and never found.”

For the first time since her death, he decided to sleep in their bed. A bolt of lightning streaked past the window, followed by thunder, and he instantly thought of Angie and warmth filled his soul. He gently laughed and felt more alive than he had for a long time. He remembered her cold voice in the sparkling water, so unlike her on Earth. Before falling asleep, he breathed into his cupped hands, whispered Angie’s name, and hoped somewhere in Heaven that she was as warm as he was.

The rain gently fell throughout the night with an occasional lightning streak brightening the room. By 8:00 in the morning, another thunderstorm was moving into Miami Beach.

Madison picked up his cell and listened to the voice messages that his son had left throughout the night.

“Been worried about you, Dad. Shouldn’t have left you alone…I knew you were not all right and then still left you. Why would I do that?”

Madison scrolled down the contact list, pressed his son’s name, and waited.

“Hi, Nick, it’s the end of your midnight shift. How about picking me up and we’ll go out for breakfast?”

Over the airwaves, thunder boomed its agreement and both men laughed back.

Copyright© 2017 Elaine Fisher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s