It wasn’t until the fourth strike that I became reclusive, refusing to leave the house, answer the door or telephone. Especially the telephone. I had become sensitised to lightning, become a lightning rod.
The first lightning strike got me at the tender age of fifteen. I have to admit it was my own silly fault. I was returning home from my school’s annual fair, laden with treasures from the white elephant stall, including hand-crocheted doilies for my dressing table, a collapsible copper-wire egg basket for my mother and a set of woollen golf club mitts for my father. One of those sudden, unexpected summer rainstorms descended. The skies opened, the drains flooded, the streets ran. I was drenched in seconds. I feared my treasures would be ruined before I could get them home. So I ran for shelter under the nearest tree. Of course I was zapped. The lightning bolt, attracted by the copper, entered the top of my head and travelled straight down and out through my feet. By some miracle I suffered absolutely no ill effects, other than floundering all the way home on bare feet, shoe uppers flapping from my ankles as the soles and socks had totally combusted. Friends raved at my good fortune, recounted other miraculous savings and reiterated tall tales of mysterious effects, such as the ingested energy enhancing brainpower and people getting smarter and living longer from the extra energy revitalising the body.
Well, I didn’t get any smarter. Seven years on I had taken up golf, and I was playing the game of my life. In the middle of a green, miles from any trees, sinking a birdie with a steel putter in my hand, when out of a clear, blue, cloudless sky, I was zapped again. The consequences this time were slightly more dire. I was knocked unconscious. I was rushed to hospital, and they found the lightning had travelled back up the putter after earthing and had come out my eyes. I was blind for a week but again recovered with no known effects, other than having to wear glasses from then on.
Glasses are a confounded nuisance, especially for women – try applying make-up with, or without, them – always being lost, broken or falling apart; but for an academic they are almost de rigueur. I would probably have had to wear them sooner or later, particularly as I was spending hours poring over mathematical equations trying, simultaneously, to solve the problem of knots and bubbles. As some sort of over-compensation, I found I could see absolutely clearly in the dark. Very handy for late night research. Years went by and, apart from being a good conversation piece at dinner parties, I once again forgot about my apparent attraction for lightning.
Until the day, high on the hill at Victoria University, I was standing at the board lecturing on the fractal properties of irrational numbers when a storm started up. Totally engrossed with my equations I didn’t even notice the thunder and lightning start. I was zapped well and truly that time. Straight through the window and unerringly for me and only me. My clothes were burnt off, and I was thrown across the lecture podium, comatose, with three broken ribs. You can imagine the stir that caused in a roomful of students. I was in hospital for weeks, for which I was rather thankful as all the nine-day-wonder jokes about my public nudity and the zapper puns had time to die away. Once home again, I found I was able to levitate, at will. Not to great heights, but I no longer needed to walk up or down stairs, nor use stepladders for high cupboards. I just thought myself up, or down, and floated there.
Thereafter, I developed a self-preservatory modicum of caution. I never went anywhere without rubber-soled shoes and gloves. I used only wooden or plastic furniture and fittings, drove an almost entirely plastic car with fat rubber wheels and gave up golf. I accepted the fact that lightning and I had an affinity. In some way I was peculiarly sensitive to, or attracted, lightning.
I gave up my mathematical studies and started an entirely new line of research into natural-energy-attraction, ionisation and polarities, with a particular focus on lightning. My initial studies led me to remove all the corrugated iron from the roof of my house and replace it with concrete tiles. I replaced metal spouting, down pipes and window frames with plastic; threw out the TV aerial; installed underground wiring; and rewired my house into rubber conduits. It cost me an arm and a leg. It was a sheer waste of time as it turned out. Neither the university nor commercial enterprises had any interest in funding my lightning research.
Picture my delight, and simultaneous consternation, the day I received news of the Nobel Prize for my research. I was sitting at the phone doing an interview for the New Scientist magazine. Down the phone lines came that magnetism, seeking my body. This time every hair on my head and body was removed. I had third-degree burns, which left me scarred for life. My bones seemed to become very brittle, as though toasted. I had to take extreme care to avoid even minor injuries. Once again a compensatory factor developed. I seemed to have so much electricity in my body that it became some sort of magneto and generated electricity whenever I needed it, just with a finger to the required appliance.
I no longer use telephones. You can imagine that a very scarred and hairless exterior is not conducive to dinner party invitations, guest lectureships, nor much of anything. Apart from my very closest friends, who came to visit when they could spare the time, I became somewhat reclusive. I also became a little obsessive about precautions. I took early retirement from university on medical grounds, devoting myself to my lightning studies from home, made entirely possible by the advent of wireless computer technology and my own magnetism. Prior to that I wouldn’t have a computer in the house.
I eschewed exiting the house for any reason. Anything and everything can be delivered these days; anything that cannot I can see over the Internet, which is also a wonderful vehicle for exploring the world’s libraries and research centres. I spend most of my time in the basement of my home, which is partly subterranean and has an earth roof these days.
This reclusion was a benefit in the long run. A necessary precursor to the rest of my life. It is now seventy years since I retired. Everyone I ever knew has long since shuffled off this mortal coil, but I continue seemingly sane and hale and hearty and no longer need glasses. I have wondered lately whether there may not be something in those tall tales about mysterious effects, such as the longevity of the lightning-struck. I’m thinking about turning my research in that direction. Perhaps that will be my New Year's resolution. It’ll be my one-hundred-and-thirtieth.