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Flowering Clouds

Volume XXIII | 2023

By

Rowan Owens

A sunset was just breaking out over the floating city. The sun had begun to dip below the clouds. All it took was that little sliver of the sun to caress the vast ocean of white for color to flow forth and paint the sky like light shining through a crystal. I had never seen a sunset on the ground before, but I could never imagine it being more beautiful than what we see up here, above the clouds.

A girl sat on a ledge of limestone tiles, one leg dangling over the edge. Her back turned black in silhouette; her face illuminated by the light. She was small for her age but despite her meager form, she was the perfect canvas. The pinks and reds of the sunset painted her pale skin and faded clothes. Her striking black eyes were the only distinction between her and the sunset.

I walked toward the edge, feet tapping the limestone beneath me. Night was approaching and the cold was settling in. I rubbed my bare arms absentmindedly, feeling the goosebumps on my skin. A black haze filled my head. I looked at the edge. My steps slowed. Hesitantly, I took one… two… three… four steps. My toes kissed the open air. I stared straight down at them. My eyes were drawn to the clouds beneath me. They looked like wet cotton candy. I closed my eyes, a tear rolling down my cheek. I could smell the cold, crisp air. I was so tired. A breeze tickled my face. I opened my eyes and looked out towards the sun. The light was harsh, and I shut my eyes again. I took a deep breath in and out. This was it. In and out. I was finally done. In and—

“Hey!”

I hesitated on the edge and opened my eyes. I wiped the tear from my face and looked around for the voice. My eyes settled on the girl. She glowed amber in the light. I could have mistaken her for a young angel if she had not been sitting so casually. Too surprised to do anything, I stared. She lifted a hand and gestured for me to join her. Not knowing what else to do, I walked over. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she asked, gesturing to the sky.

“Yeah,” I said, standing with my arms at my sides. One of my legs wanted to leave while the other made to sit down. My mind had left me. I was disoriented. It felt like I had been pulled out of a dream. I tried to recall what I had been doing, but already the memory was fading.

“Sit down,” she said. I sat. Her words formed a tether between my body and my mind. I stopped drifting and began to return to myself.

“What’s your name?” she asked. I had forgotten that I did not know her.

“Hazel,” I responded.

“Like the nut,” she said.

“Like the tree,” I corrected.

I needed time to gather myself. Quiet settled over us. Surprisingly, it was not the awkward silence of people who hardly know each other; it was the calm, comforting quiet of friends. I collected myself and looked out at the sunset, only a semi-circle of sun remaining. It only then occurred to me that I did not ask for her name after she asked mine.

“Do you see the flowers?” she asked before I could speak.

She seemed intent on keeping me on my toes. She was looking out at the sky too, but maybe she meant flowers somewhere else. Turning away from the sky, I saw the limestone path snaking off into the distance. There were plants all around us, but it was the beginning of spring. Not many flowers had bloomed yet. I had finally spotted a small flower on a bush when she put a hand on my arm.

“No,” she said, “The flowers.” and gestured to the clouds beneath us. I stared long and hard at the clouds. Finally, I looked up at her, confusion flush on my face.

“The clouds! They look just like flowers with all their colors in the sunset. Flowers as far as the eye can see.” she said, pointing towards the horizon. To my amazement, I understood what she meant. A field of flowers now sprawled beneath me, all of them growing out to the sun on the horizon.

“But the clouds are only flowers in the sunset?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” Lily replied, her eyes wide and focused as if she was taking in the entire sky at once. “They get their color from the sun, but otherwise they’re just white flowers. Like daisies, or magnolias-”

“Or lilies?” I asked.

She turned to look at me, grinning, “You’re funny. Yes, or lilies. Or peonies, carnations, orchids, tulips-”

“A lot of those flowers are different colors as well,” I interjected. “I would never list a carnation or a tulip as a white flower.”

Lily’s eyes had drifted back to the sunset. She sighed. Only a sliver of the sun was still visible. It was growing dark. The flowers now were all violet and blue. “A sunset is such a fleeting moment,” she said. “A white flower can only stay colored for so long.”

I placed my hand on top of Lily’s. I was surprised by how frail she felt. Her skin was as thin as a petal. I wrapped my fingers around her hand carefully. She shifted, dangling her second leg off the edge. Painted in indigo light, she looked spectral, almost ghost-like.

“I wish the sunset was longer,” I said.

“No,” she replied. “A longer sunset would be less special.”

She moved her head away from the sunset to instead gaze down over the edge. It was a small movement, the turning of her head, but it was taken with such care. As if such a simple act was difficult. A frigid breeze blew past us. I saw Lily shiver.

She scooted over and leaned against me. I put my arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to keep her warm. My thumb felt a rough protrusion on the inside of her elbow. I lifted her arm to take a look. It was a small, circular scar. How many times had she had an IV there? Her arm pushed against my hand, and I let go. She turned her arm away from my gaze.

“I’m sorry,” I said and began to pull my arm away from her.

She leaned into me further. “It’s ok, it just means you have to answer a question for me.” She looked at me and a little smile crossed her face.

“Sure,” I responded, smiling back. I put my arm back making sure not to touch her scar.

“Why did you come here?” she asked.

I hesitated for a second, wondering how I should respond. We sat for a moment in silence. Lily patiently waited for my response, her shoes tapping against the limestone as she swung them.

“I guess it was the flowers,” I finally said. “I came to join them.”

“But the flowers are in the sky. You can’t do that.”

“Well they aren’t really flowers are they?”

Lily’s eyes narrowed in concentration as she thought about what I said, then understanding crossed her face. “Oh… Well, I’m glad you didn’t. The flowers belong in the sky, and we belong here.”

“Also… in the sky,” I said.

“You know what I mean,” she said, rolling her eyes.

The sun completely vanished from view and darkness settled over us. The flowers were invisible in the dark. “I think it’s time to go,” I said as I removed my arm from Lily and stood up.

“Do you have somewhere nice to get back to?” she asked.

“Not really,” I said.

“Then come back here tomorrow, alright? This can be your nice place. Just remember, the flowers are for looking at, not joining.”

“Don’t worry, looking at the flowers is much better, and I will definitely be back. Are you leaving too?”

“In a little bit. Don’t worry about me, I do this all the time. I’ll get back home safe.” Lily gently lay on the ground. I looked up and could see a star had already revealed itself in the sky.

“Ok,” I turned to go, “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Bye,” she said.

I walked away turning back once to see her in the dark moving her head slowly side-to-side as if to a silent melody.

 

The next day at the same time, I returned to the ledge. The sun had just begun to set and the flowers dawned fresh colors. I basked in the light as it washed over me. I made my way over to our spot. I was going through a list of flowers in my head, trying to match them to the colors of the sunset. After last night, I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation. I wanted to know more about Lily, and see what other weird ideas she had floating around in her head. 

I looked toward the place we sat last night, and I stopped. This was the place where we had sat. This was where I met her. I saw a small, pale form growing from a crack in the limestone.

It was a flower.

It was a lily.

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