This One Time, 18

This one time I was lying on my back on a blanket up on the roof looking at the clouds. It was too hot for my sweater so I bunched it all up and was using it for a pillow.

The sky here in the city browns toward the edges, so it’s only really as blue as I like it when I look straight up. The sun was off to the west lighting all the tall buildings around on their sides, the reflection from one building lighting the next building back the other way, and maybe it was an optical illusion or something, but the buildings seemed brighter than the sky, like there was a second sun in the ground lighting them all from underneath.

I could see the river a bit from here, and it looked like a black streak.

The clouds were patchy, so it was hard to tell if there were a bunch of clouds or one or two huge clouds stretched thin enough to have holes in them in places. Lit from the side, they shaded from pink to something kind of greenish — a color I’m not used to seeing in the sky, which was one of the reasons I was watching.

My grandfather on my father’s side, translating slowly into and out of tribal language in his head, said that once upon a time things such as this had some kind of significance, but not so much these days. The strength of the medicine has faded, replaced with magazines and chocolate and strange music and television. He also mentioned that since I was a girl it was bad luck for me to give it any attention at all. When I asked him why, he just shook his head. He said his mother used to say that a man’s medicine was too strong in the hands of a women, and vice versa. Like a hammer on sea shells instead of a paint brush.

My father said not to listen to grandpa too much. He never had any real training in how to tell the stories and was just working from the scraps in his head and things he had read, once he finally learned to read, that had been written by white people for white people. Grandpa never really contested that. He just said you work with the clay that’s in your hands or you go back to the ravine and you dig. At some point you have to decide to make something with what you have or else you spend your whole life in a hole in the ground, digging away, never making anything but more holes full of nothing.

I unfastened my bra under my shirt so I could be more comfortable and opened my mind to the shapes of the clouds, to the colors, to the patterns on the undersides, to the lines behind them that the planes had made. I started digging holes in the sky, looking for something significant I could use for telling a story to myself.

Animal shapes and faces came first, like they always do. Something like the hind leg of a large dog, only with a wing. The back of the head of a man wearing a baseball cap. Then he was looking at me, kind of off to the side, then away again.

One of the holes in the clouds stretched into an open mouth, yawning or yelling, the sunset painting the  bulging lower lip with lipstick. It didn’t look like anyone I knew, so I kept looking. The dog’s leg was fat and twisted sideways, like the shoulder of a lizard. Toward the horizon a textured layer of clouds looked like a flock of pigeons, swirling into the sky together like they’d been startled. I looked around to see what had startled them. The yelling mouth had shifted, revealing a scrawny arm that had been a contrail, pointing, half hidden by buildings but angling back toward the river.

I sat up to get a view where I could see the river too, just in time to see a piece of the sun punch a swirling hole in the clouds and knife straight into the river and disappear, quenched. I looked back up to the sky and the mouth was still yelling, the arm still pointing. The cloud that had looked like a flock of pigeons had dispersed to the point where it didn’t much look like anything.

And off to the northeast, right near the horizon, was a huge but distant line of darkness growing that was either approaching nightfall or an approaching storm.

It was too much for me. I grabbed up my blanket and sweater and the textbook I brought with me so mom would let me come up here and bounced back down the fire escape to our apartment.


January 18, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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