Three children lie with their backs on the grass getting itchy. They look up at the clouds.
“That one looks like a submarine,” one says.
“That one looks like a doggy”
“I don’t know,” Brayson Getnik says. “They just look like clouds to me.”
His friends chastise him for his lack of imagination, but that night he receives an e-mail.
This is that cloud from earlier. The one your buddy said looked like a dog. I just wanted to tell you I really appreciated what you said back there. Usually when you see humans, they want you to be something else: a dog, a submarine, Gorbachev’s birthmark. (I realize that last reference might be a little before your time, but you wouldn’t believe the kinda shit we hear.) And, I mean, I get it, on some level. Childhood is precarious, you’ve got to hold on to wonder as long as you can, etc… etc… That’s why I didn’t come down and say anything or anything. I didn’t want to be a dick to your friends. But it’s like, you hear something enough times and even if you’re very secure you start to wonder: am I dog? Should I try to be more doglike? What about me is broadcasting dog and how do I feel about that? You start comparing yourself to dogs and feeling inadequate. You start resenting dogs even, which is crazy! Who wants to resent a dog?! That’s why it was such a relief to hear your words, Brayson. It’s like, I know I’m enough as I am but it’s still powerful to hear that confirmed. Anyway. thanks again, Brayson. You’re a cool dude.
Little Brayson rereads the e-mail a few times. He can’t believe it. Some of the words frighten him. At school they warn the children about strangers, about strange cars, offers of candy. They don’t go into detail about what happens next but Brayson can kind of suss it out. I think most kids can. I know I could. We glean the world’s depravity from the non-descript warnings of adults and what it amounts to is an erasure, a child eradicated. Cinder wall sprouts a wound and the dribbling darkness is as much bleeding out as dank night seeping in. Brayson calls for his mom.
His mom isn’t too happy. There is a long conversation that night between Brayson’s mom and dad about caution. At first it seems there is going to be some blame levelled. Shouldn’t William Getnik really be home more? But Brayson’s parents’ love is stronger than their worry. They don’t add weights to each-other.
Later that week, the school has an assembly about safe internet practices. They dangle a few more warning tales. A few more razor blades concealed in apples. Then they raffle off coupons to fast food corporations. All the kids are pumped afterwards. Nothing like danger to invigorate youth.
Brayson sits on the floor behind an armchair afterschool at the house of his Cuban babysitter. He pulls his pants down and shows me the naked bulb of his penis. We share in this way. Do we touch? I can’t remember. I remember feeling excited looking at the way Brayson’s sex mirrored mine. I remember the feeling in my body, in my child body, my bare feet on carpet, the warmth in the air. I remember keeping it from my parents. But shame, true shame, didn’t come up ’til years later, ’til Brayson and I had been well marinated in what was and wasn’t acceptable on the planet of former dinosaurs.
They say that clouds live short lives, made, as they are, of ice crystals and condensation, prone, as they are, to the pressures of air, but Brayson’s cloud lived for centuries. Some clouds do. Some clouds find a secret pocket of troposphere where they go and play badminton with each other and endure. They used to have a specific name for this place, and they used to say this is where angels live, but there’s no such thing as angels, only clouds.
Brayson grows a couple inches, a couple years. Brayson’s best friend is Garret now that I’ve moved away. Garret invites Brayson over to play Red Dead Redemption 4 on Xthousand. They put on the helmets that release the smells of the Wild West and they shoot outlaws. When the outlaws bleed the helmets release smells of copper. Garret says his house is haunted. He says that at night, a vampire woman comes for him. She calls out from a grove of trees. She hovers outside his window. He says he’d fuck her if she didn’t smell like the grave. He says his mom made him throw away his wooden stake, and if he didn’t show up for sixth grade the next day Brayson would know why. “Look for me in the forest,” Garret says. “I’ll be in an oak tree with my corpse bride hiding from the sun. It’ll be the tallest oak tree around, and it will smell like cum and farts. Like toad bellies.”
“What’s cum?” Brayson asks. “Is that like pee?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
How can you tell one cloud from another as they melt at push and join? How is a cloud not the river it came from? The lake? The sea? What gives a cloud its identity, and furthermore, what gives us ours? When do we cease? When we die? When our cells break apart through decomposition? Why do I bother saying I? Saying Brayson/Garret? What makes us separate? Wouldn’t it be better to say a bit of stardust met another bit of stardust as they whiled away through life?
It never rains on Brayson.
Brayson’s cloud lived to be 5,000 human years old and, like, a bajillion in cloud years.
Brayson’s cloud never forgot the kindness Brayson showed it.
I die in a way typical to my life. My luck runs out. I cross on a red, lost in some reverie, and a horn blasts and I’m smeared on pavement. I look at my innards strewn alarmingly and think, shitshit, and I pass out. I see my life, that hyper-edited film. I wake in the sky pocket.