Hubs and I are giddy. It is 88', and humid, the kind of humid you complain about in June, July, and August, but in May, it is all good, baby, in fact it is down right sublime. "Give me more of this stuff!" I yell out at the edge of the deck--I am perched there, reveling in the sensation of sweat--and the words fly back at me atop hot, fat wind. See, along with the humidity, the 7:00 night is cooking up a whole mix of tight, angry air. Dark clouds are rising higher and higher along the south skyline. It's storm weather.
Yet this doesn't bother us. Anything severe usually comes our way from the northwest, and we simply cannot stay in on such a summer-like night. So we pull on shorts and t-shirts, strap into sandals, and hop on our bikes.
For the record, I do look back and up over my shoulder more than once. I notice it: the clouds aren't just dark. They're a kind of a pink-orange black. One of us says, "Are you sure this is safe?" but the fact that we aren't doesn't deter us. IT IS HOT. Have I mentioned that? We are, for all practical purposes, on a different planet.
That's when we see heat lightning. We're biking into sea-blue skies. We're cruising away from the storm into a perfect evening, and yet shocks of electricity start dropping miles from any storm cloud. I'm in awe, not scared, completely present. Like some crazywoman. And right as I start to sense the true wildness in the air, G calls out, "Em! Did you see that?"
I hadn't, but no sooner do I say so, than a penny-sized piece of hail pings in front of me off the cement.
We don't know how we have so miscalculated the direction of the storm, but as another piece drops, and then another, we understand that to turn back now means certain pongs and pangs all along our precious heads, so simultaneously we both yell, "Go! Bike for your life!" and we hot-pedal it to the old train bridge we both know is up ahead.
We are underneath the bridge for no more than one minute before the hail turns from penny-sized to golfball, then from golfball to clementine. At first we stand several feet from the edge, listening to the whaps and bams of the ice snapping small branches and hitting the bridge's top. But then we move back, toward the middle, because though the concrete structure we are standing in is long, a tunnel, the wind now is fierce and cold, and it starts to propel the hail and rain all the way through. My darling, sweet, manly husband wraps me in his arms and blocks my body as best he can, but we are quickly dripping, quickly shivering, and just as we'd been this whole time, still giggling from our bellies, reckless and ridiculous, yes, but laughing laughing like we are twelve years old.
The hail only lasts for five minutes. When it stops, chunks of busted ice cover the trail, and larger, unbroken pieces dot the grasses like transparent Easter eggs. The rain quickly transitions from blinding to steady to mist, and by the time I gather a few purple spring beauties along the tunnel's edge that have survived the pummeling (like us), the storm has completely passed.
We laugh. We kiss. G picks up a few ice eggs and flings them at the tunnel wall, easily entertained by their fantastic splatterings.
And then we bike home. Hail is everywhere, huge pieces that are still melting on roadsides fifteen minutes later. And those clouds? From the back-end (an accurate description this time), they are gargantuan, something out of a myth, a roiling gray monster octopus that keeps showing me his behind-the-head eye.
I realize we are no longer laughing. Our throats are already stretched from looking up, our mouths just open.
A revised version of this essay will be published in the July 2012 issue of Birmingham Arts Journal under the title "Octopus Eye."