Sunday, November 14, 2010

A bank of cloud.

I wrote a short story for school, and did illustrations for it — here it is. I don't normally write but I really enjoyed writing this and I think it turned out well.




A bank of cloud.

She is counting stains on the ceiling, most of which look like Tasmania. She has been doing this for hours. She knows that beyond the ceiling there is a carpet of sky, with so many stars and planets that she could not put one finger between any two. She knows this because she saw them yesterday, before the storm picked up overnight, before she opened the emergency canned peaches. Apart from stay watch over night there is very little she could have done, the snow consumed the garden fence three days ago and yesterday was window-depth. Now she worries that she’ll forget the constellations, that this ceiling map will become her new sky.

The snow which has fallen this year has been in excess, like the pollen of last spring, which fell from the mountains, ruining the plough of the greasy black engines and meadow combs. For these were malevolent structures, formed of unclimbable chasms, bursting clouds like fluffy piñatas and winding crooked paths which lead men to their death, all clutching miniature portraits of lost loves and their socks all stuffed with basil leaves (a custom that was meant to ward off evil spirits). Roads that year were scattered with yellow bristles making the whole town look like it was decorated for a monolithic vigil. All human endeavours in the town stopped. Still she remembered shamrock stems grew to be bitten and sucked, and the periwinkle flowers yielded honey, all flora flourished under the mountain spell.

She read a poem once which said that wolves are common in these parts, and they bury their young in snow. She is a poet herself and so she knows they lie but this still does not shake the feeling. She thinks if she looks hard enough she will find them, tiny stub noses poking out of the white snow, crescent moon claws.

She has slowly begun to eat snow. She scrapes snow now from the open window-sill feeling the wind travel down her dress, kissing her back. Snow is soft as caviar and it shines like the water’s pearls. She picks a handful, careful not to disturb any sleeping cubs which rest within, and forces it down; it’s like golden syrup. Snow is her connection to the land and to him: she knows somewhere his feet tread this very snow, and so she delights in feeling the chilling snow down her wide-open throat.

The night before she dreamt of him, floating ten inches above the bed all wrapped in garlands with an aquamarine halo. He was bending a stick in a semicircle, his fawn coloured hair rising as if suspended in water, gardenias attached to the ends like reverse weights. He lingered there with the expression of a deity.

That morning she woke to the smell of basil as if to the smell of smoke. Of course there was none (no love-worn men in dove-grey shawls, no yellow pollen failing.) But as the film of sleep was still on her eyes she thought she saw little bunches, tied with a lavender bow set in the corners of her house, yet as she rose more fully both the scent and the basil left. The house smelt of nothing, only snow.
She decides to attempt to clear the door way to the house in case he decides to come back. As she shovels pile after pile of soft white caviar-snow she ignores the yelps and moans and hears instead only the freight trains off in the distance, pounding into the cold, cold morning. They look so far away, yet she remembers how she walked there with him in the autumn, pushing through piles of reddy-brown leaves, so many that they could not have only fallen from the trees in the valley but must have been blown there. She remembers thinking that their combined shape must cover Canada. ‘I’ll bring you back a fossilised foot, or a preserved moth’ and he was gone.

Off on the train, not a freight but a passenger with other men leaving their lovers, all waving their hats and clutching miniatures. They say the custom of miniature portraits is to help a man remember, remember his task, the half face for his future children yet unborn. She has no such portrait so she cannot entertain herself with any guessing games.

She manages to clear the doorway.

She sees him again, alone and palely loitering on a cliff face, his socks are stuffed with basil leaves but still he walks in an agitated state, as if in great danger. All trees around him shake violently and pass their seed to one another. In his hand - she is not sure in the mist of the dream but - she sees herself. She wonders what drove him to this. she concludes it must be the weather; it had been in extremes that year.


*

The last of the canned peaches lie in a half opened can. To sustain them longer she has taken to adding ice, whisking them together with a fork and drinking the mixture straight from the can, but this is the last of them. Flakes from the stained map sky fall like forget-me-nots and scatter the floor with a whiteness she likens to eggshells. Flakes fall in the shape of Japan, Finland and Ireland. The snow has covered the windows now and outside is beating down on the roof so much that it has moulded the house to a quarter of its actual size. From the flakes coming under the door she knows that it will be impossible to open, the Winter has overtaken her.
In the east a bank of cloud is rising silently like dark bread.

At noon the ceiling caves in the bathroom and the house begins to flood with snow. She is in the living room when it happens, clutching a shovel, sitting diagonal at the head of the table. She sees the snow crawling through the passageway, creeping at a steady pace towards her. She hears the storm pick up, hitting the clay tiled roof with a force that shakes the foundations. Her hands tense up around the shovel handle. The window glass shatters in the bedroom and her bed is soiled with the damp trail of snow. The wind rushes against the sides of the house and the table is shifted four paces to the left. The chair she is sitting on remains in the same place but she drops the shovel. The shovel makes a dull ting on the hard wooden floor.

As the bank of cloud passes over the ranges the wind flings a magpie away and a black gull bends like an iron bar slowly. Woodsmen and husbands look up from their toiling and watch as the cold dark face of the mountain tears apart the cumulonimbus clouds. He is there with many other men, in waist coats holding barometers. He watches the cloud break over the town he left and can only think that it looks exactly like the underside of a ship being torn by an iceberg.

*

This is the cloud that kills her. Its snow falls heavy on the mound of white, which from a distance looks like an igloo, or an ice fortress. The supports in the kitchen gives way and shelving units collapse and merge, steel pots and skillets fly like bullets and the floor cracks to reveal a fluffy white underside. She is in the corner of the laundry, the only room left untouched clutching Poems of John Keats and a thin black torch. As the house bends and moans she is sure she sees an aquamarine glow coming from the ceiling, and then she sees him again, holding a dead magpie, cradling it in his arms, its dead eyes stare at his shiny, shiny buttons.


As her house is slowly consumed, the gilt and pink domes of Russia melt and fall off, stiff figures of ivory contort and exactly seventy feet up in a black pine tree he is listening to the dull pom pom of someone shooting something. So he does not notice the winter take her, does not see the stub noses protrude from the soft snow and wind their way into the house. All is but whoosh whoosh and pom.

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