A City In The Clouds
We lived in a city in the clouds. In the same way that birds flutter and make
their nests in a sky where no humans can hope to see; this was a place where only some can breathe. Migration or desperation, people stormed to this city in droves. Money flowed from one pocket to another, and the blood of the city became entrenched in… No. None of it was true. We were just trying to live. In the same way that I could walk down the streets and see the same panhandlers, and the same students. Students who go downtown are brave. Either that or goddamn rich.
Walking past all of it I only had one place in mind. It was neither here nor there (just some place in the city where things seemed to stop). In the migrant trains or the bustle of coffee stained shoes, breathing was a sport. I fiddled my dirt riddled pockets, chugging change between my fingers. Enough for a ride on the streetcars or a small meal at the bakery, it was all a beggar’s wish. Except, I didn’t beg for my coins.
Blaring in my ears, the horns of cars and the rush of feet along with distant cries of… Exams. Exams were up. It was that time again. Just like always. I began humming. No tune in particular. Letting it all sink into my mind. My feet began to float. My arms drooped like hanging clouds. Everyone was rushing, pushing me back to where I came. But I kept forward. There was some place I needed to be. I had to get there. And it had to exist. Or else…Or else I wouldn’t have a story to tell.
If being on the streets taught me anything, it’d have to be – my phone was shaking. It was shaking for the entirety of the morning. Humming my silent tune allowed it to disperse in the winds. It would be lost in the veins of the city…At least, on any other day it would have. But that day my hands reached over, and before I could finish my song I was already engulfed with a call from my little sister.
“What is it?” My voice cut into my ears as much as it did the phone. I swallowed a lump. Was it really my voice? Hadn’t spoken in a while, but still, it was harrowing.
“Brother, you have not been home in such a long time that our parents are worried for you. I am with them now, and they wish to speak to you. Do you mind?” Her words were gentle, landing in my ears like the soft touch of rain. Concise, every breath created a well versed syllable. Was this really my sister? I tried to run her name in my head but drew blanks.
At the intersection cars ran by, flooding my phone. I smiled, listening to her breath, letting her hear the city in the clouds. When the lights flashed on, I noticed a bike. Further and further, and I would be on the highway.
“If they really wanted to hear me, they’d call themselves. That’s their job, isn’t it?”
My sister sighed. She had…Long hair? No, she must have cut it by then. Always nagging. To me no less. Always used to be there. Beginning on the next sidewalk, I looked over to see a row of shops lining the streets. One last stretch, one last hook before the clouds were gone. And then, my humming would turn into a nice little song. Inspired by…Nothing much. That’s just how things were.
“Brother. Please. They are worried for you. We…Are worried for you,” she said. Her ‘we’ was soft; drifting off of her mouth as if the word had only found itself in her sentence. I stopped at one of the largest fast food chains in the world. Its windows glistened, the printed letters more bright than stones on the street. Staring at those lining up for a quick meal swept away the city’s pulse. And then, it was just the quiet sun, the hanging clouds, and rolling wheels.
“Where are you? You must come home. They do not mean to intrude in your life anymore. They just want to see you. Please, brother,” she said. Every word came with its own weight. Anymore and it would outdo her own…That kind of weight was unwanted (she should know, not that it mattered to me, just our parents, and their own…Way of making her their lovely little daughter…Or some similar drivel).
“Can you step outside for a moment?” I asked. In the end, it never amounted to much. Not when she went with them, to a place beyond the clouds. The city lost a little bit of blood that day. And I had to stay, to make sure it didn’t bleed out. My legs kept a steady pace the more I stood. There was some place they wanted to be as well. The same place as mine? Yeah. It had to be. That’s the moral of this story.
“I mean, out of the house. You said you were there, right?” Walking past the stores I let my free hand rustle the coins in my pocket. Their stains and my skin melded into one.
