I scrape excess avocado off my knife with a mechanicalness akin to muscle memory and load it onto a piece of toast. Blinking once, twice, I revel in its form—porous and fluffy like a cloud, saturated and absorbent, like a dream.
I wonder. . .
I’ve always been able to come down,
one day, I—
no, never mind.
Anchoring myself to reality is hard, and in my condition—nearly impossible. That is why my morning routine is a crucial part of my day. When I wake, I throw my quilt aside, casting dreams into a foggy heap on the floor. I unbuckle myself (too many times have I ended up pressed to the ceiling after a night of dreaming) and shuffle into my slippers imprinted with the shape of me like warm cocoons.
“Cirrus, cumulus, stratus, and nimbus,” I sing, softly padding across the linoleum floor. “What did the clouds do overnight?” Nimbostratus cloud formations are amorphous and pervasive. The sky is featureless and awash with gray. Unless there’s anything I can do about it, today is June 21st, and the forecast calls for rain.
My mind wanders as the coffee maker gurgles to life. Once I realize I’m floating, I swim through the air, kicking off the ceiling and grab hold of the oven handle, lowering myself to the floor. I gloomily sink into a chair next to the kitchen table and stare at my bag of cloud things lying next to the front door. There was a time when I thought I needed instruments to float, but now I no longer need an apparatus.
Lightning never strikes twice, and yet, here I am—the unassuming brown brick office building I work in. In the elevator, I’m flanked by two of my colleagues, and somewhere from behind my eyes, clouds gather rendering my expression unreadable.
“Jimbo, there’s an art to the technique. Have you seen my lawn lately?”
“Lemme guess, looks like a golf course? Man, I don’t have the patience for that sort of perfection—all I care about is getting the job done. Less time mowing the lawn means more time I get to sit on my ass and drink beer.”
“You lazy sonofabitch! I hate that uneven line when it runs down the border of my neighbor’s lawn. I make sure it looks seamless—like both ends are melting together. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yeah. You’re crazy?”
Both men erupt into raucous laughter as I zone out. To them, I am invisible. Would they notice if I left the ground? For a moment, I tap into that impulse, but then I panic and grab the elevator bars to keep from floating.
No, I think to myself. Not here.
The doors open, and both men muscle past me none the wiser to my trick of levitation.
When I walk past my boss’s office, he doesn’t even raise his head to speak with me, recognizing me by the dragging of my feet. “You’re on phones today, Milton.” I nod, but I don’t know why I nod. He doesn’t see me anyway. I hate talking to people on the phone, but it’s a good job for me because it stops me from daydreaming. More importantly, it stops me from floating.
Calls come in one after another. I work steadily without socializing or even using the bathroom until lunch. When noon hits, I stand, grab my lunch box, and leave the office. I no longer fret about the feeling of my coworkers' eyes on me as I slip out. I know what they are thinking: there goes Milton, the loner who never joins in on anything—Christmas Parties, drinks after work—even lunch in the employee's lounge. They just stopped inviting me. And, for that, I’m glad. My life is a solitary one, and I’m okay with that. All my life, I’ve been told to get my head out of the clouds—a difficult thing to do since there’s no place I’d rather be. That is, until one day, I finally figured out how to get there.
I escape to my car and take a moment to observe the sky, noting wind patterns and cloud formations. We’ve had a week of overcast skies; I reckon this city could use some sunshine. Once I’m on the road, I drive fast, but never exceed five mph over the speed limit. The bleary horizon drones on and on. Sometimes, I wonder if I am moving ahead in time or backward in the opposite direction.
The parking lot is empty when I arrive at the small park outside of town. Nobody comes here, save the occasional dog walker. I swerve into a spot and set my multifunctional gold goggles over my head, closing my eyes.
The cloudy weather is indicative of my crowded mind. The solitary life is just fine, but sometimes I wish I had somebody to share this with. The thought fades as I transcend the hill and feel my body leave the ground—a feeling that is surely worth all the loneliness in the world. White plumes extend from my shoulder blades, and I lift higher and higher as clouds form beneath my feet, pushing me towards the heavens. The secret is that I’ve learned how to turn my daydreams into clouds and what exists on the other side is my happy place. Nobody ever sees me on the ascent. I’ve never shown up on the front-page news.
Sometimes I wonder if I truly am invisible.
