FRIDAY: Clouds


Copyright is held by the author.

LATE, GETTING on closing time, I tell Milly, the girl in the cubicle next to mine, that I have no plans for the weekend. No dates for three months, in fact, and not by choice. And Milly, always kind and funny too, says she’d like to try the no-date lifestyle herself. Her husband, Leonard, a big brute of a man, is her curse, she says, and the smile on her face droops a little.

Leonard’s no blessing, I know. Just out on parole again, he’s already hanging with his boys, planning some crime. Always little stupid stuff — hubcaps, church collection boxes. He’s a squirt in the crime department. Poor Milly suffers a lot. I feel for her. And I wonder if I am better off than her because I don’t have anyone in my life. You know?

That’s when I look out the window and see those awful red clouds drifting by our building again. And I lose my breath for an instant, like I’ve been punched in the stomach. Blood clouds, we call them. They come drifting from battlefields and explosions and disasters of every kind, all over the world. The clouds deliver the bad news from everywhere to here, outside our office.

I think these clouds are from China, I say to Milly. She’s watching them now too. No harm in this. Besides, we’re almost finished for the day. We’ve each finished two boxes of fancy address labels for a fishery in Minnesota. Yesterday it was for a dog kennel in Missouri. Tomorrow we have three boxes for a convent all the way in California. Business is good. Seems like everyone needs labels these days. I think it makes them feel secure to see where they are. In print, you know. I like my job, and I don’t mind saying, I wish I could hand deliver the labels to all those places where they’re going. Wouldn’t that be something?

Milly thinks these clouds might be from India. Don’t you think they smell like curry, she asks. Well, I don’t smell anything, and besides our windows are sealed shut. But I say I think I can smell curry too. It’s just a little lie. Doesn’t much matter where the blood clouds come from. Least I don’t think so. It’s really about sadness. That’s what matters.

Milly says that tonight there’s a special edition of WHEEL OF FORTUNE. The show is going to be from Hawaii. Vanna will probably wear a lei, or two or three, and Milly’s face lights up just thinking about it. She loves Vanna. No, she adores her. I say, everyone loves Vanna. I know I do. She’s always so lovely in her gowns. Always so graceful when she turns the letters. She glides so softly across the stage. She floats on the air, maybe.

I think she could have been a ballerina, but Milly likes to say than Vanna has the best job in the world. She always smiles, like she’s never known a minute of sadness. Though we know Vanna has had tragedies in her life. Her true love, her fiancé, died in a plane crash. But I know, though I would never tell even Milly, that the fiancé’s plane ran into a red cloud. Such a tragedy. And there have been others. But she picks herself up, lifts herself you understand. That’s where the floating comes in, I do believe. It’s magic, if you want to know the truth. Milly feels the same way. We talk about it, the floating. How we wish we could. Above everything and everyone. Closer to God, maybe. Vanna knows.

Milly asks if I want to come to her place to watch the Hawaii show. Leonard has a meeting with the boys and won’t come home till late, if then. So I say sure. Milly wants to order a pizza. The place by her house has a special pizza, “The Waikiki,” with pineapples and tiny umbrellas, and Milly thinks it will be perfect for the evening. Milly’s brilliant like that.

I can’t wait to see Vanna! We get our purses and coats and leave the office at five on the dot. We’ll get to Milly’s in time to sit back, maybe have a glass of wine, kick off our shoes, and then we’ll be in Hawaii!

You want to know the best part? It will be night time. Even if I look out the window at Milly’s place, I won’t have to see the blood clouds. Oh, they might be there, probably will be, but I’ll pretend they’re not. And I’ll ask Milly to turn up the volume full blast on the TV so we won’t be able to hear the clouds, even if they bump against the building and scrape across the windows.

  1. Thks Christopher. Your story’s engaging. The characters are ripe. A nice touch of menace. Also, the dialogue intrigued me — no quote punctuation and no paragraph breaks for different speakers. I’m going to try copying your style. Do you know of other writers who do it like that?

  2. Cormac McCarthy rarely uses punctuation.

  3. I like the blood clouds idea but feel its wasted on two women hung up on Vanna. The non quotation of dialogue can work but in this case dialogue assignment and a break up of the text would have clarified who is saying what and who is thinking. It would have made for a smoother read. I stumbled a couple of times and one of the rules of good writing is to not make the reader stumble.

