The only cloud in the sky looks like a cotton ball unraveling. The day is hot, but there is a slight breeze, warm like a whispered breath against her cheek, a relief compared to the humidity of the past week. Heavy air doesn’t suit her. She’s done with heaviness of any kind. She wants things light, like this cloud, the wind gently tugging at its threads so that it unspools, shifting from fluff to wisp right before her eyes. It’s mesmerizing. She almost pushes herself up out of her lounge chair to go to the door and call to him–you gotta come see this cloud!–until she remembers he’s not there. Gone like he’d threatened, leaving behind hollowness, spaces no longer filled, his unwashed breakfast plate in the sink. A real fuck you. She thought about throwing it on the floor, watching the ceramic split and scatter. Instead she tossed it in the garbage. The trash will be picked up on Tuesday and then the last of him will be gone for good. The way he wanted it. Fine.
You were never willing to fight for us, he accused her, and she wonders if that’s what he’s been searching for all these years, coming and going, moving in and out of her life like a storm. Some sign that she was willing to batten down the hatches, shore up the structure of her heart so that he couldn’t blow right through her whenever he suddenly shifted course. What was the point of fighting when it was so much easier to let go? Let him flow like water through a moat, passing beneath the bridge of her body once every few months. Clearly I can’t live without you, he’d told her upon one of many returns and she’d agreed, even though it wasn’t true. This time: Let’s do this for real, dropping down onto a knee in the middle of her kitchen while she smashed garlic cloves with the flat side of her chef’s knife. She laughed before she could stop herself, briefly glanced at the tip of the knife in a way that worries her when she thinks back on it now.
She perfectly understood what he could never see: they were like thunder, the two of them, repeatedly crashing into each other, all noise and no substance. This is it, he told her, like a parent at his wit’s end. If I go now, I’m never coming back, but she just shrugged, forever the impassive teenager. Give me a reason to stay, he was asking her, but instead she gave him the pleasure of believing himself blameless, a fighter to the bitter end, and she the coward.
But she is not a coward, she is a cloud. She rests her head back on her chair, eyes closed, the heat slowly lulling her to sleep. We are all clouds, she thinks. Lives pulled and stretched by unseen forces, slowly coming undone. A mist, vapor–dismantled by the atmosphere. The sky forever and always returning to a clean, empty slate. She will sleep here for an hour, maybe more. Awake to find only the sun, lurid blue of the sky, the hot painful rash of the cloud’s absence, the fresh burn the only evidence it had ever been there at all.
Claire Taylor writes poetry, short fiction, and the occasional essay. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous print and online journals including Capsule Stories, American Writers Review, and Canary Literary Journal. She is the creator of Little Thoughts, a monthly newsletter of original stories and poetry for children. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland and can be found online at clairemtaylor.com, Twitter @ClaireM_Taylor and Instagram @todayweread.