by Burt Swan
The man was thirty-three when he found his cloud. He was staring from a train window when he noticed it hung familiarly in the sky; white, fluffed and proud to be his. As soon as he saw it, he said to himself, ‘That’s my cloud.’
His eyes followed as it peeped out from behind embanked trees and the chimney stacks of the houses beyond, and he felt both happy and not a little smug that the other people around didn’t recognise the cloud as he did. They would look and see it there clearly against the blue turning pink turning indigo, and yet not one of them thought it might be their cloud. His heartbeat quickened in alarm as he watched it chase towards a larger cloud that had nothing to do with him; he bit his lip as its edges unfurled into the underbelly of its bloated cousin. He looked away, sad and jealous, but turned back a moment later to feel his heart squeeze warm and full as the cloud dragged itself away, and he said again with all the love he felt, ‘That’s my cloud.’ And he knew it was.
The man’s wife wasn’t listening to him when he described what had happened; either that or he wasn’t explaining properly. Now he’d found his cloud, he knew everything would be alright from now on, but she wasn’t impressed.
Each morning he’d step out on his way to the office, and smile up as he saw his cloud there waiting to accompany him. He swapped his old desk for one by the window. On the twenty-third floor he was closer than ever before to the cloud, and every chance he got, he snuck a look to see it there, waiting so they could go home together.
Usually his cloud was a tightly puffed blob, a piece of balled-up paper tossed high into the air. Sometimes when he or the cloud were uncertain, it would hide, sheltering amongst its brothers and sisters, but he’d always know it was still nearby. And sometimes, on certain special days decided between themselves, it spread into beautiful feathers across the setting sky.
His wife said awful things about the cloud, at first, and then about the man. The things she said brought tears to his eyes, though not for himself. He was only sad that his wife had no cloud of her own, and though he’d tried, she wouldn’t share his. One day he woke and the bed beside him was cold, and through the blinds his cloud was dark, and swollen with anger, and the man understood how upset it was with what his wife had done.
Even years later, the man and the cloud were still best of friends. His children had grown up with their mother, then moved away to hot, terrifying, cloudless places. His wife had gone north, where there were so many clouds the man could never visit for fear of permanently losing his own.
Still, he was never lonely, and he was happy, because no matter what, his cloud was faithful but for the occasional summer holiday which the man didn’t mind, because he could rely on his cloud to return at an appropriate moment; and they probably needed some time apart anyway, even if beneath these reasons lay a dull leaden ache. He had the sense of being lost no matter where he went on those sunny days everyone else called unspoilt.
Eventually, when he was rather older, the man died. They said he must have been alone when his heart gave out. The doctors had been saying his entire cardiovascular system would have been under strain for years with the divorce, the redundancy, the separation from his children. They’d tried to tell him living alone wasn’t good for the body nor the soul, and they’d sighed and glanced at one another when he’d told them he wasn’t alone at all. And whilst they went ahead and said that was why his heart was weak, he had known all along that really, it had been overworked by the little jumps and flurries he’d felt every morning when he woke and found his cloud outside, still watching.
Nobody came to the man’s funeral in the end, aside from the sheltered accommodation manager, who’d warmed to the ‘…funny old coot, really.’
But the cloud did come along, and cried hard whilst they buried him, and stayed after they’d covered him over. For three days and three nights, the cloud rained down every part of itself onto the cold ground until it was sodden. By then there was nothing left of the cloud but its last tears trickling between the blades of grass and sinking into the earth, and the two of them lay there together, touching at last.
– Burt Swan is a writer and musician who confuses the disciplines as often as possible. He grew up in suburban Kent, and now lives just south of the River Thames with two extremely personable rats whose conversational English improves daily. He is currently working on his first novel.