Archive for April, 2012

Storytime: Bliss.

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

April 14th
Weather: rainy/lazy
Breakfast: toast, no butter.
Weather’s gone sour again; no forecast for anything upward of drizzle for a week minimum. Good excuse to stay in office all day; nobody’s going to commit crimes out in the damp, right?
Evening postscript: well, somebody did. Nothing important; break-in at museum, stole small, useless, valueless knick-knack from visiting exhibition on obscure mythology. Left graffiti on walls in what am told is misspelt sanskrit. Thing’ll crop up in some pawn shop sooner or later, business = usual.

April 15th
Weather: rainy/bored
Breakfast: probably porridge, no milk.
Homicide as of 4 AM, some dink in a raincoat and ski mask. Multiple stab wounds to face, with care to remove eyelids. Crime scene marked by graffiti on alley walls in what am told is grammatically-correct sanskrit. No trace of small, useless, valueless knick-knack. Victim possessed surprisingly nice watch.
Afternoon postscript: downtown bagel trip extremely rapid today; almost no vehicle traffic, few pedestrians. Rain keeping people inside.
Midnight postscript: power outage. Window check shows hit entire town. Cell phone reception inexplicably nil. Going to bed.

April 16th
Weather: rainy/irritated
Breakfast: leftover bagel.
Had dream of small, useless, valueless knick-knack, in which object slowly melted into puddle of reddened water, woke up hungry. Power restored around 6 AM, another homicide report straightaways. Engineer appears to have hung himself from high-voltage tower in such a way as to wreck entire power grid and fry himself before strangulation. Selfish jackoff. Victim had no mental history, boring, dull, single but not distressingly so, blah blah. Eyelids were removed shortly after death.
Evening postscript: victim was close friend of dink in raincoat + ski mask. Possible guilt of having poor taste in colleagues led to death wish? Good enough.

April 17th
Weather: rainy/tepid
Breakfast: last night’s coffee
Power went out at midnight again, restored at dawn. Three more suicides, all with removed eyelids, all under 30, all around 3 AM. Stupid kids do any fad nowadays, probably got idea from internet.
Afternoon postscript: bagel trip futile, store was closed despite clear violation of posted operating hours. Will consider giving warning.
Evening postscript: bagel store manager missing from home, workplace, entire life. Annoying. Left a note for family, consisting entirely of something probably sanskrit. Very annoying.

April 18th
Weather: rainy/irked
Breakfast: dry cereal.
Nightly outages continue, four more suicides, all by drowning in tubs. Eyelids removed postmortem, pupils carved out. Sick of bullshit. Bagel store manager located in park floating in pond. Eyelids removed postmortem, pupils carved out, breadknife lodged through ventricle. Frustrating. Downtown almost entirely empty all day; frequent lightning, no sound of thunder. Dream of small, useless, valueless knick-knack recurred, during which ate entire town. Woke up, had to piss.

April 19th
Weather: rainy/gloomy
Breakfast: hard-boiled egg, no toast.
Good news and bad news. Bad news: one more suicide. Good news: it was Henry Hopkins. Bad news: owed me fifty. Good news: found it on him during process of investigation. Suicide consisted of Hopkins slitting open wrists, groin, belly, neck in probably that order. Initial tool used was a rusty, blunt knife, apparently broke it on left scaphoid, finished job using nails, teeth, edge of the kitchen counter. Blood used to scrawl cryptic symbols on the floor, addition of probably sanskrit. Surprisingly bad mood for a Wednesday, must be the weather.
Noon postscript: crowds gathered at waterfront today, along beachfront, on piers. Inquiries produced blank looks and very slow blinks. Fed up with John Q. Public today. Fifteen lightning bolts on way home striking inside two minutes, one per 8 seconds like clockwork, each striking different building downtown. Fires stopped quickly due to rain.

April 20th:
Weather: rainy/dreary
Breakfast: pickles
Rain rain rain and power didn’t come back on today. Entire downtown crowd vanished after midnight without trace, few remaining citizens barricaded in homes, refuse to open up. Rain coming down hard. Museum vanished leaving small traces of rubble, bagel store burnt shell from lightning strike, rubble defaced with probably sanskrit in likely blood. Stupid, already mostly washed away. Bad mood.
Afternoon postscript: storm intensify, thunder now audible, strangely metallic and gong-like. Can barely hear self think, put on Randy Travis CD as sleep aid.
Midnight postscript: Massive thunderclap, looked out window and rest of town was missing, ate last of pickles, went back to bed.

