They say that lightning never strikes twice in the same place.
They are wrong.
The first time I was struck by lightning was when I met Della. She blew into my life in a gust of rain, her apple-sweet scent mingling with the freshness of that summer downpour. From the minute she stumbled into my small kitchen with her friend, sluicing water off her jacket in sprays of diamond laughter, I knew I had found the woman I would love forever.
“You must be Ray,” she said to me, dimpling up through wet curls with lips that begged to be kissed. “Lisa’s told me all about you.”
The second time was after Della had died, and I wished to God that I had been taken too.
Perhaps it was his way of answering me.
This is how it happened.
* * *
For three weeks, the rain fell with vindictive force from a scowling sky. For us on the land, it was nothing short of a miracle. The Australian outback is unforgiving country, where the drought-struck earth packs as hard as iron, daring only the toughest to survive.
So when the storm clouds gathered, no-one held their breath. For as long as any of us could remember, the rain had fallen only long enough to turn the inches of dust into a sticky mud that clung to our boots and clogged our souls. As soon as the blistering sun returned, the moisture evaporated, leaving crackled plains as wizened as an old man’s hide.
This time, it was different.
I still remember Della as she stood on the access road to our property, face upturned in rapture to the deluge. Her thin cotton dress was soaked, clinging to the fecund curve of her belly, while thunder rolled lazily overhead.
“Come in! You’re getting soaked!” I shouted over the downpour. She turned to smile at me, but in the next flash of lightning I saw the sudden unexpected ferment of fear that slithered over her face and was gone, the hand reaching instinctively for her stomach, and I knew.
It was a primeval stirring, a connection with the raw unleashed powers of nature, that brought our baby into the world that week. We left the windows open, and rain blew onto the floor, soaking the sheets where she writhed and twisted in guttural despair.
Fool’s Creek, it was called, the one that had never been filled with anything but stones as dry as dust; the creek that burst its banks in the week my Della gave birth to our child.
The road was blocked, impassable as a river of tears, and so I held her hand on my own and whispered my love into her ears and watched as she cracked herself open like the frailest of shells and bled herself dry in that tangle of sodden sheets.
The sky was a blackened bruise on the night that I went to bury the body of my only child. Earth that had once rung with steel at the impact of a shovel, sending shock waves through to my very bones, now opened up as soft as a blessing.
My tears blurred with the rain, a bitter irony. Not a blessing, but a curse. I sank to my knees then on the yielded earth and howled my pain to the indifferent skies. Della, I had not been able to bury. Not yet. She lay in the room, her lashes still spangled with tears, her hair with rain. I had washed and dressed her, touching perfume to her cheeks and wrists and the still-warm hollow at the base of her throat. I had kissed her fingers and her toes, trying to breathe warmth into their spreading coldness, cradling her in my arms until darkness fell across the sill with the shudder of finality.
Now I hunched in the mud and the rain, and God answered my prayers. The lightning struck white-hot in the open earth nearby, a scorching implosion of impossible light.
The doctors told me later that had I been struck directly, I would never have survived.
But that’s okay. Because now I know.
In that blaze of white, as my heart staggered and momentarily stopped, I saw her.
She was beautiful, dark curls blowing softly around her face, eyes shining with the faith she had always longed for me to share.
And I know I will see her again.
One day, many years from now, in a place with neither drought nor rain.
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