Oh, there you are! I see you. Only just, mind you. It’s difficult to make anything out clearly from all the way up here. You’re lying down on the warm grass at your favourite part of the hill which overlooks the city. It’s always quiet here, and today there’s nobody else going around. You’ve got time. Time to lose yourself in the clouds, as you always enjoy. Time to reflect.
And what a beautiful day for it; the sun is shining gently and a cool breeze is dancing intricately through, playfully ruffling your hair before going on its merry way to cheer some other part of the countryside, or even blow all the way into the city and whistle calmly through those tall buildings. The buildings sparkle in the sunlight but you’re not looking at them; your only focus is on us, the clouds.
We’re the sort that you like best. Big, puffy and as white as pure snow. That’s what you see at first as you lie on your back and look at us – great snow-covered mountains. Not even the kind you’d find somewhere in the real world like Scandinavia or the Arctic, no. These look like fantastical mountains found only within the imagination of a reader who has picked up and got lost in a book set in a land which doesn’t exist but oh! If only it did! You’ve seen those images in these sorts of clouds since you were very young, only a child. And within those great and mighty mountains would often be an enormous palace made from ice. You would lie on your bed in the middle of the day and stare out of the window – yes! I remember – and you’d gaze up at all of us fluffy clouds for hours on end and see all sorts of things. You’d see shapes of animals, people you knew, places you had been. But most often you’d see the brilliant, unreal things. Things which are more often kept locked underneath your pillow only to open when you would lay your head down at night and journey off to a world found only in the imagination of a child.
Ah, how it must take you back. And it does, I can see that on your relaxed face and in your curious eyes. You remember how it felt to be so young. A child. It’s us that’s helping you to remember this; these fuzzy clouds are a temporary window back to your childhood and now you’re beginning to see shapes in us that remind you exactly how it felt to be so young, free, and adventurous.
Like the cloud you’re looking at now. Do you see the shape of it? Of course you do! It has taken the exact form of your old favourite teddy bear, Rupert. You loved that bear, a hand-me-down from your mother who loved it before you. And you had no idea that he was from a book or a television series. When your mother read you the first Rupert book, do you remember what you thought at the time? You thought that somebody had written a book specifically about your own teddy bear. And it was special. More special, in fact, than you even realised. Because that day – the day that you were sure a whole book was created based purely on the thing that you loved – was the day that your young mind opened to the endless possibilities of your future. If somebody had made that book just for your little Rupert, then absolutely anything was possible. What a gift! To be given such courage, imagination and tender ambition in your early years!
I see your gaze has shifted a little. I wondered when you would spot that other formation. The one that looks like two adults holding hands. Yes! Mum and Dad! Or "Mummy and Daddy" as they were known back then. The clouds don’t show their faces but your brilliant imagination has done the work for you and you can see them almost as clearly as though they were standing in front of you. Mum’s shiny smile and Dad’s confident grin. They were always smiling, the pair of them. And you didn’t know it then, but you do now; you were lucky to have that. A mother and father who were so very happy together and who loved you as deeply as any parents could. You remember the days of playing on the swings, your mother pushing you and your father pretending that your extended legs had accidentally kicked him in the face. How you shook with laughter when he dramatically fell to the grass and rolled down that hill! How your mother laughed too! But hers was a laughter even brighter than your own because she was filled with such glee and her heart rose almost further than the clouds to see her child so happy.
And your dog! Charlie. Yes, you can see one of the clouds that looks exactly like him, too. Like yourself, only a pup at the time. A small, black affenpinscher. He was chasing down the hill after your father, barking loudly as he went. When he caught him he leaped onto your father’s chest and began furiously licking his face. This made all three of you laugh all the harder, and in your little-big imagination, Charlie was howling with laughter too.
It was the definition of pure bliss. Because in your young mind you couldn’t imagine that these days would ever be over. A child cannot fathom this. That a day will come when you are bigger and older. That you’d have responsibilities. That laughter would still be present but rarer.
But of course, it did.
The warmest of regards, friend. I’m afraid your favourite clouds have blown over a little. You can still make them out if you look very hard in the distance but the skyline is now mostly filled with my type. Clouds that are a little greyer. A little heavier. The type which might warn of rain but you can’t quite be sure. You can still see some shapes in us but it takes a little more imagination. A little more effort. You almost have to use your mind to force these clouds into the shapes you want them to be.
We are the type of clouds you only really started noticing when you grew up. The light, fuzzy ones you used to love seemed to slowly vanish and the very word “cloud” seemed to profoundly change in meaning. Clouds used to be fun as a child, but as an adult you’d stare out of the window and think “it’s cloudy today” with despair. Cloudy meant that something wasn’t right; the beautiful blue sky was hidden by these new menacing forces that no longer took magical, wondrous shapes but stretched themselves across the skyline as though trying to wrap you in grief and loneliness.
