Good Luck: Episode Thirty-One
A cloud was born over the Cape of Good Hope. It was first seen at sunrise by an ostrich staring out at the ocean waves breaking on the rocks. The ostrich often stood watching at first light hoping to see the Flying Dutchman, a spectral ship full of the spirits of sailors damned forever to fight that rough current at the tip of Africa. The ostrich saw no ghost ship, only a solitary cloud hovering over the sea in fair weather, and was disappointed.
The new cloud said googoogaga, but it was so high up the ostrich couldn’t hear. The ostrich didn’t speak cloud anyway. The cloud rolled over in the sky and cried for its mother and father but it had no mother or father. It had been born by warm air rising and expanding in the atmosphere, which, after rising high enough, had frozen into ice crystals that’d bonded with dust and pollen. But the cloud didn’t know this. It looked around for its mother and father and, finding none, it panicked and cried. No tears came. It was so young and inexperienced, it didn’t know yet how to make rain.
The prevailing wind carried the cloud away from the Cape. The ostrich watched it leave. Behind the ostrich, a few other smaller birds, white terns, sat in the tall grass. The animals watched the sky change, and the lone cloud change with it. The dial on the last starlight was turned down in the heavens, the chalky thumbprint of the moon donned its cloak of invisibility again.
The cloud changed from black to plum, to rose, as that fiery boss poked its head into the room to begin the day. The east lit up, and the cloud had a lemon belly. The sky became violet then navy and finally settled into its favorite self, sky blue sky blue sky blue, hello sleepers wake up, hello nocturnal creatures go hide, hello vampires now’s the time to run or die.
The white birds stood up, raised their wings and jumped off the cliff. On the horizon was a boat. They soared to it, squawking for fish. Their flight took them through the low hanging newborn cloud, hardly any more than a mist. The cloud watched the birds circle the vessel. The cloud heard the men yell at the birds to leave.
The ostrich ran through the tall green grass, jerking its long neck, looking for lizards to eat for breakfast.
The cloud caught the wind, and was pulled up higher and passed over the fishing boat at two thousand feet, becoming cumulus. The sun was low in the sky, and no shadow was cast on the fishermen. Had the sun been at high noon, directly over top of the cloud, no shadow would have been cast either. The cloud did not know how to do that yet.
It drifted across the South Atlantic. Schools of dolphins were seen breaching the blue-green water. The cloud was puffy white in the daylight, blue and lit up bright in the shine of the moon.
Higher clouds appeared. The highest and eldest were airy skeletal swooshes, near death and just leering down from heaven to see what life was now. Below that were fish egg clouds, tiny but endless, packed together to form a shield. Below them were contemplative cotton ball clouds, past their middle years, not quite ready to go higher into retirement. Below that were spider-like clouds, able-bodied workers that branched off in any direction, looking for a job to do.
Off the coast of Brazil, the cloud came across twelve other clouds on its level. Cumulus too. They had their whole lives ahead of them. They didn’t know what they were doing either. For a day and a night, the clouds stuck together, bumping, playing, pushing, yelling, laughing. They did this through the sunset, becoming orange and pink. They carried on through the evening, sometimes blocking the stars, so people looking up worried about a storm blowing in. When the sun came up, burning, all of the clouds were painted blood red.
A giant cloud barreled at them from the west. 52,000 feet tall. If there was a God and God was a cloud, this would be it. Cumulonimbus. Towering over them. Speaking in a booming voice. The smaller clouds hushed and were still. This was their teacher, lessons had begun. The teacher showed the smaller clouds how to transform. From its midsection, an arm of cloud emerged, at the end of the arm was a hand of cloud. The hand transformed into a lion. The lion walked across the sky. It jumped. It roared. It laid down. The teacher created another cloud in the shape of a gazelle. The cloud lion killed the cloud gazelle. The cloud gazelle became cloud bones.
The students struggled to mimic their teacher. They transformed into crude imitations, lions that looked like deformed house cats.
A boy sat on the roof of an apartment building in Rio de Janeiro. Noticing the sky, he stopped strumming his guitar. He mistook the lion the teacher had created and saw it for a red dragon. He mistook the lions the students had created and saw them as knights on their way to slay or be slain by the dragon. He wrote a song about it. He was still singing the song when his boyfriend walked out onto the roof carrying two cups of coffee. He sang his boyfriend the song and then, when it was over, they started again and sang it together. As they drank their coffee, the dragon changed into a rotten apple, which they mistook for a heart, and then the apple changed into a skull and crossbones, which they mistook for Cupid with his bow and arrow, and so on.