April 21st
Weather: no
Breakfast: ketchup.
Woke up to find rain stopped, sky grey, flat, pancake-ish. Town vanished bar charred asphalt and stones, including office – woke up sleeping on remains of basement floor. Thousands of tiny sharp pebbles everywhere, engraved with single alphabeticalcharacters of who cares. Going to hike to highway, request transfer to somewhere with better bagels, weather, citizens.
Afternoon postscript: tripped over small, useless, valueless object en route to highway, took evidence into custody/emergency pawnshop fund. Will hitchike as soon as car stops not containing dead bodies without eyelids. Irritatingly common as of present.

Storytime: At the End of the Day.

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

It was just around past the sharp edge of the twenty-first century, around eleven o’clock in the evening on the last day of an old year. And it was time for the end of the world – ask anyone. There was nothing after the next morning, no point in delaying the inevitable, and that was that. It was the last night of all, and that meant it was time to wrap up all the loose ends.
Paul John Bob (just Bob, not Robert) had thought about it ahead of time, and so the only loose ends he had were two bottles and a quarter-bunch of bananas. So he poured himself a cup of something paler than pure water that hissed at the air, and he poured himself a glass of something darker than the inside of a rock that seemed to hum in its cradle, and he sat himself out on his porch, which was five boards of different sizes put together any old way, and he waited for the end of the world.
It sure was taking its time, it felt like. He was two bananas into the bunch already and time seemed to be standing still. A nice night at least – the stars were bright and sharp up there, twinkling their little hearts out all over everybody’s last evening, and that made it easy to see that person shambling up his hill and into his yard.
“Evening, Sherlock,” said Paul John Bob (Jerry, to his friends and neighbours).
“About there or so, Jerry,” said Sherlock, “if you ignore all the doom and despair.” He was a round, roly-poly man with a face that was built for beaming grins and a mind that lived in grim defiance of this.
“Still an evening,” said Paul John Bob. “Siddown. Have a banana.”
“I don’t have time to sit and talk,” said Sherlock. “I’m on a tour of my closest friends and relations; the last thing I’ve got time for before it’s all over.”
“Well hell Sherlock, that’s one hell of a compliment. I thought we barely spoke outside the bar.”
“What? Nah, nah, I said closest. I live just down the hill, of course I’m going to stop by. Only so much time to say goodbye to folks, we’re almost done, you know?”
“Right, right.” Paul John Bob squinted thoughtfully into his clear drink, then his dark drink, then decided against either. “How about that then, eh?”
“It’s going to be pretty bad,” said Sherlock. “Meteors left and right. Going to slam us into pancakes and the pancakes into mush and the mush into dirt and the dirt down to nothing. Then the ground’ll just shake apart, the moon’ll fly away, and we’ll just be left with a big pile of rocks where earth was.”
“That’s a damned shame,” said Paul John Bob. “I heard we were all going to be infected with a super-powerful virus the likes o’ which shoulda never left the lab, and we’re just counting down the minutes ‘till we all go into septic shock, pass out, and never awaken.”
“That’s nonsense, Jerry.”
“Shucks. Was hoping I’d leave something for my cat.” Paul John Bob sighed. “Ain’t much point in that if he’s going to be pounded into a pancake right alongside me. A real downer, that.”
“That’s life,” said Sherlock. “Nobody said it was going to be fair.”
“Nobody told me any differently, neither,” said Paul John Bob. “Aw sorry, I don’t mean to be grumping. Must need another drink; y’sure you don’t want anything?”
“No,” said Sherlock. “I’m off now to say goodbye to my fourth cousin eight times removed, just over the hill. I might have to jog – goodbye forever, Jerry.”
“And see you later too, Sherlock,” said Paul John Bob, and he raised a glass to the tubby man as he trotted out of his yard and off up the road, a wobbling mass on two dauntless little legs. Then he took a drink out of both his cups and felt pretty good.
Still a good ways to go before it’s all over, he figured. An hour’s a long time, practically years, and there’s still two-thirds of it left. That’s almost a decade. And that’s enough time to finish these two cups here, which is good because leaving half-gone drinks around is something his mother drummed out of him good and hard when he was a lanky thing with too much hair, back a while back.
Moving thing on the upper road, lurching down the hill like Frankenstein, arms waving and wobbling with the force of not a single muscle behind them, a creature that ran on tendons by itself.
“You look just like Frankenstein right now, Julius,” said Paul John Bob (Hob to his dear friends).
“That’s Frankenstein’s monster, Hob,” said Julius, pulling himself up onto the porch with a complicated batch of joints and pulleys deep inside his skeleton.
“Yeah, like I said.”
“No, you said Frankenstein. That was the man what made the monster. The monster’s got no name at all, not a bit. Nobody to name him ‘cause he got no parents. It’s one of those things.”
“Fair enough,” said Paul John Bob. “I’ll remember that.” This was a lie, but they both knew it and it got said almost every visit Julius made one way or another, so there was no awkwardness at all there. A bigger tradition than Christmas-time, no way about it, no two ways about it, or even three.
“Mind if I have a knock of that drink right there?” asked Julius.
“Free country, free to the friends,” said Paul John Bob. “Which one?”
Julius shut his eyes for a bit of thinking. “You got that creamy, thick, sweet one with the colours on top like an oil slick, all rainbows and fumes?”
“Nope. Just the pale one that hisses at the air and the dark one that hums in the glass.”
“Shit,” said Julius dourly. “Forget it then. When’d it run out?”
“Five years ago. Blake died, and his brother can’t make it the same way. Comes out more milky than creamy, and you only get a three-colour rainbow.”
“Man, man, time slides the less you look at it,” said Julius, shaking his head. “Forget it then.”
“Sorry ‘bout that.”
“Eh, forget that too.”
“Done. Nice night, eh?”
“Good enough,” agreed Julius. “Good enough. Bar for the whole oncoming apocalypse and all.”
“Yeah. All those meteors and meteorites. Can you remember the difference ‘tween those again? I never can.”
“Meteorites hit the ground, otherwise they’re just meteors,” said Julius. “But it makes no difference, seeing as we’re not getting neither of ‘em.”
Paul John Bob raised an eyebrow, and the bananas. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah,” said Julius, and he took two of them. “I met Sherlock down the way, he was spouting the same hickory-corked bullflies as I hear from you just now. No idea where that came from. Man probably made it up out of half of things he remembered from school days and a misunderstanding on the television. No, there’s no meteors. Calm yourself and your so-and-so.”
“I’m calm and relieved,” said Paul John Bob. “I was pretty scared for my cat there.”
“Nah, he’s got nothing to worry about,” said Julius. “Cats are too furry to get chewed on.”
“Chewed up?”
“Nah, chewed on. Y’see, the aliens, Hob, they finally talked back to us. After all those years of pointing up big dishes into the sky and listening hard, somebody spoke up and sent us back something for all those years of radio messages and mis-broadcast programs.”
“Well now, that’s a stroke of luck!”
“Damn near amazing, Hob. We find something with the right sort of tech, and the right sort of brain to decode us, and the interest to care, and they can talk back faster than light so’s we got a reply nice and quick.”
“So what’d they say?”
