There’s a small bleed hole in the airplane window, where crystals form between panes to regulate pressure. Beyond that, a white light punctuates the wingtip. Small clouds make shadows at mismatched angles, and the city at dusk looks like a neuron firing, all interstates and street lamps leading to some frenetic center. Hundreds of miles later, in the perpetual dusk that is flying westward, groves of trees interrupt the tidy grid of circles and squares, like a child’s diorama made in green and brown construction paper. Then, the cotton-ball clouds. The first storm washes down a blue curtain, making it impossible to see anything below the clouds but watery horizon where I know there to be no sea. As it approaches a cold front, the plane cruises between towering thunderheads whose frothy spires spin.
It was my father who taught me to spot a ripening storm. He pointed out the telltale smokestack, build up of bleached cotton, saturated clouds puffing evermore till they smacked into the stratosphere that contained them and stretched into smooth planes. Called off softball games, tornado drills in school hallways, and siren tests Tuesday mornings the first of each month—these reminded me of twisted steel, what anvils could forge and hammer flat.
My father loved to watch the sky, track clouds, think his thoughts. My mother just wanted a forecast, to divine something true about the hours to come. Caught somewhere in the middle, fascinated by observations and predictions, I was the child who stood on the edge of spring waiting for a cold front and holding a licked finger to the sky. Then, I’d sprint the driveway to the front stoop, hollering about the weather.
Head tilted back, I stood where the curb wed cement and asphalt on a dead-end street. I begged the atmosphere to play upon my senses as if I were an instrument of scientific measurement and believed I could register changes in pressure and temperature if only I concentrated. I could even detect a downdraft. Wary of bolts from the blue, I strained to hear thunder, shuddering toward me, low like the railroad tracks that rumbled beside the river.
Sensitivities bared, I made myself a lightning rod. For sunshine lost to cloud cover. For heat’s remove, cold creep of goosebumps on skinned knees. For wind around me. For leaves in the crabapple tree gone twitching, a receipt cartwheeling the street, quick-winged robin flight, the rose bush by the split-rail fence giving up gust-plucked petals. For a solitary raindrop balanced quivering at the tip of my tongue. For the surprise of lightning and the second after.
Out the airplane window, another jet picks its way through storms, near enough to track its twinned exhaust streams, hot vapor which whitens as it speeds away in wind. The high-altitude contrails are particulate ice and soot and dissolved gases, manmade clouds. Turbulence, or the possibility of turbulence, resigns the flight crew to their seats. My seatmate fiddles with his overhead light, wishes for a drink, expresses disappointment at having to wait for the attendants to tango their cart down the center aisle. If he were seated beside the window, he might see as I do, the novelty of flying beside stormclouds, the possibility that some other child, standing on some other fly-over street, might be looking up, waiting for a cold front.
Kaitlyn Teer grew up 60 miles due west of Chicago. She recently graduated with an M.F.A. in creative writing from Western Washington University, where she received the “Outstanding Graduate Student Award” and served as managing editor of Bellingham Review. She volunteers as a copyeditor for Midwestern Gothic. Her lyric essay “Ossification” was a finalist in the Passages North essay contest and winner of Fourth Genre’s 2015 Michael Steinberg Essay Prize. Other work has appeared or is forthcoming in Camas, Midwestern Gothic, Sweet, and Prairie Schooner.
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