But I know that you were once a child of vivid imagination. And when that is encouraged and contained within a person at a young age it never really leaves. You began coming to this very spot to gaze at the clouds when you were a young adult, and as you continued to age you kept coming, because you still kept the flame of hope and desire stoked somewhere within the deepest part of your heart. Looking up now, you use that strong will of yours to coerce the clouds into the shapes you want them to be. The one you’re looking at now, for example; when you first spotted it you saw nothing but a thick blob of a greying cloud with thin wisps streaking out from its sides. But the more you looked the more you saw it.
Your father. Yes, your father. Can’t you see his sad face at the top? The years of anguish portrayed in the dullness and the heaviness of the cloud? Look at how thick that cloud is. Doesn’t it resemble what happened to your father’s body after he fell into his state of depression? But the most notable thing about this cloud, the thing that mostly anyone but a child might say about it, is that it looks like a rain cloud. And doesn’t that perfectly describe your father? It’s always raining for him these days – raining in the way that his days bring endless misery, rain falling in the same way that tears fall from his cheeks when nobody’s looking. And what do people feel when they look at a rain cloud like that one? They feel sad, they feel deflated. But most of all, they want to be far away from it. It's a burden. A hindrance. Just like your father.
Of course, it’s not his fault, is it? Look at that long cloud next to him. It looks, with a little bit of mental moulding, like a bed. And on top of the bed, underneath the blankets is a woman. Your mother. Except it can’t be her. She died eight years ago. This cloud, like so many others, is a memory. The memory of your mother dying of cancer and your father beside her holding back the tears that would later flow out of his eyes as though they were broken with no chance of repair. A burst pipe in an attic. An attic in an abandoned house. A house in the middle of nowhere.
But what’s that blob of cloud at the bottom of the bed? At your mother’s feet? Yes, yes. It’s Charlie. Your old dog from your childhood. Except this part you’ve completely made up (your mind does still have on to a little bit of that imagination that was so prominent before) because Charlie died even before your mother. When you were still a child, but an older one. One that’s seen the formation of my type of cloud and begins to see much less of the lovely, light puffy ones.
We are the clouds of reality. Reality is something you discover in adulthood. When loved ones die and the rest are broken. We are the ones that loom over your head as you traverse the paths of adult life. We watch as you make tracks in the ground beneath your feet. Tracks that you believe are permanent.
And nOw your mind begiNS to think of those. Of the mistakes you’ve made and the REGRETS you hold. Think of those – THE POTENTIAL career path you might have chosen but didn’t, the relationship you had THAT MIGHT have been lasting and happy BUT was destroyed by your own lack of FAITH IN YOURSELF, the children you never HAD AND the places you never went. INFINITE GLOWING OPPORTUNITIES wasted, and these CLOUDS will always remind YOU OF THEM.
SORRY. I BELIEVE I SPILLED A SMALL DROP ON YOUR CHEEK. OR IS THAT A DROPLET OF YOUR OWN MAKING? YES, IT’S ME. EVERYBODY’S LEAST FAVOURITE TYPE OF CLOUD. NOT GREY ANYMORE BUT BLACK. HEAVY. LONELY BUT ONLY BECAUSE THE ONES BEFORE ME BECAME SO HUGE THAT THEY ALL FORMED TOGETHER TO MAKE ONE GIGANTIC MASS LINGERING OVER THE ONCE BEAUTIFUL SKYLINE. YOU CAN’T MAKE ANYTHING OUT IN ME. YOU CAN’T FORM ANY SHAPE. AND YOU’RE AFRAID OF ME BECAUSE I RESEMBLE YOUR FUTURE. NOBODY KNOWS WHAT’S TO COME FOR THEM AND SO NO SHAPES CAN BE MADE OUT OF ME. THE ONLY THING YOU CAN SEE ABOUT ME IS THAT I’M UNMOVING, I’M DARK, AND I’M ABOUT TO BRING A LOT OF RAIN. AND