Short Story The Clouds
Hank pressed the bell, and not even two seconds passed before the door opened up with a cracking sound. A man appeared with a bald spot on top of his head, but long hair on the sides. He must have been close to fifty years old, was wearing a white shirt with stains on it, […]
Hank pressed the bell, and not even two seconds passed before the door opened up with a cracking sound. A man appeared with a bald spot on top of his head, but long hair on the sides. He must have been close to fifty years old, was wearing a white shirt with stains on it, brown pants and black leather shoes. Taking a step back, Hank watched the man look at him with a wondering stare. He looked like he had been painting, and had been disturbed during one of his most intimate artistic endeavors.
“Yes?”, the man asked. Hank spread out his arm, and handed the man a piece of paper. “It’s for the room sir, I saw the newspaper ad.” “What…”, the man looked over the paper, and wondered through his mind. “Oh yes, the room, of course!”. He gestured Hank to come in, and stepped forward into the house. “I’m so sorry, I completely forgot about the ad”, the man said, “but yes, I do have a room for rent”.
They left the dark blue hallway and came into a living room. The walls where covered by books in oak tree bookcases. Some of the cases were divided by painting of clouds. “Oh, you’re a painter?”, Hank asked while pointing to a picture of a thundering storm. “Yes, you could say that I’m a painter”, the man smiled.
“So, this is the living room, but your room is on the second highest floor”. “And how many floors are there?”, Hank asked. “Not sure”, the man proclaimed while holding his hands in the air. “I only stay at the lowest and highest floors, not sure what happens in between.” “wait, what? You don’t know what happens in your own house?” Hank just couldn’t believe it. “Well, I know the floors are there, I just don’t know what they are used for”, the man said. “But how can you not know?” “You tell me, do you know what every mouse, every insect, every bird or every sparkle of dust does in every building you know?” “No, but..” “Then don’t assume that I know what happens on every floor of this house”, the man interrupted him. “Come on, I’ll show you your room”.
They left the living room, went back into the hallway and started ascending the stairs. Hank looked up the staircase, that looked like the deepest cave hanging upside down. How high was this house? But the man didn’t seem to notice Hank’s shock, so they continued their way upstairs in silence. After what seemed like an age, but what was only five minutes, they stood in front of a light blue door. “So, this is your room, well, if you like it of course!”.
When the man pushed down the handle and stepped into the doorway, Hank was struck by the glares of light. A big round window was placed in the northern wall of the room. It offered a splendid view of the sky. Hank could see the summer blue in between white fluffy clouds. How marvellous they seemed. They looked like a picture you might see in a museum, he thought.
The man stood in the middle of the room and spread out his arms. “So, what do you think?” Hank, still mesmerized by the big window, looked around. Just like in the living room, the walls were covered by bookcases and paintings. There were no paintings of thunderous storms, but only of bleu summer skies. The room was a gentle one. In the left corner stood a small wooden bed.
“It looks fine, splendid even! Hank couldn’t believe it. Sure, the man was weird, but the house and room looked amazing. “I’ll take it”, he said with a smile like he had just made the deal of his life. He turned to the man. “I’ll unpack right away, so my stuff won’t be in your way.” “Oh, that’s quite alright. You can take your time. I’ll just be upstairs for a while, but why don’t we have dinner together? I’ll cook something up for you.” Hank was surprised, the man didn’t really look like much of a cook, but then again, so didn’t he. “That’s nice, I’d love to. When will we eat?” “I don’t know, I don’t like to eat before it gets dark. How does 8 pm sound?” Hank was used to eating sooner, but he didn’t want to be impolite, so he said “that’s fine by me. “Okay, I’ll see you then.” The man turned around, walked out of the room and closed the light blue door behind him.
While the clouds passed by, the sun lowered itself towards earth. Time passed, and soon it was 8pm. Hank went back down, into the book-filled living room. Darkness was being chased out of the house by two lights. They gave a warm glow to the books.
The man had just set the table, when he turned to Hank. “Ah, just in time, please sit down.” Hank sat down, and watched his plate, that was filled with sausages and cream puree. It looked delicious, how can a puree be so soft and creamy? “So, if you don’t mind me asking sir, you said you are a painter. Is that all you do?” “Yes, but I’m not just an amateur, mind you. My work has been seen by the entire world.” “So, I might have seen your work is some museum?” “That depends, you could say you can see my work while being in a museum.” “How do you mean?” “Well, if you see something while staring out of a window of a museum, is that something then in that museum?” “No.. So you’re a street artist?” “I wouldn’t call myself that, it just sounds so … cliché. I mean, yes, most people see my work while walking down the street, but I’m not a guerrilla hippie with nothing else to do then painting the pavement.”
Hank couldn’t figure it out. Until now, the man had been nothing but a mystery to him. While eating another piece of cream puree, he became determined to look for answers. The semi-bald man would become a light in a dark forest.
But for now, Hank was happy to enjoy his meal. Once again he wondered about just how fluffy cream puree could be. it was like a soft southern spring sky in his mouth. When they finished their meal, the man said “so tell me, what do you think of the house?”. “It’s very nice,” Hank said “but I still have to figure out how many floors there are though.” “Oh, I wouldn’t mind that. I’ve lived here for an eternity, and I still don’t have an answer to that.” Hank sat back, and took a sip of his wine. “Just explain me if you will, how can you not know how many floors your house has?” The man chuckled. “Well, everyone has a favourite room in his house, right? I like floors. I like this floor and the highest. This is where I relax, and up there is where I work.” “And why do you work on the top floor? You must have really strong legs to walk up and down the stairs all the time.” “Yes, my legs are wonderful, believe me. But I need the height for my work, you see. The second floor wouldn’t do.” Hank thought about that one for a while. “But, why exactly do you need the height?” The man frowned, “Now young man, don’t be stupid. Every painter needs a canvas, right? That’s where mine is!”.
