8:36pm, 22nd February 2021
The Cloud Factory
All things being equal, I have a new story out in Podcastle this week: Clouds in a Clear Blue Sky. It is, I think, the best thing I've done since The Bone Poet & God, and I'm nervous and excited in equal measure for you all to hear it.
The first draft got started with an 800 word intro that eventually got cut for word count reasons, but remains the seed of the story and something I can't let go of. It never made sense for it to go back on the beginning of the narrative proper, as it just slowed down the start, but it works pretty well as a teaser, so in anticipation of the publication of Clouds in a Clear Blue Sky, please enjoy this 4 minute prologue: The Cloud Factory.
The Cloud Factory
My Dad worked at the cloud factory up on the hill above town. He'd take me up there some days, nodding to Uncle Gareth on the gate as he steered me inwards with a hand on one shoulder. There was an understanding that us boys needed to see what went on, to know how it worked and how important it was, so we got waved through even though we weren't proper meant to be about.
My Dad'd squash an oversized hard hat down on my ears and hang a great flapping fluorescent jacket on me that swung round my calves. I felt right ridiculous and proper grown up all at once, knowing I looked a silly bugger but feeling proud that today, I was getting tret as a man.
You never played a daft sod on factory days. It was too important. You couldn't show your dad up.
So my Dad'd take me in through them big double doors and into the thick heat and red-painted iron of the inside, walking behind me so as he could keep an eye, occasionally saying "left here" or "straight on" but otherwise quiet and serious. None of the other dads about were so serious, and the other boys said my Dad weren't normally neither, but it's like, soon as you had your lad in, it were proper business. Same way I felt, I suppose, even though I knew I looked ridiculous. Penny to a pound all those other blokes laughing and joking now were just as stern when they had their own lads in.
"Up this ladder here," my Dad said, pointing off to our left. He stood back so as I could go first. Reckon he knew if he went up first I'd get cold feet about following him so high, so he waited for me to go, knowing I'd be too ashamed to chicken out in front of him. He din't say nothing to make me feel small about it: he just knew what he needed to do, same as he knew how to go about it without embarrassing me. Same as he knew how to help me find my courage and not feel stupid.
So I swallowed the lump in my throat, put my hands on the rungs, and started climbing, the work boots I'd borrowed from cousin John making the ladder ring with every clomping footstep.
I looked down a couple of times while I climbed--I know, I know, I couldn't help it--but all as I saw when I did was my Dad, climbing right behind me, not looking up at me so as I still wouldn't get embarrassed but puffing himself out as big as he could manage so as I couldn't see past him to the ground. He just kept climbing, right behind me, so as I had to look up and get going again.
When we got to the top, he din't say nothing. Just put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. That said enough.
We were stood on a mesh platform looking at a great big boiler. The great big boiler, gleaming copper and smooth reflections, right beneath the chimney. Right where the clouds came out, drifting out over town then the valley beyond.
This was it. This was what it were all here for.
My Dad sat me on his knee, perched on the stool in front of the boiler controls. He showed me the dials he had to watch, and the valves he used to keep it all in check, and how he moved the steam and the water between the tanks so it were all at the perfect pressure and temperature ready for cloud making.
He even spoke to Colin's dad and got me a turn on the lever that released the next cloud, and I'd never felt so proud. The whole thing churned and squealed and rattled, like some enormous beast gearing up to charge, then it eased out the cloud, straight out the chimney, a stream of white tufts off to help some farm somewhere. Weather, that I'd made! I mean, I hadn't, of course, it were only the last step of many, but there and then I believed it was me, my work, mine, deep down to the bottom of my borrowed work boots.
That were real happiness, that day. I remember the look on Mam's face as we came home, just in time for her to plate our sausages and fried eggs and brew us up a mug of milk-and-two-sugars tea while we ate. She looked at my Dad and she looked at me and she said "Alright?" and I just grinned, grinned at her, grinned at my Dad, grinned from the sheer bloody joy of it, and my Dad nodded at me and said "Aye," and I damn near burst.
Colin, though. Colin never had the chance to go to the factory with his dad.