by Anita Kovacevic
The sky was cloudy today. Not gloomy, but fluffy white clouds. Just the way Meg liked it. Cloud watching had recently become her favourite pastimes. Mummy was gone now, that awful car crash taking her life, and Meg was devastated.
She looked back over her shoulder at her dad who was conducting his orchestra with a furious energy spawning from his wand. The deep wrinkle on his forehead and the hard, thin line of his lips piled more heavy stones into her little tummy, like tetris, but black and heavy, and without any of the fun. She used to play that game when the family traveled, but not any more.
Daddy was preparing for another concert. He kept dragging her to rehearsals, because that kind doctor lady told him to spend more time with Meg. She was five years old, but her eyes were older. She liked this big shell-like opera house, but she would have preferred to run around. Instead, she had to be quiet, and sit and wait. Ever since she had lost a tiny pony toy under the seats, she was forbidden to bring any toys or even books. All she had to do with herself was look through the window.
Meg was happy when it was cloudy. One of the clouds was her angel friend. She knew it wasn’t her mom. The angel cloud, the skycreeper, told her. Well, only with his thoughts, because he too didn’t want to make her daddy mad, so he too kept quiet. He was some kind cloud gentleman who dropped by when she was lonely. He just talked to her, told her stories about all the places he’d seen from up there. He couldn’t remember who he had been before becoming an angel, but it made no difference to Meg. He was a friend and that was all she cared about. Meg had never told anyone about her cloud angel. She guessed only kids could see him anyway, as kids usually did.
Today there was no story. She was drenched in sadness. It would have been her mum’s birthday. They would usually go to Mum’s favourite restaurant in the evening, all dressed up, and Meg would have spaghetti, and Mum and Dad would dance afterwards. So today Meg didn’t want a story. Her angel friend in the sky knew that. He just hummed quietly to the tune her dad’s orchestra was playing, and kept floating in the sky above his little friend, with a watchful eye.
The music suddenly stopped. Her father placed his hands on the edges of his conductor’s stand, his wrinkle got deeper and his knuckles turned white. He was far from happy with how the orchestra sounded. They were perfect but that’s not how he heard it.
‘Again!’ He hissed through his teeth.
They played again, although they knew they were playing well. He had always been tough on them, tough but fair, and they loved and respected him. They knew how hard he’d taken his wife’s death and he’d need to heal through work. But they were already spent and tired, and they knew anyway they couldn’t possibly sound the way he wanted it because it was not the sound that bothered him.
‘Stop! Again!’ He shouted, his voice coarse, bursting with frustration.
He was dissatisfied with the sound, but unable or unwilling to pinpoint why. His heartbeat seemed to be getting louder and louder, interfering with the music.
‘And that wretched dark skycreeper cloud is watching me from the sky again’ he thought, fearing he had lost his mind.
He’d noticed Meg look up in the same direction, but she clearly hadn’t seen the same ominous cloud, else she’d be afraid.
The conductor wiped the cold sweat from his forehead, passionately cutting the air with his wand, trying to wave off the memories which kept rolling before his eyes like a recurring slideshow. Her hair, the sparkle in her eye, she and Meg running into each other’s arms… The warm scent of their bed, his wife’s bare shoulder peeking from under the sheet, their kiss… And then her blood-covered body jammed into the car seat, the guilty driver slumped dead in his car, twisted metal jammed into metal, Meg’s tears, his helplessness… And again, the images unrolled over and over – his wife’s face, her smile, her scent, the deadly crimson…
The grey skycreeper cloud, the conductor’s demon companion, kept leering at him and whispering something the conductor tried to ignore. But the whisper was getting louder and louder.
‘Go to her! Let it all out. She needs you to!’
As the whisper persisted, the wand movements got more and more frantic. There was an ongoing battle between the music, the whisper, the conductor’s heartbeats, and the painful memories.
‘Stoooooop!’ The conductor screamed inside his head.
But it wasn’t inside his head. The scream was real. The orchestra stopped playing.
Meg jumped from her seat in fear, yanked from her cloud-watching serenity. Her chin started to quiver and tears painted her face, piling new grief tetris-stones inside her.
The musicians rose without a word, leaving their instruments behind and exiting the concert hall.
The skycreeper stretched his cloudy hands towards the window.
Meg and her father looked at each other.
‘Daddy,’ she called.
He knelt and hugged his daughter so hard he thought his heart would melt into hers. Their tears blended, their breaths almost suspended. She sobbed into her father’s shoulder, and his heart tore and healed at the same time.
They remained like that for a long time. His heartbeat became calmer, her tetris piles assembled. The healing had begun.
Up in the sky, the cloud angel felt a sting. He remembered. He remembered who he had been. His own memory slideshow flashed before his eyes. Getting fired, the taste of hard liquor in his enraged, curse-filled mouth, the futile bar fight, losing sight of the road before him, brakes screeching, metal blending into metal, glimpses of a woman’s face through his own blood, her eyes, so much like Meg’s, forgiving him just before they both died…
The angel cloud sighed and felt the wind dissipate him.
The sky cleared.
That night, the conductor was dancing with his daughter in his wife’s favourite restaurant. She held him around his face, wiping her spaghetti-stained face in his shirt.
He cleared his throat and spoke.
‘I saw something in the sky today, Meg…’
She looked up and smiled.
‘Me too, Daddy,’ she whispered and patted his back.
He blinked in surprise and accepted her child-like wisdom.
‘But it’s gone now,’ he added.
‘Mine too, Daddy, mine too…’
She smiled, her mother’s sparkle in her eyes. He smiled back and they danced on. The music sounded good.
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