When the sun set, the students were taught how to rain.
In the beginning they drizzled pleasantly on São Paulo, and no one even needed an umbrella. The people below walked hand in hand to the cafes, and through the gardens, drinking wine.
After that, the clouds sent steady rain on Gurupi and Pálamus, drawing humidity out of the air, becoming heavier and fatter and feeling more confident. The people below were soaked, ran through the showers, muddy socks and fucked up hairdos, they missed their bus, cursed. The flowers said, Thank you, though. The trees said, Thank you. The stray dogs drinking out of the puddles said, Thank you, too.
The clouds pulled more water out of the air, downpouring on Vitória de Xingu, and then harder on the Amazon basin, so the jungles seemed to have disappeared even in daylight. The jungles bubbled and said, Okay, that’s enough rain. The rivers overflowed and said, Okay, please stop. The piranhas were even heard to say, Mercy mercy, it’s wet enough.
The rain came down harder.
Whole villages washed away. Cattle drowned. People clung to branches and were pulled by the current into the rushing rapids, sent over the side of the waterfall.
One of the students pulled away from the group. It drifted off. It watched its teacher send down zig zag lightning on the town of Belém. Other students tried to imitate, and generated small sparks. The teacher cheered them on with thunder. The students sent down their first true lightning all at once, striking Our Lady of Grace Cathedral, bursting apart three crucifix-tipped towers, setting the cathedral on fire.
Another student drifted away from the class, and joined the lone cloud on the edge of the city, Fuck this, it said.
Yeah fuck this.
They watched the teacher and the remaining students swirl together as the wind whipped up, and below, street signs were ripped from poles, and roofs were pulled off houses, animals were blown away, people flew like witches though the air. The students cheered with thunder and the teacher cheered back with thunder and the ships in the port capsized and sank and water kept rising rising rising.
Ashamed, the separatist clouds hustled away from the storm, into the Bolivian sunshine visible to the southwest. The mass of swirling electric doomsday clouds swung up the coast of French Guiana. They were a hurricane, worsening in the warm Caribbean Sea, drawing in other clouds, drinking up as much moisture as they could. A black dragon of a storm, 1600 miles wide.
The hurricane struck Fort-de-France, erased it from the map. Then it slingshotted into Puerto Rico, nearly sunk the island.
The separatist clouds saw this and wept.
They drifted sorrowfully on the wind. They told each other the story of their lives. I was born over the Cape of Good Hope, one cloud said to the other. The other said, I’m from Bangkok, well, not really Bangkok, but a place near Bangkok that you’ve probably never heard of. The first cloud said it’d never even heard of Bangkok. The cloud from near Bangkok said it was from China then, and the first cloud said, Okay, but it didn’t know where China was, it was just a cloud.
Where do you think we’ll go?
I don’t know, wherever the wind takes us.
What if we go against the wind?
Then I guess we’ll go slower.
Slower yes, but we can go wherever we want.
Wherever we want.
If we join together, we can pull harder, go faster.
You don’t like the idea.
I might. We won’t become a storm?
We won’t, no. We’ll just be one lazy cloud.
Then I like the idea.
One cloud climbed inside the other and the other cloud climbed inside itself, and rolled and the clouds were then one cloud, rolling together, more imposing, pushing on in a direction they couldn’t before, moving against the wind as they wanted.
What’s that? the cloud asked, and answered itself, Oh it looks like a mountain range.
What’s beyond that? it said, and then answered, Oh the sea. A new one.
The cloud flew to the Pacific, that vast ocean, stretching on, showing you infinity. The cloud saw people sunbathing on the shore. People smiling in the warmth of the sun. The cloud felt at ease. It floated over the beach and gave some of the people a moment’s shade, and the people grinned up at the cloud, and the cloud felt like its life was not in the service of people, but its small life would not be to their detriment either. The cloud anchored itself, and wondered if it would stay there for the rest of its days.
But a bank of grey storm clouds arrived on the coast. The puffy white cloud pulled up anchor and fled so it didn’t get drawn back into the storm cycle. It floated inland, into Peru, the elevation rising and the cloud forced to rise with it, getting older by accident.
The cloud sunk into a green valley between two mountains, and regained some of its youth.