“Brother, I do not know what you mean to imply but they are worried about you. This is no joke. Please, even for a brief moment, if you can tell me that you’ll be on your way then –”
“Caroline.” Her name, I remembered, as my eyes traced the shoulders of the people walking by me. Caroline. One of the women walking by must have been named that, as it sparked my mind tracing the flow of her hair. Caroline. It sounded like sweet candy.
“I understand. Please excuse me for a moment,” she said. The call was on mute. My feet began to slow. My legs knew. My body knew. And so I began to slow.
“Brother?” She said.
“Alright. Enough of that crap. Carrie, what the hell do they want?”
But then she spoke. Thank god.
“Sorry. You know how it is around them, Laurence. I just can’t help but–”
“I know, Carrie. I know and I’m sorry for being an ass. Just hearing you be like that is… It’s not something I want. I’m the one who’s sorry. Why are you over there anyway? Don’t tell me you –”
“Yeah. It’s – Exactly, what you’re thinking…Yeah.” Her words were gentle. But they were spoken in broken breaths.
“You never learn Carrie. You never will. But that’s why we’re related. We’ll always be two idiots in the end.”
My feet eventually stopped. There it was. If it wasn’t, then I wouldn’t have a story to tell. But it wasn’t there. In front of where our old apartment used to be was an empty lot. Demolished, detained, deteriorating as the soil kept retaining rain running through its veins. Beside this empty lot, was a corner store, no longer in a corner.
“How long has it actually been since I’ve been there? Those…Parents, must think it’s been a decade. It hasn’t been that long has it?” I ruffled through the coins, pulling out a penny. Ancient. Illegal? Nonexistent. But in my pocket nonetheless.
“How long for you? Or how long for them?” Her words kept my body from moving.
“I see. Yeah. You’re right. You’re always right Carrie. But I’m not coming home.”
I turned the penny in my hands before tossing it into the plot of land where my childhood was buried. Like that, stunned in the earth, for as long as I kept coming back, for as long as my body memorized its path, it was there. It had to exist. I made sure it did. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have a story to tell.
“I know. But, I just hoped you might change your mind,” Carrie said. It wouldn’t be the first time. It wouldn’t be the last either. Though it had definitely been a while. “It’s not too late, I don’t think. But, you have your life. And–”
“You have your life too, by the way. You shouldn’t… I’ve been telling you the same thing for so long, is there any point to it? Just know I’m rooting for you.”
Silence always followed.
Never with me. But, whenever they were involved, she would go silent. Watching with eyes unable to cry out that she was also a person, she stayed silent. And I watched. Silent as well.
“I’m trying. Okay. I’m trying,” she said, her breaths growing rough. I smiled.
Leaning down, I threaded the dirt with my fingers, ignoring the passing cars. An airplane crashed through the sky, and the few who still came by gave me half a glance.
“How long has it been since you’ve been to the city?” Carrie asked.
“Me? Do you think I’ve actually left?” I could feel her smile.
“You’re right. You’re right. No. You’re exactly right.”
The empty plot kneaded its way into my palms, and before I knew it my nails were stained. I dug through my pockets for another coin, producing another penny. In a single motion, my fingers sank into the dirt, and as I extracted my hand, I laughed.
“Stay strong, Carrie. I’ll be rooting for you. Even if you’re not here. And even if you may never be here. I’ll always be there. Okay?”
I began wiping dirt over my jeans. An act of habit. Leaning back on the sidewalk, I traced my fingers over the dirt, making small lines. We used to make lines all the time. Lines in the sand. Lines in our room. And lines in our words so that we knew who we were talking to (that way, we’d always be together).
“So, how’re things over there?” I asked. “Beyond just having to deal with them all day, I’m sure your life has been quite fruitful. Why don’t you tell me about it?”
My body was aching. My arms and legs twitched the more I sat, and my pulse grew. Watching over the empty plot of our lives together in the city made it grow. Her words started to flow into my ears, gently, with rough syllables. I listened to her for a little while longer as I let myself drift on by. In the end, that’s just how my story goes.