Conversation and Precipitation

by Laura Newsholme

I was twelve when I first started talking to the clouds. Twelve is such a strange age in a girl's life. I myself was surprisingly mature in many ways; I had breasts and menstruated and thought constantly about boys and yet in so many other ways, I was a child. One manifestation of my childish nature was talking to the clouds. I would lie on my back and spend my time telling the clouds my secrets and my wishes. Other girls of my age wrote frantically in journals: I had no need of a journal; I simply talked to the clouds. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when at age twelve and a half, the clouds started to talk back.

I remember the first time I got a response to my incoherent ramblings with shocking clarity. As usual, I was lying on my back on my bed, which was next to an enormous window. We lived in an old house, and one of the many differences between our house and the more modern properties closer to town were the size of our windows. My mother would moan whenever she redecorated, which she did frequently, because she would always forget about the difficulty incurred when trying to buy curtains to fit our enormous windows.

This particular rant to the clouds was all about Billy Phipps. Billy Phipps was the apple of my twelve year old eye. I believed that we were destined to be together and like many twelve year old girls, I analysed every gesture, every fleeting glance, every word spoken and every smile. I was convinced that he was madly in love with me, but was far too shy to do anything about it, because I was not one of the 'popular' girls. Billy Phipps was very much a 'popular' boy. He embodied the perfect blend of cheeky monkey and brooding youth to find himself the idol of both the boys and the girls. He played on the football team and was tall and broad for his age, and yet there was a certain sensitivity to him, that showed itself in the poems and stories he would compose for English classes. To the twelve year old me, he was the perfect man. Unfortunately, Billy Phipps was also the perfect man for Jessica Furlough and this particular rant had begun because I had found out that apparently, Jessica Furlough and not myself, was the perfect girl for Billy Phipps. I railed at the base injustice in the world that he could not see through my twelve year old baby fat to the beautiful woman just clamouring for release. Surely he would respond to my sensitive nature and find me irresistible if he would just take the time to get to know me. Oh the horror!

'Billy Phipps does not matter, Emily. Put him out of your mind,' came the voice and I knew immediately that the clouds were speaking to me. I cannot explain how I knew that I was hearing the clouds, but there was never any doubt in my mind. More surprisingly, there was no fear. I was shocked, understandably, but I was never afraid of the clouds. There was nothing to be scared of. They were not intimidating or judgmental. They were just the clouds and they were talking to me as I had spent hours talking to them.

What you perhaps are not aware of is that the different clouds have different personalities. In a very profound way, the animistic religions of ancient times had it right all along, at least, they did in my experience. They would worship rivers and trees and nature in general and each and every object had a different persona. The clouds are no different. I found that the cumulus clouds were the most accessible and this was no real surprise, after all, cumulus clouds are known as fair weather clouds. They are the fluffy white balls that every child draws to represent a cloud and their appearance in the sky is all the more striking when the sky is the shocking blue of a midsummer day. They don't presage rain or storms. They just appear to give us momentary respite from the sun and they are all the more welcome for it. The cloud that spoke to me on that first day was a cumulus cloud.

I took the cloud's advice and I tried to put Billy Phipps out of my mind, which was not easy as Jessica Furlough was flouting their relationship for all the world to see and there was rumour that the fledgling couple had kissed behind the bike sheds. I would come home from school and throw myself on my bed by my enormous window and rant to the clouds about my tribulations. One of them would always respond and I began to value them as my closest friends. They were kind and honest and so much wiser than anyone I knew. Plus, I never felt like I was intruding on their time. It felt to me like they waited in the sky just for me and slowly, they became my clouds and I became the girl who prayed for rain. Unlike those around me, my face lit up when the storm clouds gathered and nothing made me happier than the constant grey sky of a British summer.

I know what you are thinking and you are right. It is incredibly arrogant for me to describe the clouds as mine. Some of you will be thinking that the clouds belong to everyone and no one. Others of you will be insistent upon the fact that they are not sentient beings but simply humidified bodies of water. Well, it is arrogant for me to say the clouds are mine, but I'm afraid that they are mine. I know they are, because they told me so. I was the only person they had encountered in eons who bothered to listen to what they had to say and I did listen. Not only did I listen, but I implemented. I took their advice and I ran with it and my life as a pre-teen was easier as a result.

