MONDAY: The Names of Clouds

BY CASEY DEANE

Copyright is held by the author.

IT WAS night, soon to be dawn. Late summer, humid and still. Addison stood on the deck of a beach house facing the sea. Thin cloud diffused light from a low full moon casting his face and nearly all around him in silver. His eyes were closed, his hands gripped the railing at the edge of the deck and he listened to the sound of the ocean rolling against the shore.

A high tide was ebbing. Minutes earlier the water had reached to the timber stilts that held the deck, so close he could hear the foam gently hiss and dissipate as the waves receded. Now there was only the crash of the withdrawing surf.

The beach house was low and dark other than two windows and a glass sliding door all painted dim yellow with warm interior light. The door slid open and Sandra emerged holding in each of her hands a steaming porcelain cup and she crossed the deck.

Addison’s gut was bloated round and protruded from the folds of a loosely tied house robe. He was thinking about eggs; a thousand eggs shining like a thousand tiny white moons.

“Some tea.”

“Thank you.”

Sandra allowed her hand stray over Addison’s back and gently pulled herself closer.

“They have coffee here for us too. I thought tea would be better.”

“I’d love a shot of whiskey.”

“Well, we can’t have a shot of whiskey. We’ll save the whiskey.”

“The tea is perfect. Thank you.”

“Do I sound as nervous as you do?”

“I’m . . .”

She waited a moment for him to finish before gesturing with a tilt of her head, “A scalloped sky.” She blew gently over the top of her cup. “Those clouds.”

“I know.”

“They’re beautiful with the moon behind them like that.” She took a sip, “Cirrocumulus. But you know that too.”

He blew over his own cup before setting it down on the rail short of imbibing. “Many times over, yes.”

“So . . .”

“So what?”

“So what are they?”

“What you said.”

She grinned and looked at him, her eyes alight. “C’mon, I literally just told you again.”

“Cirro . . . cirro . . .”

She laughed, “Cirrocumulus.”

“Exactly.”

“Cirro means curl.” She lifted her hand and spun a lock of his hair around one of her fingers. “And cumulous is like a lot.”

“Right, accumulation. I guess I’m thinking more about the sea than clouds tonight.”

Sandra gave an understanding nod. “I was just trying to . . .”

“Distract us, I know. It was a noble attempt.”

She nodded and surrendered a shrug. “Yeah. I don’t know. Sorry. Maybe I should’ve just brought the whiskey?”

They stood quietly for a while, her taking sips from her tea while he kept his hands on the rail safeguarding his cup. Addison leaned over and kissed the top of her head then pulled back and studied Sandra’s face. Maybe she was exactly right in trying to bury that current of quiet anxiety he could feel channelling through them.

He looked back out to the ocean and contemplated a lifelong amazement at how quickly the darkness evaporated at that hour, once it started to go. He could already see the white caps of the waves and the black line of horizon against the greying sky and for a fleeting moment he tried to will the night to stay.

His abdomen abruptly spasmed and cramped. He bumped the tea cup with the back of his hand and doubled over, nearly knocking the cup off the rail.

Sandra voiced his name with sharp concern and threw an arm around him.

“Sandy . . .” Addison groaned.

“Is it?”

“Yeah.”

“We should go down.”

“Give me a hand.”

Addison clutched his robe closed to fight a sudden chill and Sandra walked with his other arm locked in hers. They made their way along the deck to where the rail opened to a set of steps leading to the beach. The leading balustrade was an exquisitely carved wooden sea horse. Addison palmed the coronet as he passed.

On the steps Addison relied heavily on the arm he held. When they reached the sand a breeze crept in and a cast of semi-translucent ghost crabs scurried into some tall grass. The sand crunched beneath their feet; crushed coral, bleached white and virtually luminescent. They walked past a dark strip of seaweed the tide had pulled in.

“Where do you think?” Sandra was casting her eyes about.

“Here I guess. You need to hurry now.”

Sandra dropped and began to scoop handfuls of sand, quickly burrowing out a shallow hole that grew deeper as she worked. Soon the hole was knee deep and wide enough to stand both feet in.

“Think it’s enough?” He asked.

“I think so. I mean I don’t know for sure, but I think so.” She rose to her feet, her hands covered in sand.

“Isn’t this supposed to be instinctive? We don’t want to have it too deep.”

“It looks right.” She offered reassuringly.

“Even after millions of years of evolution topped with all the books, online forums, anecdotes, vicarious experiences, and whatever else, I feel like this is the first time anyone’s had to go through this.”