  4. Nicosia,
    And who, pray, do we have to thank for this universal rule that a writer, and a good writer at that, must never cause the reader to “stumble”.
    Following this rather bizarre logic most writers worthy of print would have to write towards the lowest common denominator so as to prevent any readers from stumbling.

    Seriously, readers are not of like-mind. Each comes to a story with different: knowledge of the genre, education, cultural differences, likes and expectations. It isn’t a case of one size fits all. The writer is innocent……

  5. Forgive my presumption, but until the narrator fetches her purse, I thought she was a male. Also, by the end I wondered what had just happened. Where was the conflict? Labels going to California? Leonard the a**hole? A decision over pizza? Right up the end I thought the MC was going to hit on Milly, but I must have been reading too much Elmore Leonard.

  6. Thank everyone for the comments. Much appreciated. And Norm, I liked what you said about “menace.” It’s true for normal lives too, Nicosia. These two women don’t have a whole lot going on in their lives, and that’s why they are so focused on Vanna. For them, she has something of a super life.

    Norm, this is a First Person story, with only one character, so there is no need to add quotation marks for remembered remarks by someone else. I also write stage monologues, and this piece would be appropriate for an actress in an intimate setting. In the end, all that matters is characterization. At least that is how I approach it, though I know we all have different ways.

  7. Jazz,

    Thanks for your most reasonable comment. You are right — we all come from a different place. We all carry our own expectations, and baggage, to everything we read. And believe it or not, I think we all read a different story. So much of what we think and interpret about a poem or story reflects our own experience.

    Chris Woods

  8. JAZZ: the writer is not innocent with respect to how he delivers the narrative. I’m not saying that the story must be dumbed down so even the tiniest microbe can understand it. But he MUST make the story readable.

  9. Nicosia: I think you’re contradicting yourself.
    But let’s agree to disagree. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.?

  10. p.s.
    The one responsibility that writers have is to get their draft(s) to the editor/publisher on time or come up with a bloody good reason why not.

  11. Forgive me, Nicosia, I’m like a dog with a bone here but one more thing:
    How would you rate books such as “Finnegan’s Wake”?
    Easy read….? Not so much? Or flown across the room in despair settling permanently into the back of the bookcase — unread.
    I’ll go now. I promise.

  12. Finnegan’s Wake? I’ve never read it but I’ve seen it on bookshelves. There’s no contradiction on my part here. I think my writing has made you stumble. What I was referring to was not the intellect of a work but the technical aspect of writing itself. One foot ahead of the other. No dams in the river. No looking back the way you came. Huh? All the best. Nic

  13. Writing and books are of their time and the languages of their time . I can safely assume that all the classics we’ve known to be classics would probably never get published in our time. Some are too laborious a read and the language is full of drastic metaphors and adverbs and such that the modern writer is told not to use if they don’t want to come across looking like an amateur. The ideas are still pertinent but the language has evolved, but getting back to the stumble argument I think the story must be coherent in that it doesn’t raise questions as to whether the character is a woman or a man as in the story here where I also thought the main character was a man until he grabbed her purse. Cheers.

  14. JAZZ : The writer has a responsibility to the reader as well.

  15. To think that Moby Dick might be considered unpublishable by today’s standards saddens me. It is challenging, messy, filled with the dreaded adverb and chocked full of obtuse metaphors and convoluted sentence structure. Sigh.

  16. Nic,
    If your writing has made me stumble (your own words) — then your writing hasn’t been clear enough… Isn’t that your argument…?

  17. Blood clouds. Like that concept. The story is quite clear throughout, even without quotation marks. And if the form of the story challenges some readers, why is that a negative thing? Instead, readers should seek out different story styles. Challenge yourself. (“The Pedersen Kid” by William H. Gass. “Burn Man On A Texas Porch” by Mark Anthony Jarman. Give these two a go.)

  18. Yes jazz you’re right clarity of narrative was my argument my apologies for not being clear Nic

  19. Personally I had no trouble with following the story, the writing made clear who was saying what. I liked the contrast of everyday mundane work and leisure (TV) with the mystery and menace somewhere else. Chilling effect.

  20. I loved your story Christopher. Blood clouds, a wonderful concept. I had no problem with Vanna. I felt she was necessary as the story is about adversity that we face in our life. Also showed two sad women who had no life and wished they could be like Vanna. Women tend to do that. I did stumble a couple of times and had to re-read the sentences. Great ending.

  21. Shelia,

    Thanks so very much for your comments. Much appreciated. I wish you all the best with your own writing. I look forward to reading your work soon on COMMUTER LIT.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *