The rumbling started yesterday afternoon, just a little while after I arrived. Within the space of a few minutes the house got dark, but Grandma didn’t seem to notice anything until she saw the clouds in my eyes.
“Oh, that’ll be a thunderstorm,” she said.
“I know,” I said, because we have thunderstorms back home. But back home they don’t seem so loud or sudden or angry. A flash of light and I counted the seconds to the thundercrack, which came so loud and soon that I felt queasy.
It rained steady all night, and I didn’t sleep under the musty damp-feeling blankets Grandma got from the closet. But I must have because when I woke up the sky through the bedroom window was bright blue.
After breakfast Grandma suggested I go out and stomp in the puddles. She gave me some galoshes (which are just rain boots), and so here I am.
I spend a few minutes stomping in the puddles, mostly to please Grandma, who laughs from the porch. Eventually I find the gully with running water that follows the driveway around a huge patch of wild blackberry bushes. I put my foot in the stream to dam it up, and wait for it to spill over and around the boot.
Around the bushes, where the driveway meets the street, I encounter something I didn’t expect: a girl. She’s turned mostly away from me, squatting and looking at something in a bush. My instinct is to back up around the blackberries to avoid being seen, but I stand looking at her for a minute, exactly as if she is a deer in the woods and I want to experience the rare sight of her before she gets spooked and runs.
She looks utterly comfortable and natural in her squat. She’s wearing shorts and there is mud on the side of her leg. Her canvas sneakers are soaked, and frayed shoelaces trail onto the wet pavement. She’s tilting her head and shifting around to see something in the bush from various angles. She looks up in front of her and then, after a second, looks back directly at me. She is unsurprised. I am stock still, as when a deer in the woods notices my presence.
“Hey, want to see something?” she calls, waving me over.
I hesitate but then say okay and approach. She shifts to the side and points in the bush while I squat down beside her. There is a large praying mantis on one of the branches.
“Oh, a praying …” I whisper, but then I see spider legs twitching and disappearing into the insect’s working mandibles. It devours the spider deliberately and mercilessly. “Wow,” I say, and we sit and watch until every last bit of spider has been consumed.
“How did it catch the spider?” I ask.
“I gave it to him,” the girl responds carelessly.
“You want to give him one?” she asks, standing up and poking in a different part of the bush. “There’s a bunch of spiders in here.”
“Isn’t it full?”
“Oh, it’s not going to turn down a spider. Here you go.” She holds a squirming spider by the leg in front of me. “Grab it.”
I pick the spider from her fingers and offer it to the praying mantis, who folds it in his pincers and begins to eat.
A pickup truck stops by the side of the road, rumbling and coughing unsteadily. A man leans out the window and says tauntingly, “Annie, say goodbye to your boyfriend and get in. We’re late.”
Annie says “bye” to me and runs around the side of the car. The man looks at me and says seriously, “Morning, little man.” I can see her smile and punch the man in the side of the arm before they pull away.
As they drive up the road, the truck engine rattling, I’m puzzling over what just happened. I feel both embarrassed and proud to have been called her boyfriend, even if it was a joke. I’ve never had a girlfriend before. Maybe I am her boyfriend? I don’t know how these things work.
I’m in a bit of daze as I wander back up to the house, stepping through the puddles as if they aren’t there. I take off my boots inside, settle on the couch and look out the window. Grandma enters the room wiping her hands on a dish towel.
I turn to look at her and something in my face makes her exclaim, “What happened to you?”
[Part of a series: Grandma’s House]