I arrive, clearing the glorious mist and land atop the luminous white mountains. My weight is as light and buoyant as water vapor. The sun shines powerfully onto my face. I lean onto my side and unhook my lunch box, eating and dreaming at the same time. Once finished, I carefully set my utensils and thermos back inside my lunch box and hook them to my belt. I stride across the fleece floor and open my mouth to suck up the clouds. The sensation dries my throat, but soon enough, holes gather beneath my feet, casting glorious sunbeams to the world below. I check my watch, noting I only have twenty minutes left. Inhaling my daydreams feels counterproductive; it just all just goes back inside, but the world needs to see sunshine. I take a running leap off the end of a cloud, and as I close my eyes, my mind goes blank.
I arrive back at the office in a state of discomfort. My clothing is damp from all of those dense nimbus cloud formations. When I cough, little white cloud puffs emanate from my mouth like smoke rings. The insoles of my shoes squelch, laden with water as I pad over to my desk. Not like anyone will notice, I think to myself, kicking off my shoes.
I’m about to resume calls when an artificial cotton candy scent wafts over to my desk—so thick it aromatizes the entire office every time my coworker decides to stuff her mouth full of Bubblicious. My anger grows as she chews and chews and chews. Maybe her jaw will fall off, I think to myself. Maybe her teeth will fall out, one by one, as cavities infiltrate her molars like landmines.
Somebody peers over my cubicle. I lower my headset, reluctantly raising my eyes. It’s my gum-chewing coworker. Before she says anything, she blows a bubble so large her face goes missing. The bubble pops, and she grins, sucking the stringy pink bits back into her mouth. A small piece remains stuck to her chin.
“What can I do for you,” I ask, quirking an eyebrow.
“Oh, I just wanted to tell you that while you were gone, I took an order for Mrs. Scott. She wanted three of the Memory Box Frames in the French Baroque Style. Fourteen by eleven inches.”
“Thank you.” I internally curse myself because I can’t remember my coworker's name. Something with a C? Ch?”
“No problem,” she says, staring at me.
I replace my headset over my ears, noticing she still hasn’t left. “Um. Was there anything else?”
“Why are you all wet?” she asks, crinkling her nose.
Why do you chew the most disgustingly artificial smelling gum known to humankind?
“Unfortunate accident with a puddle. I should get back to work now.”
“The sun finally came out.” My coworker falls back from the cubicle only to reappear a few seconds later. “Cheyenne,” she says.
I’m always last to leave the office. I’d rather escape unscathed by a barrage of “goodbyes” and “what are you up to this weekend” questions. Not that anyone would ask. I just don’t like being caught in the crossfire.
The silence of an empty office is unsettling. I hasten my step to the elevator and press the lobby button. For a moment, while the doors are still open, I get an almost full view of the entire sales floor. It sounds like someone is yelling and curiosity gets the best of me as I step back outside the elevator and look around. I crane my neck to make out the words, but they’re nothing more than a muffled pitch smothered in intensity by walls and carpeted floors. From behind me, the elevator doors roll closed, and I’m too late to catch it from returning to the lobby. Feeling trapped and strangely enticed to investigate the source of the sound, I duck around the cubicles and inch closer. As I near the higher up’s offices, I see that my boss’s door is slightly ajar. Cheyenne sits inside, sobbing, while my boss rifles through the papers on his desk and sighs in exhaustion.
“This can not happen again, Ms. Barkley. This is the third time a huge order has been sent to the wrong address under your account. It costs the company money to ship these frames out, and even more to compensate clients for the mistakes you make. If this happens again, Ms. Barkley, I will not hesitate to fire you.”
“Thank you. I can’t lose this job,” Cheyenne cries. “I’m already behind on rent—I—it was a mistake. It won’t happen again. I promise.”
“Tomorrow, you’ll call Mr. Limerickson and apologize for having one hundred boxes of our eight by ten black photo frames delivered to his house. He said he could barely get out of the front door. His wife was outraged—it was supposed to be an anniversary surprise—the framing of their wedding photos elegantly displayed in the foyer for when she got home. Ten frames, Ms. Barkley. How in the world could you add two additional zeros to an order like that?”
“The order screen freezes sometimes—it was a glitch—I was just—”
“You were just what, Ms. Barkley? Daydreaming per usual? I don’t want to hear excuses—just get out of my sight before I decide to go through with firing you after all.”
Guilt consumes me as I opt for the staircase and fly down eleven flights of stairs, wondering what daydreams Cheyenne and I might have in common. I know it wasn’t any of my business to stick around and listen to her be berated, but a small tenderness for my coworker pangs in syncopated beats within my chest as I fly faster and faster down the stairs. Cheyenne is seen by the world, but not in the way she wants—just like how I choose to remain unseen because I gave up trying to fit in with people’s ideas of who I was supposed to be.
