by Jayne Thickett
We used to lie at the bottom of the mountain and wait for the clouds. I was eight and you were thirteen. You always saw the best shapes. As soon as the first wisps appeared over the tip, you were guessing what it was going to be. When I grew up, I wondered if the power of suggestion made me see what you wanted me to see, but I don’t believe that. You had a gift for cloud-sculpting. For seeing the wonder in the smallest detail.
All that summer, we lay in the shade of the mountain. Unicorns and dolphins floated above us. U.F.O.s and witches’ faces drifted by. Crickets chittered in the grass and bumble bees bounced on the air around our heads. You smelled of Vosene and custard creams and you embezzled my heart when you trailed a blade of grass across my lips.
Our skin turned golden brown when the sun came over the mountain in the afternoons. Freckles emerged over your nose and as your skin darkened, your wheat-coloured hair bleached white against your temples. The sky was in your eyes.
When only the wisps floated in the sky, we lay side by side. Your skin pressed hot against my shoulder all the way to the tip of my little finger. The sun was a blood-red splash inside my closed lids. I listened to your stories of pirates and sea-monsters and roiling oceans and I tasted salt on my lips and heard gulls shrieking in the distance.
After lying still all day long, you leapt to your feet, and with your imaginary cutlass, slash and stab your enemies, parry blows until every last foe lay defeated. Then you would cross one foot in front of the other and with a flourish, sweep the ground with an imaginary tricorne and pluck a buttercup for me. When you are older, I will take you to sea, you told me, one day.
The mountain stayed but the sun did not. The clouds crowded together, uniform grey. We couldn’t find the unicorns and the crickets fell silent. You grew silent with each darkening day and the sky faded from your eyes. I waited for the swashbuckling to begin, but you were tired now. You didn’t lie by my side, instead you sat hunched over your knees and sometimes you coughed until sweat beaded below your eyes and across your top lip. I reached out my hand so many times, afraid to touch you. So I said, will we come back next summer and you didn’t answer for a long time. Maybe, you said.
And I think now, maybe you knew.
When summer came round again, I waited in the shadow of the mountain. Unicorns galloped overhead and the bees bounced on the air, but you did not come. They told me, when the dark clouds came with the first spots of rain.
You would never take me to sea.
I didn’t go to the mountain again until many summers had passed. I lay in the shadow and listened to the bees hum. I felt the heat of your arm against mine and you crooked my little finger with yours. I waited for the clouds, but I never had your gift.
She sailed over the mountain with the sun lighting her cloud-sails. A brigantine, worthy of the most valiant pirate I knew, flying the Jolly Roger. And I hoped you stood at the helm, waving your cutlass. I hoped you were firing the cannons and blowing holes in the clouds.
Jayne Thickett is a thirty-eight year old home schooling mum and learning disability support worker. She has had several pieces published in the small presses and is finally making headway with the novel that started with a very strange dream almost ten years ago. Reading is her first love, writing comes next and there isn't a lot of time for much else.
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