When Julian was a small boy he wondered about clouds? They had no edges. His uncle insisted that they had lines around them if you examined them closely. Julian disagreed. For him clouds were formations without substance, living organisms that shape shifted in accordance with unseen intentions. They resided in the vast blue ether with total liberty, an ocean beyond the concrete and rigid world below.
Julian would often walk through his uncles fields on the hardened earth. The dry grass was stiff and flat on the barren ground. His oversized Wellington boots wobbled about his bare calves and clay grit found its way inside his socks. The days were long and monotonous. Every summer he was condemned to do penance on this desolate farm. He was sent off by his overworked mother so she could have some relief while he had to endure two long months of tedium.
Still it wasn’t all bad; some of it was enjoyable, like collecting the cows from the upper paddock in the pristine daybreak. He loved to command the all-purpose sheep dog to round up the cows in the early morning mist. Together they would make their way up the grass path past the narrow glen of tall pine trees that led to the upper paddock. Beyond that was the rusted gate, the entrance to a field of mystery; in there existed the void made manifest by the featureless fog. The silence gave way to the hoot of melodic wood pigeons, cooing their well-practiced song. Chilled grey vapor wet his face and hands and dew drops formed on his woolen pullover. The silence waited while shadows formed in the void, they shimmered quickly growing larger and distinct and then the silence was gently interrupted by the muffled rhythm of stampeding cattle. These were the beautiful moments of the day.
Later in the torrid afternoons his uncle would sleep on his car seat couch in the kitchen. The only other company on this lonely farm was the two sheep dogs. Julian would wander for the millionth time through the dilapidated barns that encircled the yard. Inside one- lived the broken tractor rusted and rheumatic. In another- long forgotten piles of straw, rotting molded and encrusted. Chains dangled from the stone walls like shackles in a gruesome secret dungeon. Piled in a far dark, cobwebbed, corner were old sickles machetes and pitch forks, adding to the chamber of horrors theme.
Sometimes the dogs would wander around with him. They would aimlessly patrol the bleak dusty yard and investigate unremarkable features. A pile of cow dung or plastic oil can. The drudgery was relentless. Out of boredom Julian would walk out on to the dirt track that passed for a road on this isolated mountain side. On the far side was a stone wall with a depression that served as a good seat. From here he could see the valley below, hundreds of patchwork fields, grilled under the baking sun. Each one was a slightly different color. The expansive scene was like flaking paint on a crackled old door. He could differentiate greens, yellows and the golden tones from the wheat fields below. As the afternoons advanced long shadows stretched from the ditches and trees that spread like a loose fishing net across the valley floor.
Warm breezes muffled their way around his head while he sat at this spot. His eyes would drift back upwards passing the motionless landscape below until they reached the horizon.
In the distance a torpid haze would give way to the blue ether. He would stare into the emptiness. If he stared long enough he could see tiny amoebas floating before his eyes. He had to concentrate hard for this to happen but the sight was worth the reward. Someone once told him that what he really was looking at were blemishes on the retinas of his eyes, but he preferred the floating amoeba’s explanation.
His attention would wander to the clouds. The best ones were on blustery days. They would sail by like vast armadas. They were armies of shape shifting mythical figures. One day he saw Unicorn transform itself into a Pegasus. It spread its great wings like a swan before him. It turned its head towards him just before it dissolved. Often he would return to his makeshift seat. Day after day he waited hoping it might return. If he concentrated hard enough he could will the clouds to assume the forms he desired.
One evening just before sun set he willed Pegasus to return. The distant horizon was washed with pink, turquoise and brilliant golden yellow. The clouds spread themselves like foam on the surface of the sea. “Return, return, return”, was the spell he chanted softly to the still evening. The dogs stared with him at the horizon yawning and licking their lips in anticipation of the creature’s apparition. The ruby sun descended beneath the horizon. The sky was ink blue and the first stars pierced this infinite void. Julian’s pale shadow stretched in front of him. He turned around to gaze at the full moon. When he looked up he smiled and shouted with joy “Pegasus I knew you would return”.
The wind had picked up to a stiff breeze and the mythic animals wings spread across the night sky just before it turned its head towards him again. It nodded with dignity as it drifted past the mountain peak above the silent farmyard.