THAT’S WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU TRY TO IMAGINE YOUR FUTURE. THE WAY THINGS HAVE GONE SINCE YOU BEGAN TO SEE THOSE NEW CLOUDS WERE NOT AS YOU IMAGINED WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD. FROM THE DAY YOU LEARNED THAT YOU’D EVENTUALLY GROW TO BE AS BIG AS MUM OR DAD YOU BEGAN TO IMAGINE WHAT THAT MIGHT BE LIKE. YOU IMAGINED THAT THE WORLD YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW SUDDENLY OPENED AND UNVEILED ANOTHER HUGE UNIVERSE THAT YOU NEVER WOULD HAVE FATHOMED. WHAT OPPORTUNITIES! WHAT DREAMS YOU HAD! BUT, AS YOU KNOW, IT WASN’T LIKE THAT. MUM DIED, DAD BECAME DEPRESSED, LIFE BECAME STRESSFUL AND YOU COULD BARELY HOLD IT ALL TOGETHER. EVEN THAT OLD BEAR, RUPERT DISAPPEARED SOME TIME AGO. YOU SUDDENLY REMEMBERED ABOUT THAT OLD THING A FEW YEARS AGO AND BECAME WRAPPED IN GUILT BECAUSE YOU COULDN’T REMEMBER WHEN YOU WOULD HAVE SEEN IT LAST. IT WENT FROM YOUR MOTHER TO YOU, AND THEN TO WHERE? THE SKIP? A THING WHICH ONCE HELD SO MUCH OF YOUR LOVE, DISCARDED AND FORGOTTEN, LEFT TO ROT IN THE SAME PLACE THAT UNWANTED THINGS LIVE AND THEN FINALLY CRUMBLE TO DUST. FORGOTTEN, JUST LIKE ANY OF YOUR LONG LOST DREAMS. DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES. KEEP LOOKING. LOOK UP AT ME AND THINK. IMAGINE WHAT THESE BLACK CLOUDS PREDICT FOR YOUR FUTURE. ONE THING IS CERTAIN, ISN’T IT? DEATH. DEATH FOR YOUR FATHER FIRST OF ALL. HOW LONG DO YOU SUPPOSE HE HAS LEFT? HIS HEALTH HAS DETERIORATED RAPIDLY THESE LAST FEW YEARS. AND HOW OFTEN HAVE YOU EVEN BEEN VISITING HIM? THE GUILT YOU FEEL IS NOT ENOUGH. YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED AND DISGUSTED WITH YOURSELF. AND WHERE ARE YOU WORKING AT THE MOMENT? IN THE OFFICE OF A COMPANY THAT YOU HAVE NO INTEREST IN OR PASSION FOR. YOU COULD EVEN SAY THAT THE TYPE OF WORK THEY DO DOES NOT FIT WITH YOUR OWN ETHICAL BELIEFS. WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR MORALS? WHY DON’T YOU CARE ANYMORE? IS IT BECAUSE YOU NOW SEE THE DARK CLOUDS ABOVE YOUR HEAD AND YOU REALISE YOUR FATE IS SEALED? I’M ABOUT TO BURST OPEN NOW AND YET YOU LIE THERE, UNMOVING, LOOKING UP AT ME. I CAN SEE YOUR EYES BEGIN TO CLOSE SLOWLY. YOU’VE BECOME JUST LIKE YOUR FATHER. DEFEATED. DEPRESSED. PATHETIC. THE PATHS YOU’VE WALKED IN THIS LIFE CANNOT BE BACKTRACKED. YOUR FOOTSTEPS THROUGH THIS WORLD ARE MADE. THEY CANNOT BE UNMADE. THAT’S IT. AS YOU LIE THERE DISMALLY YOUR EYES HAVE NOW CLOSED AND I’M BEGINNING TO LOSE WEIGHT. IT MAY BE THAT WHEN YOU OPEN YOUR EYES I AM GONE. BUT YOU KNOW I’LL RETURN. I ALWAYS DO.
I AM ALL THAT’S LEFT FOR YOU NOW.
OPEN YOUR EYEs.
OPen YOUr eyes.
Open them!! Look!
I know, I know. You can’t quite believe it. We're back! The light, puffy clouds from childhood that you’ve always adored. Do you see the one just over there? In the distance? You do! It’s the ice palace you used to always see, hidden among those gargantuan snowy mountains. And they’ve brought you a gift, look! Look around you!
That big black cloud was no rain cloud at all. I know it’s strange but it happens sometimes. Snow in April. Isn’t it beautiful? You’re hugging your arms close to your body with the chill. But isn’t it nice? Look what it’s brought. The greatest gift possible.
You see it. All around you the grass contains a light dusting of white snow. But it doesn’t just cover the grass and the new spring flowers. It covers your tracks, too. The footsteps you’ve made on your way to this beautiful spot have been concealed, ready for fresh ones. And that’s what snow does – no matter what path you may walk in this life, always a fresh layer of snow will arrive to cover them up and allow you to walk new ones.
You don’t have to be stuck in the same job. You don’t have to avoid calling your ex to make amends. You can start visiting your father more. That fresh snow allows you all of this. And it came straight from those mountains.
And the most important thing, my friend, is that you remember where those snowy mountains came from in the first place.