Sing in Alabaster

Hallie Xu

My grandmother told me to never go near the storm.


When I was younger, I used to run in the rain in the afternoons. I hopped in the mud puddles and watched the dirt splatter onto my white skirt like paint on a canvas. I relished the impact of droplets against my face and the intimacy of rain seeping through cloth to stain directly onto my skin. I stood in the courtyard, while all the other kids were carefully tucked under umbrellas and coats to be scurried home, and remained saturated in rainwater.


My adventure in the rain soon came to a rapid end. One afternoon, Grandmother sat on her chair, which was woven by thin strips of bamboo and polished emerald green. The chair squeaked nervously when she shifted her weight to lean back. She told me to stand in front of her, with my wet shirt still sticking against my torso, and look at her in the eye. That was when she warned me to never play in the rain again. “What if you slip and crack open your skull? Didn’t you hear what happened on the news?” Her message was simple: don’t get close to danger, don’t tamper with fire, don’t step outside the safety circle that my elders so carefully surrounded me in. “Do you want to fall like Icarus?” She interrogated me, the skins of her wrinkled face pulled into a sullen frown, “Or die like the curious cat?” 


I wouldn’t want to fall, but a strange feeling festered in my veins, flaring like fire at night as I dreamed of going outside to dance in the storm. Eventually, my curiosity would compel me to sneak out of my room late at night, bare feet avoiding the cracks on the wooden floor and adrenaline rushing from the excitement of my first subversive act. I pushed open the glass screens of the back door and stepped outside to watch the thunderstorm. 


The summer air sticking against my skin felt humid and heavy, and the rain thrashed angrily at the grass as mud flew up like fish out of water. Occasionally, a strong wind would blow in my direction, leading droplets of water to brush against my cheek or dampen my tank top. The people of the city hid behind their closed windows and locked doors, but here I was, watching a show—a performance—in undisturbed secrecy.


The lightning always came first, a flamboyant yet silent flash. Then followed the thunder, the low murmurs of the rain breaking into a ground-shaking growl as the world stood by, petrified and timid. The night sky that once possessed a coat of immaculate velvet black would be cracked by the streaks of alabaster light—violent and primitive—that plunged against its membrane and ripped open its skin, baring their fangs at the world beneath it. Accompanying the light was the thunder, the sounds of rancorous clashes of wooden drumsticks against animal skin, the hoarse singing of the mountains, the chants of gods and angels—a celestial symphony on earth.


I felt the tingling in my skin; I heard the beatings of my own heart coincide with the thunder. At this moment, I knew that Grandmother’s words would never suffice to prevent me from going to the storm. I would do what I had always done, seated on the cold marble tile, hands folded tightly over my ears, shoulders ducked by reflex, but eyes remained wide open and wondering to watch the starless night sky, whose protective layer of pure ink skin was peeled off, leaving the light-struck flesh to bleed into dawn.

About the Author

Hallie (pronounced “Haley”) Xu is a sophomore at Lakeside Upper School in Seattle, Washington. Hallie moved to the U.S. from China when she was 10, and her cross-cultural background has largely influenced her writing style and artistic interpretations. When not writing, Hallie loves hanging out with friends, watching funny cat videos, or watching a great historical drama. This narrative was based upon her real-life experience of watching the thunderstorm as a child, allowing her to express her feelings of admiration and astonishment through writing.

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