Riding Clouds

Short Stories

Tom had a quiet voice. Everything about him in fact, screamed of quietness. His clothes were often uncolored and worn-looking, seemingly wearing the same shirt from the moment he received it until the day it became tattered with use, his face was always hidden by a five o-clock shadow, even his eyes were grey. Tom had the uncanny ability of being able to walk without making a sound. He seemed to pass through life like a ghost, being rarely noticed in passing and never in crowds. As Tom sat in his usual shoddy wooden seat at the corner café, the sun was setting; a bright yellow backdrop illuminating an otherwise grey sky. The light of the sun reflected off Tom’s cool gaze as if struggling to reach down into the depths of his eyes before eventually giving up and returning to the heavens. Despite appearances and conjectures, Tom felt like he lived a happy life. There was a certain feeling of comfort to his actions, a familiarity that only comes from years of repetition and sameness. He came to the same chair in the same café every day to watch the sun set, and for Tom, nothing could be more beautiful, serene.

Today there were many grey clouds in the sky. They were dark and full, like men walking out of a buffet ready to burst. Most of the clouds today blended together in an oddly shaped mass of fluff. Today a cool wind blew, the clouds could be seen visibly moving across the horizon; some of them were dancing. If you watch clouds closely enough you can see them sliver across the horizon, halting only when your gaze loses focus; in this way clouds demand attention to be fully appreciated. Tom often wondered where they went and what happened to them after that particular group faded in the distance. Especially today there seemed to be an endless torrent, like birds migrating south in the wintertime. He wished he could fly so he could follow the clouds and see where they went. He noticed one cloud that was shaped like a bed, and Tom thought of sleep. Because of the light of the day sky, the clouds were not uniformly colored; there were whole spectra of grays. Edges were nearly white and the clouds slowly darkened as Tom’s finger traveled to their centers.

Today the sun was a brilliant yellow. This meant the air was particularly clean for some reason, perhaps due to last night’s rain. Rain always seems to wash everything clean: the streets, cars that lined the streets, children playing in the mud, the tears of a crying woman, even the air itself. A yellow sun setting casts magnificent rays across the sky like the tendrils of Genghis Khan reaching across the Asian continent in his quest for glory. The thicker clouds however were successful in thwarting the sun’s desire for progression, as its rays were unable to penetrate their huddled masses. It did make for quite a show. Tom could see the light in back of the clouds, offering up a background of brilliance being enveloped by darkness. It was like many skirmishes of good and evil taking place, a dogfight in the sky. The smaller clouds were not so lucky; he could see small rays breaking through to rain down victoriously on the ground outside the café. Genghis Khan too was stopped by clouds; of course in his case the clouds were the trappings of time and geography, the contrapositive of his infinite expansion was a forcefully thunderous contraction. Tom realized, as he did every day, that the sun was fighting a losing battle; in the end the sky would be overcome by darkness, and at that point Tom would get up and begin his journey back home under the comfort of the newly arrived dark, below a group of clouds celebrating their victory by pelting the earth with droplets of life-giving water.

Tom’s journey began always at the corner café and ended several miles later when he reached his doorstep. He liked to take different routes back home, always hoping to discover something new and interesting along the way. He often came up with some sort of mission or task to accomplish on his walk from the café back home, today he was to count the number of billboards depicting the latest Johnny Depp movie. Yesterday’s was to walk in perfect tandem with the square tiles of asphalt that lined the sidewalks along the road, being careful not to touch any of the cracks. He also liked to calculate how fast he walked, because he knew the distances by heart, he would see how long it took to get home and find out how quickly he was walking.

A quiet rain was falling. Tom did not have a jacket, but he was not bothered too much by the rain; he actually enjoyed it. Tom had always liked the rain and today was no exception. He noticed the white cement slowly turn grey as it was pummeled by a quiet torrent of water, then turning black in the darkness. Puddles slowly formed in the streets beside him, and as he passed by Towne Street he could see two small children wearing bright yellow rain boots playing with a small toy boat in a particularly deep puddle. The two chubbycheeks ran after the boat which flew full sail down the road, picking it up at the end of the street only to repeat the process again and again. He stopped for a moment to watch them play, enjoying the sound of the purity of their laughter, the way only a child can. Tom waved but the children were too absorbed in the majesty of their boat sailing on the open sea to notice. He continued walking.

