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Clouds in April (please forgive Tanner for posting a Children's Story)

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  • Clouds in April (please forgive Tanner for posting a Children's Story)

    CLOUDS IN APRIL: A Children’s Story

    O, how this spring of love resembleth
    The uncertain glory of an April day,
    Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,
    And by and by a cloud takes all away!

    - William Shakespeare, The Two Gentlemen of Verona

    Alexander was walking quickly away from the carnival grounds. He did not even look back to see if his parents were following him. Alexander was mad at them. They had taken him to the carnival as a treat for his sixth birthday. The travelling carnival usually came to Walkerston for one week in late April.

    Alexander was upset because neither his father nor his mother wanted to ride the big ferris wheel with him and secretly he was afraid to ride it alone. He wanted to get high up in the sky, like a bird or cloud, so that he could look down on the world below.

    It was mid afternoon and the sun was playing peek-a-boo with a few clouds. Alexander liked looking at the clouds for he was aware that they sometimes changed their shapes, and were definitely drifting places he was sure he had never visited. He had never been farther than Verona, about twenty-five miles west of Walkerston, since he could remember, and he wished to see more of the world.

    Often Alexander saw faces in the clouds, like you see the man in the moon at night, when it is clear and stars are shining brightly in the cool air. But this afternoon Alexander saw no faces in the clouds; in fact, they looked like ordinary white stones set up in the sky. It was not a good day.

    Alexander had been walking for about fifteen minutes, eating a candy apple his mother had allowed him, and holding the red helium filled balloon his father had bought him. The apple was not very good and he felt that he was getting pretty tired. Alexander knew his parents would be worried sick about him. They would probably be frantically searching for him everywhere. He did not like to worry his parents often.

    Alexander had been looking up at the clouds for some time and had not been paying close attention to where his feet were journeying. Suddenly he looked around and noticed that he was in a farmer’s field. Up ahead there was a big tree standing lonely against the horizon. The tree looked somewhat bare even though bits of it were bursting out in bud and leaf. Some of the green leaves fluttered softly in the wind.

    Alexander was beginning to get a little frightened. Perhaps he was lost. He decided to go sit down against the tree and rest for a few minutes so that he could gather his thoughts. A gust of wind sent a few shivers down his body and his teeth chattered momentarily. Alexander tossed his candle apple away on the ground and the red balloon inadvertently escaped from his other hand, and floated off. He zipped up his grey windbreaker and sat down against the tree, and shut his eyes.

    “Ouch!” he heard. “You’re hurting me!” Alexander was startled. Who was talking to him? He must be dreaming! Again he heard the small voice. “Please get up, you’re sitting on me.” Alexander stood up, bewildered and frightened. Beside the tree was a very flat stone that looked a bit like a small frisbee.

    “Are you talking to me?” inquired Alexander.

    “Yes, dummy!” the stone retorted.

    “You tell him off, Florence,” another voice chimed in gruffly. The harsher voice came from the tree. Alexander did not know what to do. Here he was in a vacant field, perhaps lost with no people nearby, and a stone and a tree were talking to him. Alexander had just turned six, but as any intelligent boy and girl knows, stones and trees should not be able to talk. It must be magic!

    “Who are you, little boy?” the stone asked.

    “I’m Alexander Haley and I’m six years old and I live in Walkerston and – and – I’ve run away from the carnival because my parents wouldn’t go on the ferris wheel with me. I – ah – ah – wanted to be high up and look at the clouds.”

    “Hmmm,” said the tree. “I’m high up.” And the tree proved it by shaking his highest branches. A few of the new shiny leaves danced in the diminishing light.

    “My name is Florence,” said the stone. “And this is my friend, Farquhar, only I can’t properly point him out since I have neither hands nor feet.”

    “Maybe you have roots, like me,” interjected Farquhar, pleased that he had contributed to this discussion, stupid as it appeared. Farquhar already did not like this small boy. He wished to be left alone with his friend.

    They had a simple life and had been together for many years. Farquhar could only count the changing of the seasons and, from his branches, the number of leaves he could shake down at one time. He was proud that he could move about somewhat. Sometimes Farquhar wished that Florence could know the joy of movement, but then again, she might leave him if she could move. Farquhar never wanted Florence to leave him and live somewhere else.