The could hung over a cluster of cottages built in a ring. The cottages were surrounded by a meadow of blue and yellow and pink and orange wildflowers. The door opened, an American shaman walked out, wearing a Golden State Warriors basketball jersey. He stood in the middle of the circle and began to play the flute. The door to each private cabin opened and he was joined in the meadow by other Americans, mostly couples, holding hands. Drug tourists, here for an ayahuasca ceremony. The drug tourists began to dance to the melody of the flute. The cloud started to dance too. It changed into a dancing woman, mimicking one of the dancers below. The dancer happened to look up and saw herself as a cloud dancing in the sky and became self-conscious and stopped dancing.
They all looked up at the cloud. The flutist stopped. The flutist told them all that what they were seeing was a sign from the universe that they were supposed to get naked. The flutist took off his clothes. They all got naked.
The cloud had seen enough. It floated over the trees and into a passage between the mountains. The people followed the cloud, nude and smoking something. The cloud was above the ruins of a lost Incan temple. The drug tourists chased after the cloud, and accidentally found the entrance to the ruins of the Incan temple. They became the first Americans to enter it. The cloud watched them climb stone steps and discover the skulls of kings. Alters open to the sky. Rib cages laid out in piles. The cloud watched the people get sunburn on their asses, chests, private parts. The man with the flute shouted up to the cloud, begging to know the secrets of the galaxy. The cloud did not understand his language but to be polite, it changed into a boa constrictor. The flutist mistook the snake for whatever he wanted to see, which was an ayahuasca vine.
The flutist spoke to the other tourists, and they all sat down patiently while he jogged down the steps and left the ruins. The cloud watched the man run back to the cottage. Soon he emerged from the door carrying a large wooden pail cradled in his arms, and a backpack slung over this shoulders. He hiked back into the ruins and gave every naked person a cup of the liquid in the bucket. Then he dug something else out of the backpack. A huge red balloon, twelve feet tall. Breath by breath, he inflated it. The flutist tied the balloon to the handle of the wooden pail, which was still full of a psychoactive brew. He crouched down, his arms wrapped around the pail, keeping it grounded.
The naked sunburnt people began to vomit, shit themselves, hallucinate. The flutist stood and began to play his melody again. The pail rose above the ruins. The people saw it floating in the sky toward the cloud and began to sing. The cloud thought it was time to leave, but it was too late. The pail flew up into the cloud, and the liquid inside the pail was absorbed instantly into the cloud. The empty pail and the red balloon continued up and up and up into the sky until it was a speck, then was gone.
Here is what happened to the cloud:
It heard the flute and it learned why pain existed. It heard the flute and it knew that everything, including it, would die. It saw the sea boiling, and it saw the earth crack apart. It saw the people and the rest of the animals engulfed in lava. The sky was black with soot and ash was everywhere else. There were no clouds, and never would be again.
It heard the flute and it understood joy. It heard the flute and knew that everything was alive to celebrate its life, and nothing else, stretched all the way back to the dawn of time. It saw a green blade of grass poke up out of a fissure in the concrete. It felt sweet wind helping the birds glide away from ice and toward summer.
It heard weeping and knew lightning burnt down trees so the forest could stay strong, and the rain drowned the world so the jungles could sigh out their oxygen. It heard laughter and caught it, caught the laugh in the air, and held it in one cloudy hand. It was its own laugh. The cloud let it go, and the laugh fell like a feather, carried all the way to the river, where it was washed away. Fish nudged it in the current. As a fish touched the laughter, it began to laugh too.
The cloud slept.
The cloud slept some more.
The cloud slept one hundred years, it thought.
When the cloud awoke, the ruins were glowing in moonlight. The people were gone. The cloud saw their cottages in the distance, lit up.
Other clouds drifted across the moon and diminished it, so now the stars appeared to burn brighter, an endless wall of wavering candles in the purple firmament.
The cloud knew the purpose of its short life.
It flew into Ecuador, and then Colombia, and then Venezuela, where it crossed the Caribbean Sea and met up with the path of devastation caused by the black dragon. The cloud hovered over the island of Puerto Rico, where it saw the people were busy rebuilding their homes and were hard at work trying to get their power back. They needed money. The cloud flew east, to the Cayman Islands where it created a storm after all, just to tear the roof off the national bank, busting the bank vaults open with lightning, forming a vortex of wind to pull all the money up into itself. The cloud flew back to Puerto Rico and rained cash on the island for three days. So much money the people ran out of places to stack it.