There were many trees, none of them particularly healthy, reveling in the coming of the rain. Water seemed to hastily be absorbed into the hungry maw of wooden flesh, like an addict craving another fix. The farther along he went, Tom noticed the trees began to drip water, nearly overdosing in moisture. To them, drowning in bliss is a better end than dying in dry starvation. There was something bittersweet about the way droplets of water fell slowly from the many branches, leaves, flowers that lined Tom’s route back home. He saw the trees and marveled at their beauty, and how their problems are sometimes the same as ours; perhaps we are not as different from trees as we may seem, he thought. Three blocks left.

People always tend to drive poorly when it rains, especially in a big city in which rain seldom falls. Tom was surprised that it took almost two miles of walking before he finally saw an accident. A taxicab had crashed into a small sedan. The headlights of the taxi were shattered and strewn across the street; the front had several large dents marring what was once a pristine yellow finish. The sedan was in worse condition, looking like a crumpled piece of paper, only made of metal. Tom thought about the physics behind such a collision and wondered at what speed the taxicab needed to have been traveling to produce such carnage.There was a small crowd of people, a crowd is bound to form whenever there is an accident of any kind, pointing and exchanging hushed whispers, gossiping about the cars and people involved in the wreck – humans are delightful creatures. Tom walked on, luckily it seemed as if nobody was injured; that was enough for him, he left the spectacle to the rabble. Home sweet home. He had counted four billboards.

An old wooden door with rusty numbering (516) was slowly kicked open, and Tom walked up two flights of stairs to another old wooden door (E). He had no mail, so did not need to bother with the mail box; he opened his door, noticing that the hinges were perfectly oiled and functioning, and walked inside, not bothering to wipe his feet on the welcome mat – nobody would mind. Tom’s apartment was as modest as the man himself, it was quiet except for a large copy of Dali’s “The Dream” which hung in between two rectangular mirrors on the wall opposite the door. Tom saw himself twice while looking at the man’s elevated face; then proceeded to take off his shoes and socks. He walked straight to the bathroom and turned on the water in the tub, waiting for it to heat up before taking off his clothes and sliding gently in. He liked to take baths after his long walk home, daydreaming while looking at the ceiling for the most part. In the tub, the ceiling took on mystic qualities and became a world of swirling colors and hues, like clouds being struck by a setting sun. The walls of the bathroom were bare save an old circular mirror rimmed with old oak; there was one light fixture on the ceiling, with light bulbs that shone in a peculiar yellow glow. Tom watched as the steam slowly rose, condensing near the ceiling, marveling at the virtual recreation of the sunset scene in his bathroom. He dozed off.

Tom woke up an hour later, his hands had aged about fifty years in that span, and he felt the smooth wrinkles run down his legs and back up again. He got out of the tub and dried himself off – slipping into a clean pair of clothes that looked eerily similar to the ones he had, in what seemed like a moment ago, slipped out of. Tom walked back into the living room and sat on the couch, which had been given to him by a distant relative, he thought, maybe a great uncle or something, it was so long ago. The couch was made of brown leather, now worn with age, but still soft and comforting. He took out a pencil and a piece of paper and recorded his observations at the time of the sunset just a few hours prior. He always wrote down the sunsets, and kept his writings in a journal, which was really a rather messy stack of papers he wrote on every day – one day they will get organized, he thought to himself.

There was a certain emptiness inside Tom, and he realized that aside from his tea at the café, he had not eaten in many hours. With slow, deliberate steps, Tom walked past the Dali painting and into the small kitchen, which was like his secret sanctuary amid the chaos of disorganized papers and books which littered the apartment. It was in the kitchen where Tom was truly able to express his happiness – he had learned to cook and love food from his grandfather, who had been an accomplished chef, and his mother, who had passed down quite a bit of knowledge as well. He always assumed it was in his genetic makeup to have some talent for cooking, and Tom reveled in it.