Something feels off as I drive home, but it’s the weekend and there’s nothing some star bathing can’t fix. The feeling lingers as I climb the rickety ladder of my apartment complex to the roof. I balance myself on the top stair and turn the wheel, hoisting the door open. There’s a small pop and an allowance of space as a cool gust of air blows in, sending shivers down my spine. With a little gasp of pressure, the door opens the rest of the way, allowing me to pass through. I lower the weighted door onto its side and brush myself off. The view makes me shiver all over again. I clutch at my chest suddenly aware my heart is pounding. The moon moves in and out of nebulous cloud formations, but aside from that, it’s a clear night. A murmur of voices and music drifts in from another apartment building like a shallow, thudding headache.
Darkness flies on either side of me. It feels like I’m diving into an ice-cold lake. I ascend higher and higher into the night. Stars and clouds and planes and satellites all drifting, all spinning, all minding their own business, and I like it. My daydreams find me a little cloud to sit on, and I hang my feet over the side. Eventually, I lie back and stare at the Northern Star. Something is there, in the back of my head. I give it time to surface, and when it does, I realize that I’m thinking about Cheyenne. Now, this doesn’t surprise me as much the fact that my cloud begins to lose shape as I think of her bright eyes and stupid gum-chewing mouth.
Maybe I’m just like them, I think, measuring star angles from the moon with my thumb and pinky. Judging her just like the rest of them.
“Interesting,” I say, preparing for the descent. That’s never bothered me before.”
As soon as the sun is high enough in the sky, I get in my car and drive north. I don’t know why. I’m not an impulsive person. Highway lines blend and blur until I realize I’m almost out of gas. I fill up and find a cafe down the road to eat lunch. The place is empty except for a mother with a small child and a woman in a yellow dress sitting alone in the corner against the window. Somehow, I’m inexorably drawn to the mysteriousness of her back. I drink glass after glass of water, still dehydrated from sucking up clouds, and order a side salad with a bowl of vegetable soup and a slice of toasted wheat bread. The child softly whines to his mother about the lack of dessert. She clucks her tongue and the child’s wine raises a pitch. A silence settles over the sunny cafe after they depart. I rest my head in my hands and refuse another refill. I look over to the window and do a double-take upon realizing something—
the woman in the yellow dress is floating.
She quickly checks herself, grabbing hold of the table. I look away, feigning interest in the vintage jukebox as she nervously scans the cafe, wondering if anyone has caught her mistake. She signals for the waitress, pays her bill, and dips her head, rushing past me. I’m quick to follow, signaling for the bill before I’m out the door in time to see her departure. Soon enough, I’m behind the wheel in eager pursuit of her. I hang back enough so it’s not too obvious that I’m following, and yet—I don’t care—I must talk to this dreamer.
We drive for another thirty-five minutes until I see her car turn into the Hoh Rain Forest entrance of the Olympic National Park. The woman hastily plods over to the trailhead, looking anything but prepared for a hike. I enter after her, pushing back mossy barks, and quickly lose myself within the enveloping green haze. A blanket of humidity drapes itself across my shoulders in the hot afternoon sun. I’m struggling to keep up. A light breeze ripples across the back of her yellow dress as she wanders out of view behind a massive tree. I trudge up a small hill where ferns have decomposed into the ground and find her perched on a high branch, taking off her shoes. She stumbles when she sees me—
and slowly descends.
“I’m sorry,” I start, ashamed to have startled her in the way I have.
“Who are you? Why are you following me?” she gasps, backing into the tree.
“I had to—I—wait!”
The woman turns and runs through the forest, but I catch up and force myself to dream, sailing by on a cloud. She stops—her chest heaving through the thin material of her dress.
“I’m like you.”
“No,” she says, slowly turning her head from left to right. “Not another dreamer.”
“What?” I gasp, “I don’t understand; I just want to talk to you.”
“Isn’t it hard enough staying grounded in reality?” she asks, her eyes burning into mine.
I’m struck dumbfounded, tumbling over exposed roots on the trail back to my car. I can’t even relate to one of my own kind. I’m scorned and turned away even when I’m seen. The rest of my weekend is a blur of stars and sun. I get the worst sunburn of my life. I barely come down to eat. I get drenched with cloud moisture and catch a cold when I fall asleep amongst the stars. Monday rolls around and I’m forced to call off for the first time in my life. I bump against the ceiling. I can’t seem to find my balance long enough to prepare food. Where’s the floor? Where’s the god-dammed floor?