Julius was halfway through both his bananas now, alternating bites. “Weell, they didn’t say much. Just screamed a lot.”
“No, pretty much a scream. All one note, very constant, no variations. Not really any room for language there, so we reckon it’s a threat, and they’ve made no diplomatic overtures since. The ships are orbiting us right now – see that bit of dark that blotted out that star there for a second?”
“I took that for a bat.”
“Nah, nah, it’s a ship. They’re powering up their horrible weapons right now. Awful things, they’re going to paralyze the planet and drag us all up to be lunch, supper, and dinner.”
“They’re skipping breakfast?”
“I tell you, Hob, they are just beyond our thoughts. And midnight, we’ll meet ‘em face to tentacle.”
“Grisly,” said Paul John Bob.
“Damn straight and sideways,” said Julius. “I was just heading down the hill now to say goodbye to my auntie – well, and you.”
“Ah thanks Julius, you’re a good people there, you know that?”
“I’m not sure ‘bout that, but thank you much for it. Sure you got none of that drink?”
“We took our last bottle out on your birthday.”
“Sorrowful. Well, good luck to yourself.”
“And yourself too,” said Paul John Bob, and he raised both glasses to his friend as he loped his way away into the thickening dark.
The night was wearing on a bit now, and clouds were starting to crop up around the horizon, making Paul John Bob’s knees ache a bit. There was a breeze in the air, playing with his hair, and the bugs were sparse and polite enough to stay out of his teeth.
“Night like this sure is a waste, only getting half of it before doomsday,” he remarked.
“I agree,” said Sally-Jean, who was sitting down beside him.
Paul John Bob (Petey to his wife) gave her a sidelong look. “Thought you were phoning the kids?”
“Eh, they’re all busy. Partying, hollering, getting into sticky situations with silly sorts. Y’know children, the end of the world’s just a game to ‘em.”
“Yep. Bet they’ll even try to get it on with the aliens, once they land.”
Sally-Jean sighed. “Petey, my love, you denser than my mother’s tombstone. Why you still listening to anything Julius says that ain’t trivia? The man taught himself out of the backs of encyclopedias.”
“They were pretty nice books,” said Paul John Bob. “Had leather covers and everything.”
“Pleather, Petey, pleather. Big difference.” She scratched her back and took one of the bottles. “Ah well, it’s no harm. We got a little ways to wait yet, and time with friends’s not really wasted anyways.”
“Ymm-hmm,” said Paul John Bob. “Hey now, how’s you heard it supposed to go on then?”
Sally-Jean pursed her lips, and took the other bottle. “Well, the phone was a bit busy at the children’s end, but I think they said the ‘states finally pushed the wrong button on their missile silos, and we were all going to get dunked in enough nuclear war to leave us glowing fifty thousand times over in every cell.”
“Ow,” said Paul John Bob.
“The cat too?”
Sally-Jean spun the empty bottles on her longest fingers, just like pinwheels. “Yep.”
“Well shoot. I was hoping he’d be alright.”
“That cat steals the damned pillow out from under your head nine nights out of eleven.”
“Yeah, but he likes me.”
“Not even a little bit, Petey.”
“Jealous ain’t attractive, Silly.”
“Pshaw,” said Sally-Jean, elbowing him dead in the ribs. “I never was, and you know it.”
“Fine, fine, fine. I admit it. You beat me, woman.”
“I always do,” she said. “And just in time.”
“I guess that’s it then?” asked Paul John Bob.
She tapped her big clunky watch that had belonged to Paul John Bob’s great-uncle, steel and ceramic and a lot of duct tape. “Fifteen seconds.”
“Oh, is that so?”
“It is so. Give or take a picosecond.”
“Shoot twice, hit and miss.”
“Don’t use those words in this house.”
“I’m outside it.”
“Don’t use ‘em outside either. I taught you to swear properly, you want to swear, you can do it that way.”
“Fine, fine, fine,” grumbled Paul John Bob. “Is it time yet?”
“Just about…. Now.”

