The Young Cloudmaker
by Hayleigh Santra
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The cloudmaker looked to the right of us and pointed at the drops balancing on the leaves of the birch trees. “It’s interesting that the watermaker inserted that much sulfate, don’t you think?”
I had never thought about the sulfate levels in rainwater before.
“Sulfate is commonly used to make limestone and gypsum rock.”
“Interesting,” the cloudmaker said, although his tone did not sound like this was interesting at all.
We didn’t speak for some time after that.
I picked at my cuticles. The cloudmaker pointed his binoculars at a very thin cirrus.
“Have you been to the hot springs?” I asked to break the silence.
“Yes,” the cloudmaker said while sitting up taller. “What a phenomenal experience to be enveloped in the work of Kiesha Buckenfelt.”
“She’s very well-known.” The cloudmaker sounded either concerned or annoyed, I couldn’t tell. “Rumor has it she’s in the running to win the Turis Genius Prize next year.”
I had been to the hot springs the previous day. I had lounged in the small pool and closed my eyes as my muscles unclenched and the voices in my head grew silent. I had never heard of Kiesha Buckenfelt.
The cloudmaker was looking at me sideways again. “Of course you know that clouds are made partly of water crystals?”
“Of course,” I said, scowling.
“There is no way to understand clouds unless you also understand water. Your knowledge of rocks will help, but water is essential.”
“I know about water.” I kicked some stones off the side of the boulder.
The cloudmaker stood up. “Well, goodnight.”
In my tent, I stared at the sky through the mesh screen and cursed my father for never enrolling me in watermaking classes.
The next day, as I was boiling water for my coffee, I noticed that the cloudmaker’s campsite was empty. I flung my pencils into my sack so carelessly that three of the tips broke off.
After sunset, I headed to the boulder a little later than usual. In my heart, I knew that the cloudmaker would not return, but I climbed up anyway. I lay on the rock with my sketchpad on my chest. The cloudmaker never showed.
When I opened my eyes, the sun was high and I felt a burn forming on my face. I dabbed the sweat from my forehead and retreated to my tent. I wrote several apology letters to the cloudmaker, explaining that I was sorry for not complimenting him on his work and for not listening very well about his sister and for being defensive about my knowledge of water.
Please come back, I wrote. I need your help. This is hard, and not like a rock. Difficult, like a cloud.
I tore up the letters into tiny pieces, and the confetti littered my sleeping bag.
We hadn’t exchanged information, so I couldn’t call or email him. I stewed in my tent, staring at the barren, perfect sky through the mesh screen, and groaning. Eventually, my stomach made itself known. I hiked to a nearby hotel because I was sick of the oatmeal packets that had been sustaining me. I chose a table near the window, where I could observe the splendor and nurse my melancholic sense of abandonment.
An ancient woman took the seat across from me without asking if it was occupied. It must have been obvious that I was not someone whom people would want to be around at that moment. Her short, white hair rose in a wave off her forehead. The wrinkles fanned out across her cheeks in a symmetrical pattern. Her face was like the palm of someone who has been planting and reaping for hundreds of years, or like a lion’s face.
I sipped my smoothie through my straw and stared at her.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hello,” I said.
“Do you know how to get to the unkai?”
I told her about my campsite, and the boulder, and that it was a particularly productive spot for examining clouds.
“Are you a cloudmaker?”
“No,” I said. “Maybe. I was a rockmaker. I’m trying.”
“Trying,” she said.
“Are you a cloudmaker?”
“I was at one time. And then I switched to water.” She smiled and ordered a green tea from the waiter.
“You switched to water?”
“Clouds were too hard. Could never get that damn silvery glint right.”
“Can I show you my sketches?” I don’t know why I felt comfortable enough to do this. Of course, no one would want to see my sketches.
“I’d love that.”
I slid my sketchbook across the wooden table.
She turned the pages gingerly, carefully studying each one. “Can I borrow a pencil?”
I slid my charcoal gray to her.
She crossed out many of my drawings. She added shading and depth. She drew little stars beside certain features. I chewed on my straw.
“You’ve only just started.”
My shoulders slumped.
“Keep going. Don’t stop.”
I straightened up and rested my elbows on the table.
“What do you think of this altocumulus?” I thought it was my best one, but I didn’t say that.
“You need to think about your source for dust particles,” she said. “There’s a market close by, run by a man named Lewan, who could help you.” She sipped her tea.
“Can you teach me about water?” I asked.
“No. But I’ll give you a book that helped me.”
I rubbed my right middle fingernail against my nose.
“Come to the hot springs tomorrow at noon.”
She finished her drink and turned toward the window, and I understood that the conversation was over.
That night I called my father. His shoulder was hurting, and he detailed his latest appointment with the physical therapist. He told me that he couldn’t raise his arm past his neck, and that the therapy was painful, but he hoped to make progress. This is a common injury for rockmakers of a certain age. There is a lot of hammering and hunching and straining in rockmaking that is considered part of the job. Rockmakers are expected to be strong, like their creations. I didn’t interrupt my father as I usually did.
“That must be painful,” I said, “to have to take three weeks off work.”
My father grunted in assent. “How are the clouds in Japan?”
I winced in embarrassment. Clouds are so fickle and temporary and light compared to rocks.
“They’re okay,” I said, not wanting to bore him with the details.
“I looked on Google,” he said, “at pictures of Earth from space.”
“Oh?” I said, surprised.
“Remember, the Earth is one big rock.”
“But it’s covered with clouds,” he said thoughtfully.
Copyright © 2017 by Hayleigh Santra