Bertha turned the page, deeply immersed in the narrative. The book, one she’d read several times over the last thirty years or so, was a classic romantic adventure that never failed to titillate. In her lap, Ruby stirred. The chihuahua raised her head to look out the living room window, but Bertha hardly noticed. The heroine was on the verge of finally giving in to the hero’s persuasive charm.
Ruby let out a sharp bark, disturbing the silence and the mood.
Bertha murmured, “Hush,” but the quiet reprimand was drowned out as Ruby sprang onto the recliner’s cushioned arm, barking madly.
Bertha sighed and glanced up to see what set her neurotic little dog off this time.
The neighbor girl stood on the sidewalk across the street, one hand covered by a plastic poop bag, her pit bull stretched at the end of his leash avidly sniffing around the base of the streetlight.
Bertha had never met the girl. Maybe “young woman” was a better term, but it was hard to tell how old anyone was these days. The girl lived with her aunt, who Bertha had also never met, even though the woman had lived in the house on the corner for years. She’d heard through the neighborhood grapevine that the aunt was a teacher at one of the two high schools in town. Bertha was unaware of what the niece did, whether she was in school or if she worked or if she was merely a hanger-on.
The girl was pretty enough to be in one of Bertha’s romance novels. Tall, slim, long wavy brown hair. Her skin was the kind of pale that suggested illness, but Bertha had seen her striding along behind the pit bull, the picture of energetic youth. She didn’t walk with her head bent over a cellphone, either, although come to think of it, Bertha had noticed she always seemed to be wearing earphones. Probably stepped in time to blasting music, something Bertha with her arthritic joints could no longer even contemplate doing.
She put a hand on Ruby’s shaking body to calm her. After the unwanted interruption, she would have turned her attention back to her book, but the sky caught her attention.
A dark cloud blocked the sun and she saw a slight flash, followed immediately by a short roll of thunder. That was close. She’d checked the weather report this morning; this must be the forty percent chance of thunderstorms it had predicted, although it had yet to begin raining.
Ruby, who usually would have settled down by now, continued to stare out the window, her upper lip raised and twitching in a series of low growls. The pit bull had moved away from the streetlight and dropped his hind end, curving his back into a squat.
Bertha patted Ruby in a gentle rebuke. “What is your major malfunct–”
The words died in her throat, cut off by a loud sizzling crack! and a blinding bolt of lightning. She’d been looking at Ruby, but couldn’t miss the bright, branching flash as it struck the streetlight. In the split second it took for her gaze to lift, the neighbor girl was already down. The pit bull leapt twisting into the air and then shot off down the street, his leash trailing behind him.