Indian summer… and me, shooting clouds.
Wind… grass…hill spines… nothingness, silent dissolution, crepitant life.
Dog-tired at end of the story, taking pictures… of clouds: nothing else to use your freedom for, socio-computers sanctioning free choice of video-shooting best practice.
Freedom is good. It lets you to wear shoe laces, a belt and a pocketful of shaving razor-blades you can use anytime you want.
See? those years are gone. Ages ? seconds ? A life figment as large as life itself… and no discovery… except for the clouds. Not even memories, not even hope. A transient world… the sharp sweet-bitter feeling of an acutely provisional state, that the lens can’t record
Once each three months, a fleeting dust wall rose on the hill’s coast, following the old road: lifeline across the brownish palm. The sales boy had films, videotapes, rolls of chemic memories, holomatrices, developers… also hydroponic transplants and clones to be incubated, concentrates, life-liquors, never papers or letters. Hernando’s snapshots were not large enough to capture the hustle and bustle far off.
Hardly had the sales boy left, the sky cleared up and Matei could set the trivet and the lens: a cloud… and one more…crossing to him and into his black-box prisms, mirrors, lens… Our patience is infinite when we wait for the wind of change. The heavenly kaleidoscope spun slowly, revealing flimsy whitish creatures… like the cirrocumuli, thin dunes against the canopy of the sky, sandy beaches under the limpid sea… or smoky rags, once fluffy, now tattered rolls, the stratocumuli… ruffled sheets, crumpled shrouds in alcove, the altostrati… and light purple scarves, the altocumuli…
Night fell and the boy locked himself inside the lab with the reels he’d shot… and, shortly before dawn, he’d added new snapshots to his atlas. Matei, customs officer of the sky, writing (who for?) about the endless avatars of steam: The book of clouds. Life story as we know it.
“I’m lucky to be alive so I may shoot the clouds – art or no art, life will be all the richer for it”, he’d say.
Instead he started losing his friends… girls… being hurt by visual-arts critics… Well, who isn’t, after all? Had they not parted with him, he would have parted with them. He couldn’t stay long hours confined within walls, no matter how comfy. His office was translucent, the double walls made of crystal, as was the hemispherical ceiling: shielded by sun-sensitive blinds, unseen veins irrigating the lens.
Laying on his back, blinking at times, lest his irises should go dry altogether, he recorded (so he could play back in slow motion) the stars, the rain, the fleeting clouds, the snow flakes, the flashes of the heavenly stroboscopes.
” Clouds are the material form… or abstract?… of otherness, otherwise… ” Matei used to say.
Sure he had no interest in weather reports and steam science… nor was he hunting earthly metaphors for the disconcerting surrealism of the clouds. At times he saw familiar faces there… and when it happened he froze…for everything was then likely to remind him of anything else. The echoes inside the shell would have fogged irreversibly the hologrammatic network, the holo-grammatics. He only took snapshots of the clouds that looked like nothing he knew, not even other clouds he could remember… night and day, watching the cameras, switching foci, dusting the lens, fixing exposure times, always a-hunt.
Otherness is a thing in our minds… or on paper, as, blowing up a snapshot he’d taken that very day, Hernando noticed he’d actually caught his game: two elliptical cloud splinters, superposed, translucent lining…It was floating about the top of a huge ziggurat-like cumulonimbus, sort of a sky-scraper, milky and lit, at times, by the electric discharges within, about 7.000 ft high, its floor maybe hundreds of acres, for all he could tell.
He kept the stand on, still overnight, at maximum exposure time and the lens (under anti-glare filter) focused on the same sky area. In the morning he took a few more snapshots and, between two sips of coffee, he developed the nightly video-gram. Through the gaps between the newly come nimbostrati – at times even through their semi-opacity, like through an egg-shell seen through a diaphanascope – the contour line of the strange double was still visible, lit like a, electric candle hidden in an ornament on a Christmas tree. Could it have been just a bright structure resulting from barium expulsion… or a routine insemination with silver iodide, the so-called daguerreotype clouds?
Rare huge drops started falling in the afternoon, but soon the rain burst into a real storm, drawing closer across the hills, so he had to had to withdraw. The third day was no use, for the sky stayed shabby and gray, like a stained hospital blanket … besides, it drizzled all day long.