    Florence was no ordinary stone. Farquhar often regretted the day he had told her that she was almost the colour of clouds and looked a lot like them. At that time, Farquhar had been extremely pleased with his astute observation. However, from that day forward, Florence had decided that she wanted to quit being a stone and become a cloud.

    Florence often asked the wind to take her with him and put her up amongst the clouds. First the wind told her it was impossible, but then abruptly changing his mind, he said that by the time he got to this area of the country he was quite tired and never felt like expending so much energy in such a useless task.

    On many occasions, the wind had tried in vain to explain why some things were able to fly and stay up in the air, while others could not and consequently fell to earth. Besides, the wind did not really enjoy stopping to chat with Florence and Farquhar.

    He and Farquhar had had quite a heated argument. For you see, a lot of what Farquhar thought he did by himself, such as thrashing his arms about and scattering leaves, was actually the work of the wind.

    “Can you help me become a cloud,” Florence implored Alexander, giving him a wistful glance. Florence was good at wistful glances.

    It was getting darker. Alexander found it comforting having somebody to talk to, even if it was only a whitish coloured stone and a big surly tree.

    “No, I don’t think so, Florence,” he answered. “But I could take you home in my jacket and we could play games in my room, and talk to each other after the lights are out. That would be neat!”

    The boy was thinking to himself how much he liked Florence, perhaps as a friend who shared a similar dream. The stone, however, knowing nothing of little of boys and their houses, was uncertain about going to live somewhere else.

    Farquhar was becoming indignant. “Thistle face and pig weed!” he muttered. He thought he should have covered Florence up with some leaves last fall so that this little boy would never have found her. Farquhar did not like having to share his special friend with anyone else. Besides, he gave Florence everything she needed; a warm bed of leaves when it was cold and shade when it was hot. Sometimes, Farquhar let the sun shine through his branches and make delicate, lovely patterns on her back. Florence had quite a fine oval back, he was sure of that.

    Farquhar did not know many other stones and certainly none that could talk and understand him. He wished that he and the wind were still friends, so that the wind’s help might be enlisted to give this boy some trouble and make him go home.

    Once Farquhar had demanded that the wind blow all the clouds away so that Florence would not see them and wish to change her life. The wind just laughed at the request, saying it was one of the most stupid ideas he had heard in a moon’s age. Farquhar did not enjoy being laughed at from all sides. He did not understand how the wind could be here and there, and almost everywhere at the same time. It was obvious that wind did not have any roots. He was shifty and foot loose.

    Farquhar believed that roots were very import for keeping you where you belonged. He was sure that Florence must have some sort of roots and he often told her so, but the stone was not of similar opinion. She claimed she was older and wiser, and that she had been a few places before Farquhar was even born. This was a point of daily discussion. Farquhar, as far as he was concerned, had always existed right here in this field and so had Florence.

    The tree looked down, frowning at Alexander who was talking to Florence in a very soft voice. “If it were warmer and I wasn’t so stiff, I’d lean down and give this little boy a good whack,” he mused. Then their talk grew somewhat louder and Farquhar listened.

    “I want to take you home, Florence, and tell my parents and friends”.

    “You would grow tired of me eventually,” she offered.

    Alexander countered, “But I could carry you places and keep you warm, polish you and make you shine. Oh, Florence, I know I would take very good care of you”.

    “Perhaps,” said the stone slowly. “Although I want nothing more than to become a cloud, I think I had better stay here. Farquhar would miss me terribly and perhaps – perhaps, eventually the wind and rain will wear me away and then I’ll really become a cloud some day. That would be long after you’ve grown up, Alexander.”

    Alexander was playing with his shoestrings and not looking at Florence, because he did not want to think about what she was saying. Then he untied and tied his laces again until his feet hurt a bit.

    “Alexander, look how we met almost by accident and became friends. Magic comes when we least expect it. Take back these special moments and keep them locked in your heart.”

    The boy wanted to cry, but there was only a big lump stuck in his throat. “Alright, good-bye Florence Stone,” he mumbled. “And you too, Farquhar Tree”.

