If I am repaired, can we meet again for the first time, in all of the places I have feared to go, and then, again, in all of the places I will have forgotten, if I am repaired?



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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cloud

a

Like the ghost of some dirigible reliving its tediously slow demise, the Cloud descended into the hayfield, back of my house. Dishtowel in hand, I watched through the window there above the sink, as its stern clipped the treetops along the field’s edge, strewing blackbirds like mute fragments and leaving tatters of its foggish fabric in the branches, dim banners in the morning breeze.

     The snag swung it round and the Cloud settled with a heave in the autumn field, the entire operation, hauntingly silent and without a speck of dust.

     In slippers, I went to investigate. Dog went with.

     Dog was oblivious to the catastrophe and the slumberous hulk that lay in the hayfield, until about midway, where he perked and pointed and let loose a cautionary report. He turned to me for suggestions. I had none, and told him as much, but gave him permission to go ahead and inspect.

     Dog stalked out to the Cloud, sniffed at it, circled its perimeter, with his nose willy-nilly, then traipsed off into the woods on the trail of a more appealing scent.

     The Cloud was as big as any whale I suppose—though admittedly, I’ve never had a whale in my hayfield—and roughly the same shape. I stood back, where I could take in tip and tale with only the slightest turn of my head. It was gray as elephant hide, dense—not even the faintest outline of the woods behind it—and roiling with storm. I wondered at the odds of it being stuffed with lightning and regretted having sent Dog ahead.

     It seemed so very contained, not as I imagined clouds to be. I thought it would have spilled out, all over the hayfield by now. I looked to the end that had clipped the trees. Thin wisps of gray were seeping from beneath the Cloud. There must be a hole, I thought, and it was laying on the damage.

     And if there was a hole...

     Closer, I could see the atmosphere surrounding the cloud’s opaque center: ten or twelve inches of a misty, translucence that kept the ashen whorls contained. It was like looking at the guts of a featherless hatchling through its thin belly-skin. Still fretting a shock, I reached out tentatively.

     There are so many things you expect a cloud to be: moist, ethereal—cool, if not cold— especially one falling from an autumn sky. My first touch was quick: fingertips. I was relieved when there wasn’t even the startle of static electricity. I felt resistance, a membrane of sorts. I put the flat of my hand to it. It was warm. Not the balmy warm of weather, but the warmth left beneath a deep bed of blankets, the distinct warmth of life.

     I pressed. Gently. The skin was delicate, had give, more so than ours. With little effort, I was sure I could push my hand through it. The Cloud began to expand. I took a step back. Then another, before it stopped and began to recede. Then it rose again. It was breathing. 

     Assuming the cloud’s head, if it had a head, was at the end that entered my hayfield, I walked in that direction. Other than its being slightly more bulbous, the Cloud’s front was identical to its rear. There were no eyes, no mouth, no nose. I knew though, that that was where a face belonged—the same way, I suppose, that I know where the face belongs on a tree, or the moon. And when I touched it—its face—I knew, ineffably, that the Cloud was dying.

     “Its Earthed itself,” I heard a tiny voice behind me say.

     I turned and found a large squirrel propped on a twig-sized cane.

     Instinctively, I scanned the field for Dog.

     “Not to worry,” the squirrel said. His voice was male, dry and methodical. “He’s in the woods. Besides, we have an agreement.”

     At a glance, the squirrel could have easily been mistaken for a Gray. There weren’t but three red hairs left on his body; the rest were silver. The shape of his ears though, his size (despite the hunch), and the distinct curl of his tail, defined a Red, a very old Red, whom I’d never met.

     “Don’t you mean, beached?” I asked, looking back at the Cloud.

     “Do you see a beach anywhere?” the squirrel replied.

     “True.”

     The old squirrel came and stood beside me. Leaning on his cane, he reached to touch the Cloud.

     “They come to Earth to continue,” he said, stroking the Cloud. “Die, as you call it. It’s rare though—these days—that they ever make it. I’ve seen only two others in my life. Something almost always gets to them first.”

     The Old Squirrel looked up at the sky. I followed his gaze to the long white stripe being painted across the blue by a passing airliner.

     “Lightning too, hail, even birds.”

     I put my hand back to the Cloud. It seemed cooler now, and its color had noticeably faded along with its warmth.

     “Its storm is passing,” the Old Squirrel said. “The change comes quickly.”

     “Is there anything we can do?” I asked.

     “Do?”

     “To save it. Throw water on it or something.”

     “You’re an odd bunch,” the Old Squirrel said, shaking his head. “Be rid of your machines, if you’re that inspired.” He pointed his cane at my truck. “This,” he said, pointing the tip of his cane back at the Cloud, “is beautiful… is what is meant by death. And you want to throw water on it. Watch!”

     The Cloud’s skin was icy now, brittle. Its innards had bleached entirely white.

     “Step back,” the Old Squirrel said.

     The skin gave. The frosted storm hung in the air a moment. A few errant, snowy flecks came loose of the bulk, floated away and dissipated. Then the whole of it collapsed to the ground. The dry white powder came in a rush, like a wave to my feet. I wanted so badly to touch it, but it disappeared before I could even stoop down. There was nothing. No trace. Not even dew on the grass.

     We stood there in silence, the Old Squirrel and I. When I blinked, the Cloud’s image was still inside me: red first, then in blue. Then even that was gone.

     “Rare indeed,” the Old Squirrel said.

     Then again, we stood in silence.

     “I’m Steven, by the way,” I finally said.

     “Skip,” the Old Squirrel replied. And this didn’t surprise me in the least.

7 comments:

  1. This was a beautiful story; strange and beautiful and methodical. It drew me right in. Thank you for posting this.

    (I wish I could just make a book of all the stories you write; I love them all!)

    ReplyDelete
  2. That is going in my file of savers. Those things happen in my dreams.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You have a way of making words feel very real. ...right now I am pausing and thinking about Cloud...
    ...now what am I gonna do?

    ReplyDelete

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