Sandra turned and looked out over the sea. The tide had slipped further away, the sky over the water had lightened, the moon vanished behind an early overcast.

Addison gasped loudly. He was squatted over the hole in the sand, his robe opened wide. A spasm caused him to clutch his stomach. There was the sudden sound of liquid spilling. For a flash he looked as though he’d just learned the most unexpected and astonishing secret.

Sandra held her breath.

Addison’s brow tightened and perspiration beads broke across his face. Pulsing veins traversed his temples. He lifted his chin to the sky and let out a single vociferous howl. A soggy pop sounded from between his legs immediately succeeded by a muted thump. At the bottom of the hole a soft wet egg had fallen and landed in the sand.

Another egg soon followed, and another after that, each linked by thick strands of white mucus. One after the other eggs slowly streamed from an orifice in Addison’s brood sac and plopped in a growing pile at the bottom of the dug hole. His face twisted into grimace. Moans came deep and guttural as egg after egg sluggishly dropped from his body.

Sandra held one of his hands in hers and stared between his knees, her own face a portrait of wonder.

“Sandy . . .” He was pleading, “Keep talking . . .”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Anything. Talk about the clouds. Anything.”

“Clouds?”

“The names, the names.”

“They were cirrocumulus, but . . .”

“Storms.” He was straining to speak. “Thunder.”

“Cumulous nimbus?”

“Cumulus nim . . . nim . . .”

“Nimbus. Cumulus nimbus.”

“Forget it. Forget the clouds. Just . . . I just . . .”

He bit his lip then and his face strained to burgundy. Flatulence expelled moist and loud, the sound held pitch for a spell, sputtered, and trailed off to a squeaking finish. Addison exhaled and slumped to a knee.

“Is it done? Are you alright?” She stroked his damp hair.

He let the lip he had been biting slip from his teeth. “I’m going to need a wipe. Do you have them?”

Sandra glanced back to the beach house and offered a sheepish shrug. With a sigh Addison pulled the robe from his shoulders, gathered it into a bunch in his hands, and used it to sop the remaining fluid from his brood sac opening.

Sandra had turned to face the sea again and Addison stepped on shaky legs to stand beside her.

“We should fill in the nest,” she said.

The pearly morning light exposed a pair of terns flitting over the wave tops in a dance with the wind. That same wind-swept Sandra’s hair back off her face and pushed into Addison’s eyes, drawing tears to them.

“That’s the next step, isn’t it?” Addison delivered the question as a statement.

“It is,” she answered him anyway, “After that it’s all up to them.” She wiped a tear from his cheek with her thumb. “But we’re not to think about that.”

“Listen to you.”

She examined his nude body; his subtly trembling legs, the freshly evacuated and drooping midsection, his arms folded tight to his chest, his face flushed with glow.

“From nest to beach?” She said.

They watched as a single defiant wave rolled in against the retreating tide. It frothed and raced desperately toward them before suddenly coming to a foamy demise, countless tiny bubbles abandoned to vanish in the sand.

“From beach to sea,” he responded.

“And from sea to land.” They said in unison.

Addison slowly shook his head, “But you don’t believe it happens like that every time. We know it can’t.” He made an adjustment between his legs, winced slightly, then adjusted some more.

“It’s enough to believe that it will happen this time.”

“All those other couples,” he indicated down the beach where the coastline was a gentle white crescent arcing into the distance. “Each in their perfect little rented beach house believing the exact same thing, season after season.”

“That’s us, those people, that’s who we are now. Come on.” Sandra turned. “We need to fill this.”

He kept looking at the ocean. “You know there’s a species of turtle that . . .”

“Everyone knows about those turtles Addy. Come on.”

“They give live birth. To only a small handful or even just one offspring over their whole lives.”

Sandra gently took Addison’s arm to turn him.

“Can you imagine Sandy? Everything tied to one thing.”

“It would be truly horrible. Wouldn’t it?” She began to lead him. “You still up for that whiskey I hope? Let’s do this then go cheers the morning and ruminate on how lucky our species is. I’ll let you go on about turtles and you can keep feigning an interest in the names of clouds.”

The skies had brightened to a lustrous morning haze and the two stood at the lip of their nest. Behind the beach house palm trees rocketed skyward on slender stems topped with fronds bursting against the sky like fireworks. A seagull circled high in silence. A sandpiper cried as it swept in low for a nearby landing. Sandra and Addison, hand in hand, beheld together the heap of their glistening clutch.

 

 

4 comments

  1. Walter Giersbach

    Wonderful story! Throughout, I kept imagining how I would have written this situation, and couldn’t come up with a better alternative. Five stars!

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