    Farquhar pretended that he did not hear these words. Alexander leaned down and gave Florence a kiss on her back. She seemed to quiver a bit. Quickly, without knowing why, he grabbed Florence with both hands. She was lighter than he expected. Alexander open his windbreaker and put her inside against his chest, and zipped it up again.

    His legs trembled as he ran off not stopping to listen or look back at Farquhar and the frantic screams that followed after him. Alexander ran as fast as he could and he soon saw the lights of the carnival looming up ahead like a small city. As he ran back, catching his breath when needed, he felt Florence stirring against him like a small trapped animal.

    Alexander ran into the carnival grounds and soon found the big ferris wheel. He did not look at any of the people who towered above him waiting in line for a ride. He had forgotten about his parents. The man who operated the ferris wheel had a big moustache, very dark eyes and was quite fat.

    Alexander gave the man a ticket that, luckily, he found stuffed in the pocket of his jacket. He boarded the platform steps and sat down on the still swaying seat. Alexander felt afraid as the ferris wheel began whirring its gears, and started rising. He and Florence were being whisked higher and higher, in starts and stops, while other children and grown-ups boarded into their seats.

    Alexander felt Florence stirring against his chest, so he unzipped his windbreaker and took her out. He cupped her tightly with both hands and sat her down gently on his lap. Then he quickly placed his hands back on the locked safety bar and gripped tightly.

    “Where are we?” Florence asked, somewhat bleary-eyed. The ride had momentarily stopped at the top.

    “We’re going to visit the clouds,” was all that Alexander could say.

    Florence looked around. The ferris wheel started again; down and up they travelled. That feeling of rising and sinking through his body scared Alexander. He felt the back of his neck stiffening and he huddled back against the worn, black leather seat. Just then it began to rain, and he felt a few drops on his face and hair.

    It felt like Florence was getting lighter and lighter! Looking down, he saw that some rain drops appeared to be melting into her like an acid. Small puffs of smoke arose from the tiny craters made in her back by the drops of rain. Something strange was happening.

    Florence appeared to be wobbling, breaking up and dissolving into an opalescent bright glow. Then she slowly lifted off from Alexander’s lap like a miniature flying saucer. He tried hard to memorize that feeling. He thought he heard Florence calling out to him, “This is…” Alexander wondered if that last tingle from Florence was her version of a good-bye kiss.

    Florence had become a cloud at last! Alexander continued up and down the ferris wheel a few more times. He felt strange in the bottom of his stomach and his head began to hurt. Alexander recognized how dark it was around him. The brief rain had stopped. He wondered, who can hold a cloud for long, especially one who used to be a stone.

    Alexander felt a sudden urge to start whistling. He had never learned how to properly whistle, and perhaps now was a good time to start practicing.

    The End

  • #2
    What forgiveness can there be for such an enchanting tale? This is lovely and haunting, Tanner, mingling the ordinary and the magical with a sure eye.


    • #3
      Grant, thank you for your comments. Would you be surprised to learn that this story was written 45 years ago when the author was in graduate school and involved in an unfortunate and complex romantic entanglement (the complexity of which was initially unknown to yours truly). The story was a therapeutic extrication of sorts.


      • grant hayes
        grant hayes commented
        Editing a comment
        I would be surprised at the years-ago, but not at the relational catalyst nor the therapeutic function. There is a vivid core of authentic emotional experience underpinning this childlike (but not childish) tale. I can well imagine how distilling the complexity into this form might bring a kind of solace.

    • #4
      While getting a cup of coffee in the university cafeteria, the head of the school psychology department walked past me stopped and whispered in my ear, "It appears that we are f-------- the
      same woman" Needless to say, that gave many pauses for thought..........


      • grant hayes
        grant hayes commented
        Editing a comment
        That's enough to drive anyone to allegorical tale-telling. How very awkward, Tanner, and how creatively channelled.

    • #5
      Grant, thank you for your therapeutic insights. Much appreciated!


      • #6
        I find this enchanting, though I would never have guessed at the instigating catalyst. While I understand all of life's experiences as fodder for writing - I doubt I've ever understood how this process happens. I am pleased and thankful that it can and does happen. I'm pleased and thankful for you that it did happen and that you've shared it here for me to learn from. Thank you.


        • #7
          A haunting tale, well told.