“Is this Heaven?”
“No, dear,” the older woman pulled her glasses to the bridge of her nose and peered at her. “This is Cloud City.”
“Oh.” I looked around. “It looks like all the pictures of Heaven…” I trailed off. Obviously, there weren’t…
“Darling,” she cut off my thoughts, “they don’t let the paparazzi in Heaven, if you know what I mean?”
I nodded. “Of course.”
“Too much shenanigans,” she walked a bit forward towards an especially puffy bit and had a seat on it. “Not with the fighting and the yelling and the name calling…always the name calling. As if any star could hear their name clear as day on the step and repeat. They can’t. It’s just too much. Too many cameras and not enough real, intriguing photos, you know what I mean? Who would be the judge about what would be considered art or not?”
“Of course,” I whispered, repeating myself like a pap desperate for a look.
“Now,” she looked at her clipboard. “You sew.” She pulled her glasses down again. “Really? Do real people still do that today?”
“Of course,” I turned to her. She nodded and returned to her clipboard. “You had some success as a rhythmic gymnast.”
“When I was young…ger,” I said.
“Honey,” she pulled her glasses down again to look at me once more. “Young. Younger. Youngish. Age is nothing but a matter of mind. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. You know what I mean? Make sense? Can you feel yourself in the rhythm of the gym? Of the gymnast experience? Can you feel that ribbon swirling all round you over and over again? The adulation of the crowd? The tight leotard? The hair pulled back into oblivion? Can you?”
“Of course,” I nodded. “I remember it well.”
“If you did it then, you do it now.” She returned to her clipboard. “The Red Onion is long gone. Sadly. I always enjoyed those mini-discos they held in their center atriums. So you were what? A waiter there?”
“A server,” I corrected.
“You waited on people?”
“Chips, salsa, veggie burritos, the whole nine yards?”
“Yes, of course, whatever they wanted.”
“Weren’t they wonderful?”
I nodded again then looked around.
“What do we do now?”
“What?” she looked at me. “Here in Cloud City?”
“Well,” she leaned back, crossing her legs and finally pulled her glasses all the way off her face. “There are places to go and people to meet.”
“Really?” I looked around. All I could see where clouds, and more clouds and no one besides this woman.
“What is your name?” I asked. “I don’t think that we actually introduced ourselves.” I put out my hand.
“Clara Storm,” she offered hers.
“Chicky Sange,” I smiled shaking hers.
“I know.” She put her glasses back on her nose. “Now, Chicky, sex is also quite popular at Cloud City.”
“I would imagine it would be.” What else was there to do?
“But even up here, we need to be discreet.”
“Well, you probably don’t see, see,” she looked at me. “In Cloud City, we are fine with whatever you want to do, it’s your business, your life. However…” she stood up. “See that airplane right there?”
I turned. “Yes.”
“They can’t see us, but we can see them.”
“Yes, we have a deal with the FAA. All the windows on airplanes are treated with a special film. When people look out of their airplane seat, all they see are puffy white clouds, when they actually pass over Cloud City. Sometimes, it’s just farm and mountain and what have you. But when they are actually flying over Cloud City, they just see what they think are … you know, clouds.” She took her glasses and gestured with them. “But we’re all here. They are fantasizing about us, about what it would be like to actually live in Cloud City and they don’t even know that we are here, walking around having a fine time.”
“How did you broker that deal?” I asked.
“With the airline pilots association.” She walked a few feet towards an oncoming plane. “Wave to these lost souls. Go on.” She waved. I did too.
“They can feel our essence.” Clara turned to me. “They feel we are here that’s why they are drawn to want to climb right out of that seat and come live here. But we can’t have that. If people actually saw us, it would create unspeakable havoc. So we are invariably invisible to them.”
“And the airline pilots? They live here too?”
“Of course,” she said. “It’s their payback for flying above and beyond for so many years. Imagine being them, day in and day out, seeing, feeling all that goes on in Cloud City and not be able to get out and run free and join the world above the world. Where we are carefree and a-live! You know what I mean? It’s the least they could have.”
“Is Sully Sullenberger here?”
“Not yet,” she said, taking up her clipboard. “But you can bet he will be.”
“I’d like to meet him.” I said. “I enjoyed his book.”
“Yes…well,” she looked at me. “Not yet. All in good time, Chicky.” She tilted her head and looked at me. “Do you prefer to be referred to as ‘Chicky’ going forward or ‘Chilanda’ as is your given name?”
“I was never called ‘Chilanda’ so Chicky is fine.”
“You were named a name you were never called?” asked Clara.
“Yes,” I stood taller. “It happens. Many people are Christened one name and called another.”
“I thought only the preppies did that and that movement was over in the 80’s.”
“It…people still do.” I had many friends with names that were not the formal ones. Who cares anyway? “Clara,” I got stronger. “I’d like to get on to whatever it is I should be doing here.”
“Always the server,” she said, looking at her clipboard.
“I like to stay busy,” I said.
“Well, busy is as busy does, I guess,” she said. “Then you may go to it.”
“Where?” I looked around.
“Cloud City is all yours.” She swept her arm around the surround.
I swallowed. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Where is everyone else?”
“Where you will find them, of course,” said Clara.
I took a deep breath.
“So I’m to make my own amusement?”
“Your own purpose, my dear,” she corrected me.
How am I supposed to find anyone to do anything with?
“I can just start walking and hopefully, run into someone else to make something of…something else?” I didn’t know how to finish the sentence.
“You have to believe, Chicky,” said Clara. “Believe, my dear. The world is your oyster. Cloud City is what you make of it.”
I just might rightly go crazy in Cloud City. I started to panic.
“Don’t.” Clara placed her arm on mine. “Please have some decorum. Pull yourself together and get on with it. We all – must get on with it!” She threw her arm into the air.
I nodded again. “Very well.”
“Good!” exclaimed Clara. “That’s the spirit!” She leaned into me. “Literally!” She took a deep breath. “Setting people up on Cloud City is always an illuminating experience. Some people are gung ho and others, tails between the legs with fear. But fear is nothing but false evidence appearing real, so there is no sense in storing that up for the winter. You are not a squirrel. You are a BEING. So go, be! Enjoy yourself. There’s lots to see and do and do and see. If you open your eyes. Have fun!”
With that, Clara was gone and I found myself on my own. I took one step forward and began to traverse, the fluffy white substance all around me. Ahead was a castle it seemed, carved right into the atmosphere. I set my eyes and began to live in Cloud City.
THE END…FOR NOW….