On Kite Hill, children flitter about like butterflies while their parents sit patiently under perfectly blue skies, pleasantly oblivious to the shouts of joy and rings of laughter.
The man sitting alone in the shade of a small dogwood is equally unaware. He has other distractions to keep him occupied. His ears are tuned to the gentle breeze rustling the leaves, his eyes glued to the heavens. He’d come hoping to see dragons or Martian spaceships, maybe even Abraham Lincoln’s head; instead, all he finds are wispy white clouds.
As a child, he spent hours upon hours looking up at the clouds from that very spot. Each one told a different story, each one held a different secret. Now, when he looks up, all he sees are clouds. No sad-eyed elephants, no three-masted clipper ships and, sadly, no dead presidents either.
Of course, things are different now. He’s older, wiser, and his mind is less willing to give itself up to imagination. If he had known that being an adult would mean looking for the Buddha and finding only clouds, he never would have been so damned eager to grow up in the first place.
“What are you doing?”
The voice seems to come from nowhere and everywhere, at the same time. It surrounds him, enveloping him with its concern. His first thought is that it’s merely his mind playing tricks on him, and, normally, he would simply dismiss it as static, but there is something undefinable about the voice: it seems to sing to him like a siren’s song. So he turns back, expecting to find one of the bored housewives hovering over his shoulder. Instead, he finds a dream.
Enveloped in the warm glow of sunlight, backed by the softest cerulean blue, she looks every bit like an angel. He looks into her as though she were a reflection and allows himself to become lost in her grace. She, in turn, looks at him with a hint of curiosity and amusement flickering in her eyes. Her gaze is unabashed and intense, but there’s something comfortable in the way she’s looking at him, and he realises that he knows her. He doesn’t know how, or from where, but he knows her.
“When you were a kid, didn’t you ever look up at the sky, hoping to find animals or people’s faces in the shapes of the clouds?”
“Sure, everyone does,” she concedes as she sits down beside him, allowing her knee to brush lightly against his thigh. “My mother used to call it ‘cloud dancing’.”
“What does she call it now?”
She smiles the smile of a Cheshire cat and answers, “A waste of time.”
Lately, he’s been having the same thought. But a part of him wants so badly to believe that there’s more to it than simply a child’s game.
“What about you,” he asks, trying to change the subject. “Do you still do it? Go ‘cloud dancing’, I mean.”
That one simple word slams into him, hard. It feels so callous and cold, so very different from what he expected.
She tilts her head slightly to the right, purses her soft pink lips and ponders his question. It’s a familiar look, but he’s still not sure why. Before it can come to him, she answers: “Because… It’s not real.”
“But wasn’t it fun?” he wonders, out loud.
Amused by his childlike tone, she replies as honestly as she can. “Sure it was… in a silly, puerile sort of way.”
Her gaze is so incredibly direct, so unyielding, that he just has to look away. So he returns his gaze skyward, but he isn’t expecting any great revelations. Then it hits him, the sudden recollection that it isn’t the seeing that really matters. The important thing is in the looking. Effortlessly, like morning light through sheer curtains, the amorphous clouds seem more quixotic, more animated. And the man thinks he almost sees a dolphin playing at the edges of infinity.
“What do you see?” she asks, whispering softly in his ear.
The warmth of her breath tickles his spine. Something about her tone, or maybe the softness of her words, drips with sincerity. She actually seems to care and that surprises him. Despite the odd sensation of belonging, the fact remains that she doesn’t really know anything about him. There she is, though, sitting with him on the top of Kite Hill surrounded by happy children and dandelion spores. He wants to tell her about the dolphin, but he knows that there are things much more mysterious than clouds; things much more beautiful than infinity.
Her face is so close to him, her lips only a breath away, and his chest feels as if it is about to cave in on itself. There are so many things he wants to say, so many thoughts he wants to share. He thinks to himself, ‘I see what I have been looking for my entire life. What has eluded me until you spoke and gave me meaning.’ The words get caught in his teeth, though.
“What do you see?” she asks again.
“I see love,” he answers.
J. Thomas Arant currently resides in Adelaide, Australia.