The night was dead dark now, and the clouds had eaten up the stars. There was a distant rumble of thunder, so small off that it sounded like a purr. The air smelled like tree breath and seaspray.
“Rain, eh?” said Paul John Bob.
“Looks to be so,” said Sally-Jean.
“Well then,” he said, “there’s no matter waiting out here all night anyways anymore. Let’s abed.”
“Let’s,” said Sally-Jean. “The cat’s beat us to it already, and the longer we wait, the harder he’ll fight you for the second-best pillow.”
So they went to bed, and they still woke up the next morning.


“At the End of the Day,” copyright Jamie Proctor, 2012.

Storytime: Oral Travesty.

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

“Tell us a story, granna.”
“Bug off.”
“Pretty please with-”
“-no damned way. Besides, there’s no good stories left.”
“Daddy said everybody’s got good stories, you just have to ask them.”
“I didn’t smack your daddy enough when he was growing up.”
“Get me the bottle and I’ll tell you a thing or two just to shut your yap. Right.”
glug glug and so on glug
“Right. Right. Now, listen up…”

In the beginning, there was Something. And the Something was probably like it was now and it was big and really neat.
Then later, after the beginning, there was also Nat.
And Nat looked at the Something and its bigness and neatness, and Nat said “I can do something better!”
So Nat picked up a big ball of dirt from the ground and stuffed it full of sticks and stones and shook it up and down and side to side and right-left over-and-out until it was all done. Then he stuck one big eyeball up against its surface, real close, and he took a peak at what he’d done.
Well, the place was a mess. Some bits were too cold and others were too hot and most of it was too dry. Almost all of it was water, and almost all of that water was out in the middle of nowhere and no good for anybody, or even any fish.
“Well, I can fix that,” said Nat. So he grabbed some people from the Something without saying please, thank you, or would-you-kindly, and he shook them all over his ball of dirt. They landed all dizzy and put out and none of them in the same place.
“Now you go and make sense of this mess here for me, will you?” asked Nat in that way that wasn’t a question. Then something caught his eye out there in the Something that’s somewhere, and Nat went to go check on it.
That was a long, long time ago. We’re not sure if Nat remembers us. But it’s probably for the best.

“That was lousy, granna.”
“You’re telling me. It’s all we had in the old days, and we had to share it. One story a week, too, not a hundred thousand a minute or whatever your damned internet gets you nowadays.”
“But it was so boooring. Don’t you have another one?”
“Sure, if you’ve got the stomach for it. Get me the other bottle.”
bloop swish glinginging etc
“Oookay. I think I remember this right…”

So a long time ago then, right, everyone was pretty angry and mad all the time, because Nat had dumped ‘em all off without so much as a by-your-leave. Hell, most of them didn’t even know the man’s name, and he certainly hadn’t bothered to introduce himself. So everyone was all over the place all off by themselves wandering around too grumpy to say “hello” or “pleased to meet you” or “mind if I sit here?” and that meant fights. Lots of them. Back in those days you ran out of teeth before age fifteen, had a nose bent triple by twenty, and were lucky to have an ear to call your own by middle age. The elderly didn’t exist; most folks that old got ornery enough to tick off something bigger than they were.
This was a pretty big problem, and that’s why someone decided to do something about it. And that someone was Bil.
Now, Bil was a good enough person, and that was downright weird. He didn’t hate anyone, and nobody hated him, because Nat bless his leathery ass, Bil was too thick to loath. You couldn’t look into that big dopey grin and spit back. Clouds would part over Bil’s head when thunderstorms came, and mama bears would watch him walk right up and over their cubs without more than a bit of a twitch.
Of course, his hide was still stitched up and down with more scars than anyone knew how to count back in those days. Even a kindly universe can’t stop a big enough doorknob from doing something to himself.
That day in particular, that something was a gift. See, Bil had made himself a ladyfriend, a nice enough gal who was willing to put cheerfulness over good looks or brainpower. And he liked her so much, he wanted to give her something to make her happy.
So he went out looking, Bil did, and he wandered the world for years. There’s been whole books written on the adventures Bil had in his quests. There was the time Bil found the People Made Out Of Dried Bark, and ate them. There was the battle of the World’s Angriest Hornet Nest, which Bil lost. There was the time Bil Saved the Sun, which the Sun always said was just Bil misunderstanding the concept of a solar eclipse. A lot of these stories are a bit mysterious, see, because the only one writing them down was Bil, and he wasn’t who you’d call Francis Bacon, or Shakespeare, or whoever the hell it is this decade.
Any rate, we can skip over those, because Bil finally found the fourth-tallest hill in the Near Vicinity, and from up there he could very nearly see over the edge of the bit of the world he knew. It wasn’t too warm or cold, the weather was cloudy with sunny, the landscape sat at his feet instead of sprawling, and as Bil sat there on his buns staring out into a pretty mediocre view he felt a strange and unfamiliar sensation a-creeping up on his tiny little brain.
“That’s it!” he said as he sat up, and he almost lost it in his excitement. But Bil was careful after that, and put it in a box he made out of the leftovers of the People Made Out Of Dried Bark. It was small and shoddy, but it did the job and kept the present safe and dry until he got home to his sweetie and opened it up with a big smile.
The girl, she looked at the box, and she looked at Bil, and she looked at the box, and she looked and Bil, and they sat there for five minutes. Then she screamed and jumped in the lake and ran down the river yelling and whacking her head over and over. All the folk from miles around heard her yelling and got themselves out of their funks and walked over to see what the fuss was about, because maybe it’d be something they could get angry at.
“What is it?” they asked her.
“Get it out of my head!” she screamed. “It’s stuck in there and it won’t go away! I’ll do anything to make it go away! GET IT OUT!”
Well, everyone had a bit of a puzzler at that all afternoon, but she couldn’t describe what it was she was talking about. But that night, when those folks all headed home for the evening? Hoo-wee did they get it bad. That little present of Bil’s had spread to them all – boredom stalked their steps forever now, sending them loony with it every big, empty, grumpy day from dawn to dusk. People were still grumpy, sure, but there was nothing for it but to hang together now, because the only thing worse than staring at some idiot’s face all day in a bad mood was staring at rocks.
As for Bil, he never got what all the fuss was about, but he never ran out of things to do, not until the year afterwards, when Bil Brought Fire To His Hair. That put a damper on things.