Hank lost it completely. “But that hasn’t got anything to do with the height? If you put your canvas on the second floor, you’d be fine!” The man sighed. “You simply don’t have the imagination to understand, and that’s a pity. How old are you?” “I’m 24 sir, but what does that have to do with it?” The man suddenly stood up, with his fists planted on the table. “See, it’s the disease of our times! 24 and already you have lost all your imagination.” The man walked round the table, stood beside Hank, raised his finger and said “Tomorrow you’ll see me work, and you’ll understand. But until then, no more questions. Good night”.
The man left the room. For a while Hank sat there and watched the cloudy darkness out of the window. He felt sleepy, so he got up and made his way up the long stairs. In his room, he closed the curtains from the big round window and got into bed. He fell asleep instantly.
The next morning, Hank woke up at a huffing and puffing sound. What on earth is that? “When you get your rigid mind out of your bed, come join me on the top floor. There’s no time to waste in the morning”, he heard the old man shout through the light blue door. Hank heard the man pause for a while and then the huffing and puffing sound started again. He got up and spread out his arms. A pity, the bed is so soft. I wonder where he got it from, Hank thought.
He made his way up the stairs and stopped before a white door. This is it, now I’ll finally know what the hell is going on here. Hank knocked on the door, and heard the man stammering “Come on in, mmpff!” He opened the door and saw the bald spot of the man going up and down. The guy was doing push ups! After two more times going up and down, he jumped up on his legs. “No need to be surprised young man. When you paint, you need strength. You need to be a force against the powerful paintbrush”. Hank smiled. Obviously, the man was a looney, a simpleton. But when he looked away, he watched the room in full amazement. There were no books or paintings covering the walls here. they were simple splattered with paint. But what struck him most, was that the northern wall was made of glass. The window had massive wooden frames, made out of oak tree, Hank noticed. it looked out over the morning sky. it was still dark, but a lonesome cloud was hovering next to the house. A tiny companion to the mighty sea of stars.
Hank saw the man crossing the room towards the window. He spread out his arms and started pushing the wooden frames. With a gentleness that surprised Hank, the window opened up. “It’s spectacular huh”, the man said. “I have never gotten used to the sight. It’s just too beautiful.” A soft breeze filled the room, but the man didn’t seem to notice. He took some cardboards and divided them over the floor. Then he started to pour out tubes of paint on them. Each colour had his own place. First white, then yellow, afterwards blue and finally black. “But where is your canvas? You said you needed this floor just for your canvas?”, Hank asked “Still you don’t see it, just wait”, and the man took up his paintbrush. First he pushed it heavily in white, spread it over a vacant cardboard and then dipped the brush gently in black. With a patience only old people and artists have, he began mixing the colours. It became light grey. Then he pointed the brush to the sky and started moving it. “What…”, Hank shook his head. “Now just wait! have some patience dammit!”, the man cursed.
As the brush moved over nothing but the air, a soft grey form appeared. It looked to Hank like a pillow someone just slept on. “You see, I paint the sky”, the man said with a smile. He started colouring in the pillow. He added some dark touches, which gave it some depth. “But… I mean… How does it stay up there?”, Hank asked with a bewildered gaze. “It stays up there, because I painted it there. But wait, the best is yet to come”. When the cloud was done, the man put aside his brush, watched his creation and simply blew on it. The pillow slowly moved out of the window, like when you walk to the toilet in the middle of the night.
That can’t be, he must have drugged me. The dirty bastard is probably playing some tricks on me while I’m fast asleep. Wake up Hank, goddammit! “I see you still don’t believe it”, the old man started cleaning his brush with an old cloth. “But this cloud will be taken by the western winds, all over the world you know.” He put down the cloth on a nearby table. “So you see, I didn’t really lie when I told you my work has been seen by the entire world.”
Hank stood amazed by what he had seen. The freshly painted cloud floated next to the house. It would begin its journey over the entire world. Pass through storms and keep the moon company is pure silence that only true friends can appreciate. Outside the house, the sun rose like a sleepy child, slow and warm. Life had just started over for Hank, even though he didn’t know it yet.
The man stood by the window. He closed his eyes halfway, as the sunlight came into the room. Suddenly they could see all the dust particles hovering in the light. Hank came closer to the man. “I don’t understand. Does this mean that every cloud I’ve seen in my life was painted by you?” “Most people don’t get it, but clouds are silent witnesses to their lives. The first time you kissed a girl, and looked up to the sky with the feeling you don’t need anything else, a cloud was there. When thunderstorms came into your head as a loved one died, and you sit hurled away in your room, the clouds see your sadness as they pass your house. They are the most intimate pieces of art you’ll ever see.”
“You know what the most beautiful thing is about clouds?”, the man walked away from the window and picked up his paintbrush. “Their beauty lies in their form. No one will ever see the same cloud. You might see a duck in it, as you lack the imagination, but others might see a white cherry tree in full blossom. Something that helps them through the day. A storming wave over the land that inspires them to unknown symphonies and poetic activities.”
The man dipped his brush in the white and yellow paint. “It feels like a good day, doesn’t it? Time for some colour to brighten the mood.”