The Old Man, the Boy, and the Abusive Thunderstorm

The Old Man, the Boy, and the Abusive Thunderstorm
Tayla Vannelli

Thunder roars outside and lightning flashes. The house creaks as the wind slams its sides. The rain hurtles down relentlessly, and the pots are quickly filling from the leaks. The old man tosses and turns in his bed, hurling curses at nature for being so inconsiderate of people trying to sleep. He has finally found a comfortable position, and is mere moments from dreaming, when
an unholy sound rings through the house.

Ding dong dong. Ding ding dong ding.

“Who on earth is ringing my doorbell AT THIS HOUR?” he roars to the empty room.

He throws off the covers and marches angrily towards the door. The old man grumbles the whole way there, making a generalization about people today and offending the younger population. When he reaches the door, he throws it open, ready to roar at whomever stands waiting for his appearance. When his eyes land on a small boy, maybe eight or nine years old, his mouth freezes on its way to slandering this poor miscreant.

“Hi!” the boy says cheerily.

“Hello…” the man responds hesitantly.

The old man inspects this young lad. He is drenched with water. He has puddles in his rainboots and water dripping off his jacket. Even with a jacket on, the old man doesn’t miss the faded signs of bruises on his neck and cheek. He knows more exist, because no dad abuses his son in the neck and face first. The old man remembers this clearly.

The boy stares up at the old man with a smile on his face. “Can I come in?”

The old man narrows his eyes at his forwardness, ready to disagree. But because of the thunderstorm dragging in water into his house, and precisely no other reason, he opens the door for the boy. The boy bounces into the room, looking around with curious eyes.

“Why are all the lights off?”

The old man grunts. “Because it’s 11:00 at night. I was sleeping.”

“Oh,” the boy says, and shrugs. “Can I take off my jacket and rainboots?  They’re really wet.”

“I can see that. Go hang your jacket on the hook by the door and leave your rainboots on the floor underneath it.”

As the boy races to obey his words, the old man settles in to his reclining chair. His mind
whizzes with questions about the boy, and despite his careful attempts to avoid them, painful memories spring to his mind. The old man is 80 years old today, and yet his dad still holds a painful grip on his heart. He forgave his dad a long time ago, but forgiveness and time does not make the pain disappear. It just lessens it for a while.

When the boy races back to sit on the couch, the old man winces at the thought of how wet he is making the old cushions. For once in his life, he doesn’t complain.
“Tell me, lad, do you think now would be a good time to explain why you showed up at my door in the middle of a thunderstorm at eleven o’clock at night?”

The boy looks down at his sopping wet socks. All of the cheeriness drains out of him in an instant, and the old man secretly berates himself for prying. He hated when people used to ask him why he slept at the school overnight. Or why he always ate whatever snack he was given at school so quickly. He especially hated when people asked about the bruises, and here he is,
asking questions.
“I um, I was just going to um…” He stutters and fidgets with his hands, attempting to form his thought in the least painful way possible. “Well, you see, I was home, but my dad, he um, he came in, and, well, I knew he had been drinking. He hadn’t seen me yet, but he started calling my name, and, see sir, when my dad drinks… I mean he’s a great guy most of the time,
he just gets angry sometimes, you know? And sometimes I get in his way, and it’s my fault, I know that, so tonight I ran out of the house and came here. I’ve seen you working in your garden before, and I thought maybe, you might um… you might have another bed somewhere? Or I could sleep on the couch!”

The old man’s vision blurs. His anger and sorrow meld together in a most atrocious way. He doesn’t answer the boy. The boy stares at him with such painful hope in his eyes, but the man can’t bear to look. The old man stands. The boy jumps to his feet and follows him to the guest room. The old man silently pulls out an old T-shirt and some trousers for the boy that are far too
big, but he gladly accepts them. He shows the boy where the towels are in the bathroom, how to turn the lights on and off, and where his own room is.

When the old man moves to close the door to the guest room, the boy runs to hug him. He grunts, but his desperate attempts not to smile are foiled. He nods and leaves the room. The old man climbs back into bed, feeling something move in his chest that has not been there in years.

The old man squints at the sunrays piercing through the windows. He opens his eyes slowly and mumbles to himself. He eases his feet into his slippers and rubs his face. He moves into the kitchen and jumps when he sees the little boy eating a bowl of cereal on his counter. He had forgotten he had spent the night, but he can’t deny the joy he feels to see someone smile at
him this early in the morning.

After the boy has eaten, he changes back into the clothes he was wearing the day before. He ventures out onto the porch, ready and excited to go to school. As he is leaving, the old man calls out to him. The boy turns.

“You know, my porch is nice sometimes even when there isn’t a thunderstorm.”

“Okay!” the boy smiles. “I’ll be here to see it after school, then!” He bounds away. The old man is suddenly transformed into a young boy again, hoping every day that there might be a little sunshine that breaks through the abusive thunderstorm. The old man laughs to himself, delighted that he might be that sunshine today.