“Lightning Capital” by Tom Cardamone, from the inaugural issue of Icarus, Summer 2009. Edited by Steve Berman.
Reviews of other stories by this author can be found at Short Stories 365/198 and 221.
I did not know that Florida is the considered the Lightning Capital of the world but it’s true, not just something made up for the purposes of this story.
The narrator of this odd and delightful tale is named Tom. His family has just moved to Florida. They move around a lot, but he’s not an army brat. His father is a line cook who works all the time and doesn’t have much to show for it. It’s the late nineteen seventies or early nineteen eighties, I think. There are no computers or cell phones and no cable television. There’s just a displaced boy and a potential new friend in the form of another boy, who rides up on his bike to investigate the situation when he spies the moving van.
Tom and Travis are on the cusp of becoming sexual beings, and I love that their hormones, so often described as a magnetic pull or sparks flying between two people, are represented in this story by lightning. I love that certain emotions Tom feels, already fairly transparent because he’s male, are made even more obvious after an experience he has while walking alone on the beach.
Tom spends a lot of his time walking by the water. He’s trying to sort out the unusual feelings he’s begun having. For example, he knows he’s attracted to the men, rather than the women, in the contraband magazines Travis presents when they are alone for the afternoon. He’s also trying to process his frustration at having his life continually uprooted, and probably also the fear he feels because of his family’s precarious financial state. He’s alone on the beach when he spies what he thinks is a falling star but turns out to be ball lightning. What happens next is wholly unexpectedly and life-changing. I love that the story keeps a firm grip on the realistic setting while introducing the extraordinary. I love that it ends with a pun, and I wonder if that was the original inspiration for the piece.
As we close out the reviews of the fiction in this issue, let me say that I meant to mention earlier just how impressed I was with the choice of cover art. It brought to mind two things at once: Matthew Shepard, and the painting Evening (Fall of Day) by William Rimmer, 1869. The figure in the painting is sometimes described as Icarus, sometimes as Lucifer, and was used (with slight alteration) as the logo for Swan Song, the now defunct record label owned by the members of Led Zeppelin. It should be noted that I graduated high school with a pot metal, 3-D rendition of that artwork pinned to my clothing.