Perhaps that isn't what you were thinking. It certainly wasn't what my brother James thought when he first encountered me having a conversation with the clouds. I was fourteen at the time and he was eighteen and it was the summer before he was due to leave us to go to university. James and I had always had a good relationship. We were lucky. There were enough years between us for us not to suffer from the inherent jealousy common between siblings who were closer in age. It also helped that he was a boy and I was a girl. As a result, I never borrowed makeup or clothes without asking and he never made me look stupid or beat me up in front of his friends just because he could. He was my big brother and he took the job very seriously. So, when he came into my room stealthily one afternoon and found me midway through a detailed conversation with my clouds, he was disturbed to say the least. I knew that he couldn't hear the clouds and so to him, I was having a one-sided conversation. Admittedly that must have seemed quite strange.

'What on earth are you doing?' he asked, aghast.

'Nothing. Don't worry about it.' I replied. The clouds had all gasped upon his entry. They didn't see it coming and neither did I.

'Who are you talking to, Weirdo?'

'No one. Just shut up James. And you're supposed to knock before you come barging into my room you know. I could have been naked or something.'

'Em, what's going on with you?' he asked. 'You've been acting odd for a while now and you never bring any of your friends home like you used to.' There was genuine concern and worry in his eyes but I couldn't very well tell him what I was doing and the clouds were advising temperance. Somehow, I managed to convince James that I was just talking out loud and he went away, but his fears didn't and I discovered later that he had spoken to our mother about what he had walked in on.

Sometime later, I found myself in a psychiatrist's office. I was fifteen and on the advice of my brother, my mother had been monitoring my conversations surreptitiously. By the time James returned from university for the Easter vacation, my mother was convinced that there was something strange going on with me and that was when I began my visits to Dr. Greenbaum. He was a nice enough gentleman and never treated me like a child, but the clouds were wary of him and his apparent well meaning suggestions. By this stage, I trusted the clouds more than anything else in my life and why wouldn't I? My beloved brother had betrayed me to my mother who had then assumed that I was crazy and taken me to seek professional assistance. I had no control over events, like most fifteen year olds, but unlike any of the fifteen year olds I knew, I was in danger of losing control of my freedom. The more I denied that there was anything wrong with me, the more inquisitive the questioning became and I didn't want to tell people about my clouds. They would never have believed me anyway.

Following six months of intensive psychotherapy, I still talked daily to my clouds and it was decided that my 'recovery' would be better served if I was committed to a psychiatric unit. My mother was distraught, but there was a large part of me that believed much of her reaction was due to embarrassment and the horror over what people would think and the clouds said nothing to disabuse me of this notion. James was truly remorseful and I knew that if he could have gone back to that first day and said nothing, there was a good chance that he would have. He didn't want me to have to go into a hospital and be surrounded by sick individuals with real mental issues. I knew that he was plagued by guilt, but I was sadistically pleased. In a very real way, this was his fault. If he had just left well enough alone, I would be laying on my bed by my enormous window talking happily to my clouds with no cares in the world. Instead, at the age of sixteen, I was committed to the psychiatric secure unit.

I was there for eighteen months and they were the most bizarre months of my life. For the first year, my behaviour changed little. I still talked to my clouds, but I was sensible enough to be sly about it. I whispered to them out of my cell window, nose pressed against the glass like an urchin. The night time clouds were less friendly than Cumulus, but they still got me through the difficult times and it was sagely Cumulonimbus that advised me to modify my behaviour. I was to respond to every suggestion favourably. My doctors thought I heard voices; I heard voices. I accepted that this was a problem and wanted desperately to receive the help I needed. The doctors thought I had made a breakthrough. I was kept on the ward for a further six months, and then, two weeks before my eighteenth birthday, I was released back into society, cured.

That was ten years ago. I have never required psychiatric help again and continue to function as a perfectly normal and well adjusted human being. I am engaged to a wonderful man and have a job I love. I also still talk to my clouds. I have learned to be circumspect over the years. I could have insisted that I was not crazy and still have been on a psychiatric ward to this day. I chose life and lies. My name is Emily. I am not crazy; I just talk with the clouds.

BIO: Laura Newsholme is a 32 year old student of English living in Yorkshire. She hopes to continue her studies through to phD level and would like to become an academic, specialising in speculative fiction. This is her first published work.