On Tuesday, I call in sick again and make the four-hour drive to the Hoh Rain Forest. The dreamer’s car is there. I wander blindly, catching glimpses of the sky through the trees, noticing that as she clears her dreams, the sun begins to shine. When she floats back to the ground, I cautiously approach.
“You look awful,” she says.
I open and close my mouth, pressing my lips together.
“When I heard of all the rain and floods down south, I figured you must be responsible.”
Vague recollections of floods and evacuations fade in and out. I’ve barely been cognizant of anything happening below the clouds. My dreaming is out of control and I know it.
“Washington has a lot of dreamers,” she says. “We’re a lonely and isolated bunch up here. That’s why it’s always so cloudy.”
I take another step closer and she retreats. “Please,” I say, bordering on desperation. “I need somebody who understands.”
“I can’t be me,” she says, sadly shaking her head. “We’d never come down.”
Again, I try to speak, but she stops me. “Go home and fix that storm.”
When I arrive home, there’s a small parcel propped up against my door. Inside is several packs of Bubblicious gum. I rip one end open, unwrap the paper, and stuff the square-sized piece of gum into my mouth. I absent-mindedly chew while savoring the flavor—the entire sensory experience. I chew as I walk into my kitchen and sit at the table with the lights off. I chew as the rain continues to pour outside. I chew and chew until my kitchen is aromatized with the smell of cotton candy, and when the flavor and the texture are nothing more than stale rubber, I spit out the gum and watch as moonlight spills across the floor. Eventually, I walk into the other room and turn on the television. “We have reports coming in that the rain has finally stopped” announces the late-night news reporter. “Thank god, the rain has finally stopped.”
Over the next week, I realize something: Cheyenne’s gum keeps me from floating. The smell is so strong and the lump of chew between my pounding jaws is so physically exhausting that all my attention is redirected to the now. When I think about the dreamer’s advice, I realize why it must be true. Our breed needs an anchor to reality—a foundation to build upon. I would never give up my dreaming, but this world I’m inevitably tied to cannot cease to exist either.
Cheyenne is real. She slips notes beneath my door. I never catch her in the act, but the fact that she cares enough to check in has kept me off the ceiling. I now know that I’ve misjudged her. I now know that seeing really is believing, but something still prevents me from giving up the solitude and the silence I’ve fought to maintain. When I stargaze, I don’t have enough cloud to sit on, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone—it just means something else is occupying my mind for once. A delightful feast of butterflies perch on my ribcage, flapping their wings in tune with my heart. The sensation I feel is real: an equal, a potential partner—someone who really understands to make all the difference.
Eventually, the city slowly returns to normal after all the power outages and floods, but I become more and more anxious. My aversion to reality is too strong to keep me grounded and my thoughts begin to race. She loves me, she loves me not. My clouds are thin, unsustainable. At night I freeze amongst the stars; I’m so chilled, I fear I may encourage snowfall. What would they say? Snow in the summer. If I can’t float, I’ll sink. She’s too good to be true. I haven’t been back to work in over two weeks. I’m a storm. Our office flooded, so I’ve been taking calls from home, but soon I will have to go back to work. I’m gathering more and more clouds. Darker and darker. I haven’t left my apartment in a week, but now I must because I’m all out of gum.
Clouds gather once I step outside. I run, grabbing onto stop signs and trash bins because my feet keep leaving the pavement. What if I’m in love with Cheyenne? People glance worriedly into the sky; they don’t see me—they don’t even see how I’m struggling. What if Cheyenne is too good for a wretch like me? I collapse onto a bench and hold on tight because if I don’t, I’m convinced that this time I’ll float away for good. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I’m about to let go when the bench squeaks with the weight of someone who takes my hand.
My heart expands and releases. Puffs of clouds cough out from my lungs as Cheyenne forces something in-between my lips, sealing it with a kiss. She blows out my clouds as I chew. The world stops spinning and my body gains a heavy, warm weight. My heartbeat slows and stills, resuming a steady rhythm.
“I see you, Milton,” she says. “I’ve always seen you.”
Her hand in mine feels more real than anything I’ve felt in a long time.
“I see you, too,” I say. When it rains, it doesn’t pour. When I look at her, I have no reason to be anywhere else.
For the first time in forever—
I’d rather be on the ground
than in the clouds.