Love and Lightning

Summer, 2003 / No. 10
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

It was a dark and stormy night, and rain fell from the sky in dark and stormy ways. Raul looked out the window. “Raining again,” he said, cupping a cigarette to his mouth to take a long and pensive pull in the stormy darkness.

“Sure is stormy and dark,” Paulette added, entering with tea and setting it down on the coffee table. She went to the window and gazed at the streaks the rain made against it.

“Is it night already? ” asked Raul suddenly, jumping out of his chair and piercing her with his hot stare like a knife into butter. She melted before him. “Yep,” she answered. “It’s night. A dark and stormy one.”

“Damn!” cursed Raul violently. “That’s what I thought.” He scratched at his chin.

“What? ” asked Paulette, a nervous lilt in her voice.

“I think,” said Raul, tilting an eyebrow, “that we’re trapped in a poorly scripted short story.”

“Are you certain? ” asked Paulette, craning her neck upward to take a look at the previous paragraphs. “Perhaps you’re just not giving it a chance.”

When she’d finished reading, she sat back down, pouring their tea in silence. “It’s certainly moody, at any rate. That’s something.” Lightning cracked loudly, slicing through the sky like the hottest of butter knives through the warmest of butter.

“Oh, anyone can be moody. It’s not difficult,” replied Raul, his eyebrows clenching. They sipped at their tea.

“Did you read that horrible sentence about the butter? ”

Suddenly, a long pause. Paulette, sensing something was wrong, looked up and reread the paragraph. She stopped suddenly. “Who asked that, you or me? ” she asked.

“I don’t even know! This is scripted so horribly! Either one of us could have asked it. The man is a hack, Paulette, a talentless hack.” He spun around suddenly. “I mean, come on! We’re already twelve paragraphs into the story, and he hasn’t even tried any characterization or plot development. Where are we? Who are we? What do we look like? What are we supposed to be doing? I don’t even know the colour of my hair!” he yelled, his brown hair glinting in the moonlight.

“Too late!” Raul yelled. “And besides, it’s storming, remember? There couldn’t possibly be any moonlight!”

There was a hole in the cloud cover. The moon could have—

“Shut up,” said Raul weariedly, sitting down in a worn leather chair. The chair creaked under his large weight. “And stop editorializing,” he added.

Paulette, who had been reading the sentences above, now craned her neck back down, looking Raul in the eye. “He’s certainly not a very original writer,” she said. “He’s used two butter metaphors already.”

Well, look, as long as we’re splitting hairs, they were actually similes, and pretty good ones when you—

“And,” said Paulette, marching on in an attempt to ignore the narration, “he keeps using the same words over and over again. Like ‘suddenly.’ Did you notice? Everything’s happening ‘suddenly’ this and ‘suddenly’ that.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “I don’t think he’s very intelligent. Perhaps we shouldn’t poke fun.”

“Oh, don’t humour him, Paulette. You’re always such a damned bleeding heart.”

This made her stop. “What? ” she said, startled. “How do you know? He hasn’t told us anything yet. I think it’s fairly presumptuous to assume we’ve had a history together. We could be total strangers.” She looked away from him out the window.

The rain patted quietly against the window frame. Suddenly, more lightning! Moody darkness struck the room as lightning pierced the sky like a knife through margarine!

“Oh, God. He’s using exclamation marks now.” Raul cupped his temples with his hands.

And listen, I don’t have to take this, you know.

“‘Like a knife through margarine’? ” mocked Raul.

Well, you said you were sick of butter metaphors.

“It’s the same exact thing!” yelled Raul, who in my opinion was completely overreacting, as usual. “This is horrible. We’re going to end up in some bargain bin gathering dust with damaged copies of A Separate Peace.”

Hey, hold on now. That’s a darn good book.

“It’s a crap book and this is a crap story,” said Raul, who, it must be noted, has never studied literature in any professional capacity and obviously has no idea what he’s talking about.

