The mother and daughter were walking through a small stretch of woods near the college campus. It was a small college, but the grounds were always well kept. One of the popular areas of study was permaculture. Anybody who knew the college and Maine could see immediately that they were perfect for each other. The environment simply imposed itself on residents of the area. No one who has chosen to live or study in that part of the world would be able to survive anywhere else. No one who has spent years there can comprehend why people would live by choice in a big metropolis like New York, Boston, or Chicago. Not even working class Buffalo would do. Any place further south than Massachusetts just did not fit on the map.
The mother did know other places, cities, even countries. She had liked Toulouse and Lisbon, even Bilbao, but those cities were all too big and noisy. Polluted, too. They made her nervous. She thought she could live in another place, but it had to be small, quiet, not overrun by concrete and vehicles. Her daughter could barely recall having traveled, but it didn’t matter, because she was exactly where she wanted to be. A lot of people never are that fortunate, but the girl was, and she knew it.
The mother’s name was Nila and her daughter, who was about six, give or take a few months, was Adrienne. It was a rather big name for a little girl, but Nila hoped her daughter would grow into it. She also secretly hoped that it would feel like an artist’s name and that her child would someday know it was intended to encourage her to be creative. Mothers often have funny ideas like that for their children. Most children probably don’t do a great job of growing into their names, but parents don’t stop hoping.
It was one of those perfect Maine days when the sky seems ready to burst - not with rain clouds and thunder, but with the pure joy of being blue. Blue as borage flowers, blue as the shimmer that crosses a pond when nobody is looking, blue as some prom gowns or puppies’ eyes. There is absolutely no other sky in the world that is as blue as a Maine sky in August. Or in January, although in the depths of winter, the blue deepens as well.
The gentle azure up above was punctuated and feathered by a hundred different greens, from the deep green of firs to the semi-transparent lime shade of maples, with oaks and apples in between. If the mother and daughter had been walking along the shore, just a mile away, they would have thought the silhouettes of the mica-laden rocks had given a scallopy edge to the sky. That was just as good as studying the way the blue eye of the sky peeked through wavy branches to watch people out for a stroll.
This day was typical, except that Adrienne had noticed something else about the azure canopy. It had clouds. Huge, lolling about as if they’d been placed on a gigantic sofa. Not the scrawny, mackerel sky clouds that few people notice. Today the clouds’ white competed with the blue surface where they were attached. One thing people often do when they look up is to see shapes - humans, animals, just about anything the imagination wants to conjure up. Adrienne didn’t see anything like that, however. She only saw clouds, and she knew they were big and beautiful, too.
“Mommy, I want a piece of cloud,” she stated.
“Just a piece?” Her mother responded, smiling.
“Oh yes, just a piece. I don’t need a lot of cloud. Other people probably want some, too, and I’ll share.”
Nila couldn’t help feeling a little proud of her daughter for not being greedy. She was right, because so many children just say ‘gimmee, gimmee!’ and throw a tantrum when they don’t get what they want. The next moment, she realized they had a dilemma. Adrienne fully believed that her mother could reach up and grip a cloud, break or tear off a piece, and give it to her. It was such a perfect day on the Maine coast and Nila was momentarily sad that she might have to disappoint her daughter. She had to think fast, but even as she was thinking, she knew she would get that cloud for Adrienne.
“We need something to put the cloud in,” she mused, looking around for something she didn’t expect to find on the immaculate campus. Not that a person could store a bit of cloud just any place. It needed to be the right sort of container. Nila knew they could find something at home, but meanwhile, they were going to have to improvise. She explained this to her daughter.
“We should find some big leaves, put them in layers, and place the cloud on them. Then we can roll them up, very carefully, and take them home. I know right where we have a shoe box that’s the perfect size. You can color it or put pictures on it, and it will be safe. I might even have a pretty blue ribbon to tie the box.”
Adrienne couldn’t have been happier, watching her mother reach up and gather just the right amount of cloud for her daughter. The little girl cradled the package ever so carefully while they finished their walk and headed home. When they arrived, they got the box out, slipped the cloud inside, and tied it up with the ribbon, because Nila had, in fact, been able to find one that was just the right color.
Once this was done, Adrienne dictated the whole story to her mother. The whole story about getting the cloud, bundling it up, then taking it home. It took the better part of an hour, because the little girl didn’t want to leave out any of the details. Nila carefully wrote everything down as her daughter told her to, then said:
“Look! You’ve just written your very own story.” Adrienne was proud, but her mother was probably even prouder. It seemed like her daughter was indeed growing into her name. The little girl then expressed some concern about the size of the box, because she was worried that it might not be big enough, that the cloud might have trouble breathing. Her mother assured her that would not happen because clouds have a wonderful ability to adapt themselves to the space available. She added that Adrienne could let the cloud out from time to time if she felt worried about the cloud not being able to breathe or getting kinks in it from being cooped up. The suggestion was a good one and the little girl who was now the Keeper of the Cloud was happy to know she would not cause it any suffering.
The story might have ended there, but it didn’t, probably because it is very, very special to have a cloud to care for and watch over. Adrienne knew this. Still, little girls, like little boys with magic dragons for friends, eventually grow up. When they grow up, they might forget or laugh at their childish ideas.
This is not that story.
The box, festooned with its silk ribbon and some drawings, did occupy different places in the house. From time to time, Adrienne would untie the little bow and open the box. The story that she and her mother had written together was sometimes stored inside, sometimes left on top of the lid. A drawing or two might also have been added over the years. Naturally, none of this affected the contents the least bit.
However, even though the Maine sky never loses its shade of blue for very long, the box ended up on the top shelf in a closet for quite a while. After that, it migrated to the basement, which was rather sad, but at the same time it was safe from the cold or moisture. From time to time, Nila and Adrienne would both look at it and smile, although after a while they no longer opened it. It’s not necessary to speculate why, but they didn’t. Perhaps they were afraid the cloud was too childish a toy for them to play with, or perhaps they feared something else. The box didn’t seem to mind. It knew its place, which was a very important place indeed.
The daughter grew up, as daughters do, but she still lived near her Mother and saw her often. There were different things to do and talk about. The box remained patiently in its place. Until one day. Until the day Adrienne came with her own daughter, whom she had named Ariel, which she hoped would inspire her little one to look for the good things in life, the pretty things. Ariel, from Shakespeare, the one meant to be a blithe spirit.
Adrienne had not simply come to see her mother and let Nila hold the baby. She had come, once more, for the box and for the story. By now the story might have acquired a few more embellishments as the two women had mentioned it frequently over the years, but the original one, in Nila’s handwriting, was still in its proper place.
Mother and daughter went down to the cellar, which was still neatly arranged and still a safe place for the storage of important objects. They knew exactly where to look.They picked up the box and brought it upstairs to the dining room table. First, however, they made certain the table was completely clean and dry. Their intention was to recreate the original cloud scene and how their story - Adrienne’s first story -came to be written. They knew it was something they both imagined, but they wanted Ariel to hear it for the first time from both of them together.
They put the box on the cherry wood table, removed the lid which by now had some bruised edges, then looked inside, laughing at the memory. They started to tell Ariel about that day, then they stopped. Neither said a word.
The cloud was still in there, nestled atop the day, the sky, the green leaves on trees, the years, and the sheet of lined paper, written in elegant cursive.