“Granna, is Bil why we feel the way we do now?”
“Yup. Hey, you asked for this.”
“Did not.”
“Get me another bottle.”
“Promise it’s over?”
“Over? Sure. Let me tell you how it’s all going to be over.”

My grandmother said her grandmother told her this when she was good and pissed, so that’s good enough for me.
In the end of the end, the whole world is going to go rotten. The middle of the ground will start to go runny and smell bad and it’ll leak up through the ground and everyone will be feel just sick as dogs. That’ll last for about a hundred years, and we’ll know those hundred years are up when the smell turns sort of eggy. Before that, it’ll be more like bad meat.
Once that smell turns, the sky’ll turn green-yellow, like grandpa’s throwup, and there’ll be lots of damp stuff in the air sort of like damp underpants. Every single person in the world will throw up at the same time and it’ll all go in the water, where all the fish will die and smell even worse. All the water’ll smell gross too then, and everybody will feel so bad they’ll spend all day on the outhouse instead of punching each other. The animals will all run away and hide under all the beds, and then they’ll throw up too, and the beds will all run away and hide under the horizon, so nobody’ll be able to sleep and they’ll get really cranky and complain all the time.
And then – just when the cranking gets the loudest, just when the smells get the foulest – then Bil will come again, and he will try and wrestle the earth into not smelling so bad. But Bil is going to mistake a hornet’s nest for the earth, and his ears are going to be so full of dirt from his little rest that nobody’ll be able to tell him different, except in sign language. And Bil doesn’t know sign language.
So after that, while the whole planet’s watching Bil try and put a headlock on a set of pupating larva, the bad smell and noisy bickering’ll bring Nat over to check out what’s making all the blather, and he’ll say “ew,” then stomp on the earth three times, then scrape his foot off three times, and then run away.
That’s about it.

“Can you pleeeease never tell us anything again?”
“Pretty please with sugar on top?”
“Tell you what. Give me that last bottle in the back of the cupboard and I’ll never speak to you ‘till the day I die.”
“Promise not to after that, too?”
“Sure. Good girl.”


“Oral Travesty,” copyright Jamie Proctor, 2012.

Storytime: A Friend on High.

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

I was five years old and the sky was big and blue and boring, but not nearly as boring as my father, who was standing next to me at the time talking to a man about something tedious and financial. So I let my eyes wander across the concrete, the asphalt, the steel, and finally traced my way up, up, up into that blue blank above my head, filled with puffy white shapes. A rabbit, a dinosaur, a bone. One waved at me. A tree, a mountain. One waving at me.
I checked one more time. The cloud – a somewhat wispy and remarkably tiny specimen, more of a cloudlette – waved a bit more firmly. I understood, with the absolute certainty of a five-year-old, that it was definitely waving at me and no one else. I informed my father of this, of course, but he provided no comment, and by the time we had reached home the cloud was missing. This irritated me, but not so much as to be left grumpy after a nice dessert.

