It was one of 'those' days. A bad hair day to end all bad hair days. Looking at the devastation in his driveway, Michael reflected that at least no one had been close by at the time. The falling chimney would surely have killed them.
The lightning strike itself had been bad enough. They had been quite reassuring: his hearing would come back completely after a few hours. The firemen had covered the holes in the roof with a canvas sheet. The small amount of the chimney breastwork that had fallen through had missed anything of importance, but it had taken down two ceilings on the way. The torrential rain accompanying the summer storm had done the rest all on its own.
Mike's mobile phone rang again. It was the garage, confirming his address. "Just find the house with the green cover over the roof, the missing chimney, and the wrecked car in the driveway." He could barely hear the guy over the ringing in his ears. The storm, like all summer storms, had come quickly. His house at the top of the hill had stood for some years, and he was not aware that it had ever been hit during a storm before. This time sure as hell made up for it.
Mike went inside and his heart sank as he surveyed the scene in front of him. Water still dripped down the stairwell from upstairs. Burn marks down the wall showed where the lightning bolt had come down the television aerial wire, which led it into the loft space and down to his electricity meter under the stairs. The resulting power surge had probably killed every electrical appliance stone dead. His computer system was in ruins. Fortunately he had backed up his hard drives the previous night. His data might be OK; time would tell, when he had a new kit to use.
He was startled out of his misery by a call from the front door. At least the garage was quick. He went out to find two men scratching their heads. The driver looked at him and stated the obvious. "Bit of a mess, chief! I reckon we'll just winch the whole lot up onto the transporter and sort it out down at the depot. I think we'd better leave the loan car in the roadway." Mike, who had just about been able to make out the one-sided conversation, nodded in agreement. At least the loaner was clean and, judging by its licence plate, reasonably new. He watched the men finish loading the wreckage of his five-week old Toyota coupe and then drive away. Nothing to do now but wait for the insurance man to come and inspect the damage before authorising repair work.
Absentmindedly he went in and put the kettle on for a badly needed coffee, and then cursed when he realised the power was off. Feeling quite helpless, he stood and considered what to do next. Lost in thought and hampered by his hearing loss, he was somewhat startled by a touch on his shoulder. He spun round, shocked for the second time that morning, to find his rather older neighbour standing beside him. She recoiled a little and immediately apologised for frightening him.
"Mike, I'm sorry... I mean, I didn't mean to make you jump." He laughed for the first time since the 'bang' and explained why he had not heard her coming.
Kate looked round her. "No power?" Mike confirmed the problem. "Right," Kate said, "Decision time is here; stop faffing about, close the door behind you, and come and have a hot drink and something to eat. I insist." And she turned and walked off. Mike decided she was right and, closing the door behind him, followed her across the road.
Mike was aware that Kate, close to twice Mike's age, had kept a maternal eye on him since the break-up of his marriage over a year ago. Mike's ex-wife had not even bothered to contest the divorce, preferring to just walk away. In the circumstances of her fairly public adultery, she would not have received much anyway. Mike, a computer software expert, good-looking in a studious sort of way, was the last to realise what was going on. In truth, he had been glad to see her gone. Their marriage, consummated six months before the ceremony, had been a shotgun one, pressed on them by a furious set of parents. Old-fashioned in the extreme, Sally's parents had been most persuasive. He had reluctantly agreed to 'do the right' thing. In the small English community where they had grown up, things like that mattered. On the 'honeymoon' Sally had miscarried. On her return home after a brief sojourn in hospital, she had made it quite plain that the 'marriage' was over; she had never really loved him anyway.
Mike buried himself in his work and was successful in his field. He had not even been aware that she was screwing around behind his back, until... well, it hardly mattered now. The fact that he had almost killed the guy when he had hit him had never came to court. The man had refused to press charges and the case had been dropped by the police.
Sally moved out the same day. Mike had taken some pleasure from changing the locks and having the new alarm system installed. Now, after the storm, it was all academic anyway.
Mike was brought out of his reverie by Kate's hand on his arm. "Jesus, Mike, you are jumpy! Not surprising, really. Must have been quite a shock." Kate prattled on as she handed him a cup of hot sweet tea. "Best after the shock and all you've been through. Now I insist that you pack some clothes in a suitcase and come and stay in our spare suite; it's no trouble, and I won't hear anything else."
Under the circumstances, Mike was happy to agree, and moved his important things across an hour later.
As Kate fussed about clearing the supper things away, Mike reflected on the meal he had just eaten. It had been months since an honest to goodness home-cooked meal had graced his lips, and he realised just how unappetising the local take-aways and fast food stores really had been.
Helping the older woman tidy up and put things away, Mike was aware of how little he actually knew of his neighbour 'across the way.' He had supposed that she must be over sixty, but now, as they talked, he guessed she was a little younger than that: maybe early- to mid-fifties, chatty without being garrulous. He found that she was expert at getting people to talk about themselves. 'A good listener,' his mother would have said.
.... There is more of this story ...