We called her Dolly Daydream.
“Oh, that’s Dolly.” We would scoff, usually to some curious person who had never met her before, “Don’t bother talking to her. She won’t hear you.”
In those instances, she would smile to herself. She would hear us, she always heard us. She simply chose not to respond. I guess we never understood that just because her head was above the clouds, it didn’t mean that she couldn’t peer down on us every once in a while.
She preferred it up in the sky where the atmosphere was warm and comforting, rather than down here in this violent, bitchy world. Who could blame her really?
But credits where credits due, we had a point about her. Dolly wasn’t the most normal teenager. She always wore a lazy smile on her thin lips, but it would never reach her sapphire-coloured eyes. A murkiness lingered in those blue, twirling orbs, like a barrier between her and us. And she always moved with no sense of urgency, like she had all the time in the world.
When she walked, her small, almost-skeletal, body would float side to side like a broken leaf in the wind. Her fingers would wiggle as her hand flexed open and shut, as if she was trying to ground herself into reality as she moved. Then her eyes would flutter shut, her head lolling side to side. Everyone would hold their breath, believing she would faint any minute. But then her eyes would flutter back open, and she would continue her haunted dance across the corridor towards the next classroom. Towards her next daydream.
And although Dolly posed no physical threat, we were all intimidated by her silence. Rarely did she speak, and when those chapped lips did move to say something, they would immediately curl back up into her familiar lazy smile. Dolly’s brain was like a high-bolted security safe that only she had the key to. And even then, we all doubted whether she even had it. She seemed so lost all the time.
It was a Tuesday morning, in late June when the game started. In that stuffy classroom, tensions were high as the heat licked at our sweaty teenage bodies after the previous lesson, P.E. As usual, Dolly was exempt from that class for some reason unbeknownst to us. Reader, I will admit that my friends and I were irritable. Irritated at nothing in particular, but we would soon find something. We were teenage girls, with teenage girl problems. You name it, we had it. Period troubles, boy troubles, friendship issues… Combined with the heat after a taxing lesson of cross country, we were out for blood.
The real kicker? Even though Dolly didn’t join in the previous P.E lesson, she was allowed to sit next to the open window, her head resting against the chilled glass.
We were jealous. We wanted that cool, fresh breeze.
At the time, we were not particularly angry at Dolly. But then she started humming some unfamiliar song. And although this was quite normal for Dolly, it irked us on that day. It felt like she was taunting us that she felt relaxed enough to disappear back into her own world, whilst we were all stuck in history class, sweating our tits off. Her fingers delicately lifted in the air swaying along to the song only she knew, but her eyes never parted from the sky, up towards the clouds.
She always had a strange fascination with those fluffy things in the sky.
And, Reader, this is where the game started.
“What do you think she’s thinking about?” My friend besides me had asked. Thirty years on, I do not remember her name. All remember is that she would hike her skirt up until she was one blow of the wind away from flashing the whole school. Her face was cakey and thick with makeup, and she applied so many layers of mascara that it looked like snapped spiders’ legs resting on her cheeks whenever she closed her eyes.
I had shrugged. As if she heard us, Dolly’s lip twitched, and her eyes glazed over more. She even leant forward in her seat to get a better view of the clouds. Something was calling her in.
“She’s cloud watching.” My other friend had said matter of factly. This one had platinum blonde hair, with streaks of copper- I don’t think this was her intended look but back then, when we had no money, box dye was a better option than going to a professional hairdresser.
This friend’s name began with A, I can’t remember much more than that.
“Pathetic.” Spider-eyed girl had scoffed. Her lips curled in disgust as if she was so much better than Dolly because she was grounded. It was then A’s eyes lit up as she shuffled closer towards us.
“I think.” She had begun confidently, “She’s thinking about cows jumping over the moon.”
“Like the fairy tale?” I had cut her off, but I quickly zipped my lips when she glared daggers through me.
“I hadn’t finished!”
“Sorry.” I squeaked, sinking further into my chair.
A continued her hypothesis,
“She’s thinking about cows jumping over the moon, and then they fall through the sky, down, down, down, past the shining stars, next to the comets, besides the planets, until they finally fall down to earth. They then jump into the clouds, creating a splash. Like jumping into a swimming pool. The world’s biggest diving board!”
Spider girl choked on a laugh and fell forward in amusement. Her eyes watered as she giggled; some dark splodges of mascara stained her waterline as a result.
“No way,” She grinned when she had collected her thoughts, “look at that one!”
We all tore our heads in the direction where she pointed not so discreetly. The cloud was roughly shaped like a heart.
“She’s thinking about what it would be like to be in love. There’s probably a sexy, mute guy somewhere in this town. I recon she’s thinking about all the love making they will do in the future.” She conspired. It wasn’t uncommon for Spider girl to link everything back to sex- we were teenagers after all.
“Ew, gross.” I had scowled, shaking my head. Then, I leant forward, studying Dolly’s eyeline to try and figure out which one she was looking at.
“I’m taking a spiritual standpoint.” I had confessed, much to A and Spider girls’ disapproval.
“That one there, the big round one with the line of cloud going out of it? That looks like an elephant.” I had breathed out, almost mesmerised myself by the uncanniness, “So, in the Hindu tradition, elephants bring the rain. They are the clouds themselves and they use their trunks to shower us in rain. I think that’s what she is thinking about.”
I sat back in my seat almost triumphantly, crossed arms, with a knowing smile. But I didn’t know. Truth be told, we never knew what she was thinking about as she peered up into the sky with her lost, dazed look.
I had stopped being friends with those girls not long after. You know how teenage girls and their friendship groups are… But the game lived on in my heart.
And even today, as the sun beats down on me and my family laying in the sun, I peer up at those fluffy clouds in the sky and create my own stories. I even force my children to join in, much to their groans of disappointment. They’d rather run around, playing tag or some other violent game. But I won’t have it. We must all play the cloud watching game.
And perhaps one day, I will guess correctly. I will learn what it is like to be Dolly with her daydreams.