I was ten and knew absolutely everything, something my math teacher was shortly to disabuse me of. I was making snow angels in the fourteen square feet that composed our backyard to celebrate this, heedless of the harm my idle games were doing to my future chances of constructing a snowman, looking up at the sky and seeing how big a puff of vapour I could blow in the subzero air. Pretty big, it was, and it showed up nice and clear against that December sky, empty as hollow could be.
Except that one cloud, waving at me. It was bigger, it was a bit sleeker, its wispy sidetrails had filled out into a bushy and well-rounded bulk, but it was still that cloud that had given me an instant’s entertainment on a dull day half a lifetime ago.
I waved back, of course, and was pleased to see it shiver most happily in a foggy sort of way. It looked all alone up there in that empty sky, and I hoped that it was doing alright. It certainly seemed sure of itself as it set out, staying low and close to the horizon for safety as winter twilight set in, ready to let all the cold, old stars out to peer down at everything. I watched it until it was too dark to see, then a bit longer, and then my father dragged me in and told me to stop being ridiculous or I’d freeze my nose off, which sounded very unpleasant.

I was twenty and hated everything a little bit still, but that was starting to strike me as annoying and a waste of effort, along with my degree, my off-and-on relationship, and my continued existence. I certainly wasn’t planning to do anything about any of those, though, because that would take some sort of effort, and effort was a hard thing, a wrong thing, especially on a day like this with the fog rolling in and hugging the whole city as close as a teddy bear. No, to coast was the safe move here, to glide on your past and ride the broad-beamed rail of your habits until it ran out from under your feet. So I sat at my desk and let my papers go unwritten and watched the world roll by, from the little cars running down the streets (invisible except for their lights, and on some old clunkers not even that) to the yelling people on the corners (sounding like their mouths had been muffled with socks) to the big billowing gusts of fog that were eeling past my window, thick as smoke and damper than a fish’s breath.
One particular strand of it was patting against the window most insistently.
I opened it up and the whole mess poured inside. A cloud up close is a chilly, moist thing that smells of birds and water, and it set me to shivering even as we caught up on old times. It had grown spectacularly, and in its eagerness to say hello it filled my entire apartment building from tip to top. Complaints followed the next day, but I wasn’t quite stupid enough to be the one willing to admit opening a window.

I was forty and out on a business trip, all the way up in a big flying can in the air and being bored by a man in a suit who wouldn’t stop talking to me about things that were tedious and financial. I dearly wished that I were important enough to ignore him, but as my position was I had to nod my head at least once a minute and make the occasional throat-clearing noise. Because of this, although it was a surprise when the plane lurched in the sky, it was also a very welcome distraction and I became quite happy. As the man in the suit hammered all the buttons on his chair, eager to have someone to complain to, I leaned towards the window and looked outside over the broad shiny sweep of our wings.
There was my friend again, a towering thunderhead, ruler of all the miles its blackened bulk surveyed, and with a gravity and pompousness that matched its exalted position exactly. I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurd size it’d reached in its wanderings, only now fully visible to me at its natural altitude, and I think it did too, a big rumbling roar of a chuckle that bounced us about like a bowl of eggs on the lap of an anxious vegan. My seatmate did not approve in the slightest, but I was hard pressed to care as the flight wore on, only feeling the slightest hint of melancholy as we slipped away from the heights and dropped into the world down below.

Now I am eighty years old, and find myself retired and at loose ends all around, with a stable of grandchildren, a missing spouse, an awful lot of Christmas cards taking up room on my refrigerator, and a coming anniversary. It took me an awful long time to catch the pattern; too busy to pause and think, to gather up woolly old hints from a long time ago, and to compare dates.
It’s time about for an anniversary, I guess, which is why I’ve rented a boat. The weather reporters are making an awful fuss about this, and I’d better go say hello out at sea or there could be a bit of a mess for everyone else. I’m proud of what my friend’s made of itself, I really am, but it’s a bit too large to squeeze itself into an apartment building anymore. Or a state.
As panicky as those weathermen were, it was rather nice of them to give my friend a name – as old as it is, it has no business being a stranger like that. Charlotte, the third of its kind of the year, right? That’s how they name them.
Such a pretty name; I think I have a granddaughter called that, if I’m not mistaken.
I will have to congratulate it.


“A Friend on High,” copyright Jamie Proctor, 2012.