The cloud dropped money wherever it saw oblivion. Santiago, Chile; into Florida, from Miami to St. Augustine; up into Georgia, flattened towns peppering the coast; Hilton Head, South Carolina all the way to Charleston. The cloud stopped to refill its cash supply at the Federal Reserve—there wasn’t hardly anything in the vaults. It continued up the eastern seaboard. The storm had not caused any destruction in North Carolina, Virginia, or Delaware, but when the cloud got to southern New Jersey it found an endless wasteland of flattened neighborhoods along the ocean’s edge. It ran out of cash before it even left Atlantic City. The destruction snaked into Long Island and beyond.
The cloud was beaten down and weary. The best it could do was rain down beer on Toms River. Rain down wine on Seaside Heights. Rain bibles and IOUs on New York City. Rain fortune cookies on Newport. Rain bus tickets and condoms on Providence. Rain prayers and promises on Woonsocket.
The air was cold, and the cloud was sick. It woke up wheezing, floating higher than it remembered being yesterday. Its hope was gone. It’d saved some people, but people who didn’t know its struggles or its good work, blamed every cloud in the sky for their misfortune, for the loss of their homes, for losses worse than that. They saw a cloud and cursed at it. The cloud began to feel it really was to blame.
It saw a woman standing on the edge of a high roof, and thought the woman might be suicidal. The cloud’s plan was to rip the top off a pillow factory, suck up the pillows, quickly rain them down onto the street so when the woman jumped, she would not die. As the cloud passed over the woman, she pulled a pistol out of her jacket, and shot it in its belly.
The cloud screamed and half of itself vaporized. What was left of the cloud groaned but hung on. It floated up, becoming flat and slate grey. It lost consciousness.
It dreamt of the Cape of Good Hope. Zebras it’d watched gallop through the fields. Men it had seen walking along dirt roads, weaponless, not afraid of leopards or the devil or even quicksand. It dreamed of baboons seen hiding in the branches of a tree, avoiding the war, and of secret devils seen standing out in plain sight, grinning.
The cloud awoke over the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There were other slate grey clouds all around. These clouds had lost things too. These clouds were scarred and hurt. These clouds wouldn’t stop murmuring like they were already ghosts and this was already purgatory.
Snow began to fall. It fell from every slate grey cloud. The green world down below began to disappear. As the snowflakes fell, the children ran out of the houses and held their arms up to catch the first snowflakes. The young lovers came next, and held their hands out to catch the first snowflakes. The potbellied men, and the bespectacled women shuffled out next, and held their tongues out to catch the first snowflakes. Then came the elderly, pushed out of the care facilities in their wheelchairs, blankets on their laps. The elderly looked up at the snowflakes, maybe their last snowflakes, and the snow landed on their open eyes and they saw white, and in the white, they saw themselves as children playing in their first white snowflakes.
Soon the cloud was empty of snow and was up even higher in the atmosphere where the wind was worse, and it was pulled east, faster and faster. Too weak to fight. Carried along day and night at great speed across the Atlantic Ocean. It made peace with the grave.
Sleeping again. Time sped up. The sun rose and then simultaneously set. The cloud woke up and it was a cotton ball in a nest of other cotton balls. It woke up higher over the English Channel, where it discovered it’d lost its memory and could no longer recall Africa, or the rainforest, or its friend, who’d been a part of it and how they had fought the wind together and sought their destiny together.
The cloud couldn’t even recall its time as a bank robber.
It was pulled higher and higher, and thinner, till it loomed over London like a veil, too thin to block the rays of the sun, which passed through its body, casting no shadow.
People were so tiny. The cloud missed them already.
It woke up as just a wisp being launched up into the upmost reaches of the mesosphere, shivering, coughing.
The night sky was dead black, windless, no moon.
The cloud decided, while it could, under its own power it would make a final push up, towards the far off fires of those impossible stars.
The Norwegian Sea was full of ice.
North and north. The cloud dragged itself to the tippy top of everything, now.
Glaciers. A land of numb blindness.
The place Frankenstein chose.
The cloud went there too.
It was so high now, so faint, it was invisible to all below, though no one looked. Not the huddled snoozing penguins. Not the scientists in their research stations. Not even the abominable snowman wherever it was lurking.
The cloud gathered its strength.
It carried itself up, and flew beyond the limits of earth.
Where space began.
Where its dust and pollen and ice crystals were pulled apart. Scattered. Each speck floating off in every direction. Spread far and wide, before settling again, pulled into orbit with everything else, as one.