He made sure that his ingredients were always fresh – on the small patio of his apartment he kept several herbs: basil, thyme, mint, and cilantro growing at all times, in addition to a small lemon tree and tomato vines that inhabited the far side of the patio. He made his food with love and affection, enjoying equally the cooking and consumption of his food. One of the only regrets Tom held was not being able to cook for others, which was one of the greatest joys he could think to experience. He had always wanted to be a chef and maybe one day open up his own restauraunt, but that would have to wait. For now, Tom prepared a simple fruit salad to go along with a light pasta and poured himself a glass of wine (an aged Merlot). When it was ready he sat back down on his couch, enjoying the soft blend of flavors so pleasing to his palette, and fell asleep.

Tom was a kid once more, he knew this room well. It was white and Dali’s “The Dream” hung on the wall to his left. He was sitting on a full sized bed with a flower-print blanket; to his right there was a small TV. It showed only static, and there was a small VHS player so he could watch movies, he only had one movie. Tom watched “The Crow” probably for the hundredth time; he’d been here many times. There were sounds muffled by the walls of another world that was alien to Tom. His parents were out there and he would not see them again until the next morning when he woke up in his bed. It was almost as if those nights of his childhood were actually just recurring dreams.

Tom grew a pair of wings, he could fly now. He lifted off the ground effortlessly, as if he’d done this a thousand times. The window in his room was open so he flew out, quickly gaining speed. Cars below looked like small insects and he could barely make out the people; even the ugliest city looks beautiful from above. Tom followed the clouds, overheard their chatter. The clouds spoke to him of a magical place beyond the horizon and described the sun as a beast seeking to deny them entry into the promise land. The clouds were peaceful creatures and carried no weapons; many would not survive the voyage. As Tom flew onward he witnessed a great bombardment, the sun could be seen hurling rays of light, like Zeus, upon unsuspecting clouds. Some of them dissipated immediately, others burst, letting forth a torrent of rain. A few however weathered the storm – Tom was the only witness to their struggle. He flew onward with the survivors, whose tears of sorrow rained down upon the earth. He had almost reached the horizon.

He was a kid again, his brother Mark sitting beside him on the stoop outside their apartment. His parents were not home and neither of them had keys; it had been over an hour since they had been waiting. Mark took him out often, especially when his parents were not home. Some of Tom’s best memories from childhood were nights spent on the rooftops of the various apartments and condos in the neighborhood, watching the few stars visible in the city sky in a comfortable quiet. Tom began to cry, he wished his parents would come here. Mark told him not to worry, that they would be back. You’ll see. He always trusted Mark.

Tom was a teenager sitting on a wooden bench outside the mall waiting for her. She never came.

Tom walked along the beach with his best friend Vinny for the last time; he was going away to college. They discussed movies and philosophy and walked four miles before the sun set. They watched the evening clouds battle a blood thirsty sun. The sky was rimmed with oranges and reds.

Tom woke up to the sound of shouting and watched his mother try to take her own life.

Tom saw the most beautiful girl in the world sitting across from him. He was too shy to introduce himself.

Tom jumped up and down in his grandfather’s kitchen, catching glimpses of a master hard at work. Tom’s bright eyes were filled with awe and wonder.

Tom felt her full lips plant kisses, each one gentler and more seductive than the last, on his forehead and felt pure bliss for the first time.

He was in his college dorm room, and he barely knew his roommate. Tom sat in his room, nose buried in a book, Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot”, his roommate played video games with some friends of his. Their screams and the sound of explosions pelted Tom’s ears and shook the feeble walks of his room which was only adorned with Dali’s Dream. There was a knock at the door – his roommate was asking Tom to cook rice. Tom got up.

Tom stared at the TV, where Mark could be seen, dancing. His movements were as fluid as the wind, they would never dance again.

There were clouds now overhead, they were white and friendly, and Tom was enveloped in their warmth. He drew their wispy tendrils around him – he felt their softness on his bare cheeks and Tom cracked a huge smile. He was riding in his cloud and Mark was there with him. Tom was curious as to where he’d been; just travelling around with the clouds. Things have been pretty lonely – Mark told him to keep his head up.

Tom awoke to the faint knocking of yellow rays on the window pane; there were no clouds in the sky.


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