Lightning in a Bottle
D. Paul Angel
“Look, I know you want your money, but I am so close. So close! And then you’ll have more money than you know what to do with.”
Mr. Roberts pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his pristinely white suit and dabbed the sweat beading on his round face. The late summer humidity stifled the air; begging for relief from the approaching storm. He didn’t answer Jim right away, but instead looked around the mechanic’s shop with a tight smile as though thinking. Engine and body parts were strewn about with enough rags to leave no doubt that this was a working shop. All the tools though hung meticulously within their drawn outline, and Joe’s workbench was wholly free of clutter. Petroleum fought tobacco for domination of the air, despite Joe lighting a new cigarette even as he stamped out the last.
“I like you Joe,” Mr. Roberts began, gesturing to include the entire garage, “and this is an impressive shop, but the Highway’s gone Joe. The Highway’s not just gone, but its not coming back either. They say airplanes are going to be the way of the future. That every man will have one in his garage. Even now you can cross the country, the entire U.S. of A. Jim, in only 2 days.
“I appreciate your ability Joe, but,” Mr. Roberts shrugged, “where is the business going to come from?”
“I do more than fix cars, Mr. Roberts, I also… Well I invent too,” Joe said with overly fierce pride, “and I’m close to something. I swear it. I just need to catch lightning in a bottle and a little time and then I-”
“Stop. Just stop, Joe. I may like you, but the Bank, the Bank only cares about money. And, it wants its money, Joe. Now.” Mr. Roberts held up a hand at Joe’s inhale and continued, “And the Bank doesn’t care about maybes.
“What I can do, is offer to take this place off your hands. We can square it so you walk away a little ahead and you can set up shop someplace with actual cars. What do you say Joe?”
Joe’s shoulders sagged. He looked out the window at the growing storm. It seemed to match his mood; dark and only getting worse. Before he could say anything the closet burst open, flinging Jesse into his arms with a whirlwind of tears and shouts.
“You can’t Pa!,” he was saying over and over again, “You can’t! You can’t! You can’t!”
Joe slapped Jesse, instantly turning his wailing to a sad whimper.
“I told you not to spy on me boy!” Joe thundered, “I promised your Mama I’d take care of you, but that don’t mean you can spy on me. Now git! This is grownup talk. Go on, git. Or you’ll get worse than that.”
Jesse ran from the garage, the door banging in the wind after he left. Joe stalked over and closed it, before returning to the bench and leaning over it in a deep sigh.
“That boy, ok, Joe?” Mr. Robertson asked, “I uh, well, I never knew you had a son.”
“He’s a little slow is all. He doesn’t do well with people, most of the time, so he usually just keeps to himself. Doctors said there’s nothing for it, and I promised his Mama, on her deathbed, I’d take care of him. This is all he’s ever known.”
Joe turned and looked at Mr. Roberts before finishing, “This is his world, and you’re asking me to take it from him.”
“No Joe,” Mr. Roberts said with outstretched hands, “I’m giving you a chance to settle your debt and get something out of it. One way or another the Bank will be paid.
“Evening, Joe,” he said as he put on his ivory fedora and headed for the door with a nod.
“Mr. Roberts I-” was as far as Joe got before the room lit up from a bolt of lightning just outside. The sound hit simultaneously with a booming crack. Mr. Roberts and Joe both staggered and looked at each other in a moment of relief before Joe remembered Jesse.
Panic swelled his eyes as he went running out of the garage to find his son. He blinked away the spots in his eyes and shouted for Jesse. Even though it was twilight, the ground had turned dark after the flash. It was a few moments before he saw a flickering glow next to a dark shape, halfway down the driveway. He sprinted unevenly to Jesse’s limp body, shouting for him.
“Don’t you die on me boy! Don’t you dare die!” He started shaking Jesse once he got there and started crying when Jesse started moving on his own. “Oh thank God, thank God, Thank God!”
“I got it Pa,” Jesse said feebly, looking at his dad with a proud, albeit unsteady, grin, “I got what you need.”
Joe traded a quick look with the equally confused Mr. Roberts when Jesse brought his hand up holding a glowing bottle, the source of the light that that had been Joe’s beacon to his son. Blue and white tendrils of electricity flicked the edges of the glass and danced around its center.
“I got the lightning in the bottle for ya Pa! Now we can keep the garage!”