Something was nagging at the back of Raul’s mind. He thought back to what Paulette had said earlier. It came to him suddenly.

“Paulette? ”

“Yeah? ” She looked over at him absently.

“What did you mean when you said we don’t have a history? ” Raul asked, an injured tone in his voice.

“I just think it’s presumptuous, that’s all,” Paulette said, resting her cheek in her arm and looking out the window at the rain. “We could be total strangers.”

“Two total strangers? Alone in a study in the middle of a thunderstorm? ”

“Are we in a study? ” Paulette crinkled up her nose as she surveyed the room around her. “Bookshelf, leather chairs—yeah, I suppose this could be a study. Say,” she said suddenly, her eyes brightening, “do you suppose we’re rich? ”

“‘We’? We’re total strangers, remember? ” Raul pouted, slouching deeper into his chair.

“Oh, get over yourself, Raul. I was only thinking out loud,” Paulette said, seeing the sad-sack look on Raul’s face. She looked at her watch, trying to change the subject.

“Has anything even happened yet? I’m fairly certain something should have happened by now.”

Suddenly, the door opened, as thunder crashed suddenly!

“Ah,” said Paulette.

A man in a suit entered, clasping an envelope. “Raul! Paulette! You must come quickly! The revolution has begun! The Zorganites will pay for putting the people of earth into slavery!” Lightning flashed!

“A hack,” muttered Raul. “A damned hack.” He got out of his chair slowly. “All right, all right. At least it’s something. A plot. Somewhat, at any rate. Do we get guns? ”

“Guns? ” laughed the man. “No. Guns would be quite useless against the Zorganites, my friend.” He quietly handed Raul a grapefruit. “Onward!” With this, he left.

Raul sighed. “Care to save the world, my darling? ” He glanced over at Paulette while thunder crashed all around them. “I mean, if it’s all right with you. I wouldn’t want to assume anything here.”

Paulette stood up. Silence filled the room, except for all the thunder. She eyed his hand, stretched out to her like some large buttery bridge.

“Yeah,” she said finally, walking over to him and grabbing his hand. “Yeah, why not. Raul, was it? ”

“Yeah. Raul.” He held up the grapefruit for her to see and they smiled. He began to get a sense that the story, for better or worse, was about to end, and turned to stare at the door the man had left through. “I think when we walk out that door,” he said, nodding at it, “this story is going to end.”

Paulette looked over at the door. “Yeah. I get that feeling, too,” she agreed.

They continued to stare at the door.

“Then what? ” asked Paulette.

“I don’t know,” said Raul. He laughed ruefully. “Maybe we should have been nicer to that hack writer, huh? ”

“Actually, I think it was you who said most of the bad things,” Paulette said.

Raul turned to her with hurt in his eyes, just in time to catch her laughing. “I was kidding.” She smiled warmly at him. They both started giggling.

“You know, I think we must be married,” said Raul, still laughing.

“Why’s that? ” asked Paulette, who was beginning to sense the same thing. She moved closer to him.

“Because you get on my nerves something awful,” he said, sweeping Paulette up into his arms and kissing her. They melted into one another like some romantic dairy product, lost to the ages. Then, slowly, they separated. Holding one another’s hands tightly, they walked toward the door.

“I guess this story wasn’t all bad,” Raul said as they walked, looking into Paulette’s eyes.

“No,” she agreed. They walked through the door to face their destiny. “No, it definitely had its moments.”

The door closed behind them as lightning crashed, sending silhouettes coursing through the empty study, tendrils of white-hot nothing illuminating bookshelves and wood for an instant and then gone.

Raul opened the door again and put his head through. “See, that wasn’t bad,” he said to the room. “Yes, he’s definitely improving,” came Paulette’s voice from behind him.

Hey, thanks.

“Don’t mention it,” said Raul, closing the door again.

And the rain pattering against the window slowed, slowed more, and then stopped. Outside, a clear full moon poked out from disappearing clouds.