A swirl of dark clouds crouched on the horizon in an angry knot, obscuring the sun. The old man saw where Laura was looking and said, “Don’t worry, the wind’s coming in from the northwest, that storm’ll head off east without coming anywhere near here.”
They sat on the back porch eating homemade ice cream and enjoying the cooler air of the early evening before the mosquitoes chased them back inside again.
Laura couldn’t believe how amazing the ice cream tasted. She’d watched her sister’s husband, Charlie and his father make it, it looked so simple, cream, sugar, vanilla, but it tasted better than any ice cream she’d ever had. It made no sense that the expensive stuff in the store couldn’t taste like this. They’d all taken turns cranking the handle on the antique ice cream maker. Maybe that was why it tasted so good. Even Little Charlie with his wiry strength had helped.
“Grandpa, how can you know that? You’re not a weatherman,” Little Charlie said around licks of the cone. The ice cream had melted in rivulets over the boy’s fingers. He sat on the edge of the porch, swinging his feet over the tops of the flowers planted below.
“What, you think the weathermen know anything?” the old man laughed. “They just stand there and read a script.”
“Well, the meteorologists know, and they’re the ones who tell the weathermen what to say.”
“Huh, you keep believing that, kid. No one can predict the weather.”
“But you just did.” Little Charlie said.
His grandfather roared laughter, almost spitting out his ice cream. “Kid, you are too smart for me!” he said when he caught his breath.
Laura looked through the window into the kitchen to see her sister frowning. Lynn didn’t like it when people told her son he was smart. Laura thought that was ridiculous. The kid was brilliant and everyone knew it. He was only nine and tested at a tenth grade level in every subject. Lynn held him back in school though, because of his size.
Laura looked back at the sky. The dark clouds still looked threatening, but the sun was starting to poke around the edge of the mass. The sky seemed so big out here. At home in the city she never noticed it, unless it was spitting rain at her as she ran from her apartment to the subway station. But out here, she couldn’t get away from it. Everywhere she looked, the sky forced itself into her awareness as if it resented her usual disregard.
Lynn came out with a paper towel for Little Charlie. He snatched it out of her hand before she could wipe his face for him. Laura hid a smile.
Lynn had her hair pulled back in her usual pony-tail. The sun glinted off the shiny grays and brought out the wrinkles around her eyes. Before she’d had her son, everyone guessed Lynn was the younger of the sisters. But after the premature birth and the three months of living in the neonatal care unit, there’d been no question anymore.
Laura looked at Little Charlie and wondered what he thought of his mother. He was such a happy kid. Equally adept academically and socially. Always the shortest, but also the most coordinated, he excelled at every sport. He was already pushing his mother away, how long until he came to resent her?
In the most hidden corner of her mind Laura remembered how much she’d hated him when he was born. She hated the pain and sorrow he’d caused her beloved sister, and the way he consumed Lynn’s every waking thought. Lynn had no time for a younger sister just starting a new job in the city, needing an older sister’s advice and counsel. Laura remembered standing in the hospital corridor, staring through the glass at the tiny infant covered in tubing and wires, and wishing he would just die and let everyone get back to normal.
It was hard for her to connect those feelings to the way she felt about her nephew now. He was kind and sweet, funny and smart, a joy to be around. She really only came out to visit as often as she did to see him. Her relationship with Lynn had never gone back to the way it had been before.
The sun shone brightly, a strange contrast with the heavy, dark clouds moving off to the east.
“Hey Charlie,” Laura said, “Maybe next weekend, before school starts, you can come visit me in the city.”
Charlie yelped, “Can we go to the big toy store?”
Laura ignored Lynn’s glare, “Sure. We’ll have a sleep over and play Xbox – just Minecraft,” she added quickly to hold off her sister’s objections to ‘violent’ video games. “And I’ll let you stay up as late as you want,” Laura finished with a glare of her own.
Charlie stuffed the rest of the cone in his mouth and chewed while putting his hands together like he was praying. “Can I Mom, please.” He begged around the mouthful.
Lynn sighed, “Fine. Next Saturday,” she said to her son, then to her sister, “but you must have him back early Sunday morning, in time for mass.” Laura nodded in agreement.
“Awesome!” Charlie bounded off the porch, leapt onto his bike and showed his favorite aunt how he could do figure eights with no hands.
She’d leave tomorrow. Follow the clouds east back to her apartment in the city. Back to her quiet, somewhat lonely life, where those same clouds, as frightening as they looked here, wouldn’t even be noticed.