On Friday he mended his equipment. Once in a while he dismantled his camera to its last little cog… quite thoroughly, those optoelectronic hybrids continuously changing were most strange mutants. And on Saturday, he blew-up his photograms, fine-tuning the holographic matrix and mixing-up the videotapes… he did it like he, at times, re-papered his room. On Sunday, avoiding the footprints imprinted in the moist sand of the past, he leafed through the pages of his album, picking the most equivocal, cut off from reality, of his pictures.
On Monday the sky cleared up and, before starting again, he noticed that the spongy tiny cirrus, like riveted with dirty chalk, was rushing across the sky screen. But, even cloudy, the biconvex lens – the monocle of some old saint – was there, protecting him, the lonely, the lost.
The thing was there, in all the snapshots taken the following mornings, against the changing background of the cloudy sky: a shell-cloud, motionless but changing. As the day draw to sunset, it was growing pale, at times even vanishing from the frame… then Matei would find it slightly lower on the sky lens, like there was something on the ground luring it.
In the afternoon, half-awake, he made it to door…and sort of knew: the sky-eye was inspecting the room, through its lens, was inspecting him… they were looking into his eyes. He pushed the door shut and, back to the coolness inside, he put down his wishful thinking. That gigantic steam lens, the only visitor really reaching the Earth, was actually snooping, somewhat cautious.
So what he wrote was that he so wished the alien ship (so well mimicking a cloud) came down to him, down to him, down to him, finally talking to him.
Actually it was not as if the cloud was coming closer to Earth, but, rather, that its image was suddenly blow-up, a lab trick: the slightly flattened two cupolas were distinct, wrinkled, bluish-gray, deviously winding.
And then it did come closer, for not only did it grow bigger, but also half-opened, its fluffy insides clearly visible: bright dense wavy magma, where golden veins were gleaming, suddenly joining the velvety meniscus of the shells’ two cups.
“Why do you think we must talk?” – they asked.
“Because I am aware of you! Because only I can see you! and I understand your signs… and I could love you… because I could travel with you.”
“Are you sure… you want to come with us… even if you learn… there is no way back?”
“No way back for me anyway. I’ve been round and round this planet… lenses, mirrors, photograms… I myself and me, together and apart. And here you came. There is elsewhere, otherwise, otherness… Now I know that all I’ve waited for was you… and that, finally, you’ll give me a road to you… all.”
“We know you’ll change your mind!”
He felt the creatures… the creature… watching him throwing his videograms away, tearing off his wall-paper printed with the most glamorous clouds you ever saw, breaking his camera, the panes of the greenhouse, all he could lay hands on… like feeding a shrine with a torch burning to the glory of change…. the flames ending in a could of smoke the wind tore in stripes rising to the sky and vanishing altogether. Hernando knelt to them and asked them to change his life…to take him along… away from this place he knew inside out.
“Don’t laugh at me”, he begged. “I did that already”.
Only the strangers didn’t knew what laughter was for, exactly… they only thought it was for everything else.
The travel was the endless second of a beetle caught in a drop of amber.
“We live on one of the two island-stars spinning some place at the outskirts of your galaxy, a place you call Magellan’s Clouds… you might call our world, a Dyson sphere seven light-days old, death-sweeter-that-painting-eye-window-new-color… our sky is always clear… we have no mountains and plains and seas… nothing of that and our life goes… otherwise.
Maybe a thousand millenniums passed, or maybe a few seconds… of timeless time. He didn’t remember who he was, or used to be. He’d quenched his thirst for absolute change. The screens of his mind were shiny new, as they were at the beginning of the world. He was nothing like himself anymore, nothing was left of him, beyond the boundless desire to always be something else… a flashing entity tearing apart the canopy of time.
And then… he felt an intent look focused on him…first by chance, then clearly on purpose…casual, wary, probing, on the wait, hesitant, endearing, engaging. A creature of mist, a filmy haze, vaguely mimetic, apparently unnamed so he wished her baptized Ala-Sola: their most precious guide… and gift. … the creature programmed to repeat, on a one person basis, the story of her world.
And when, giving him back something lost an eternity before, she helped him fall asleep, as levitating above the dark sands in the breeze of the gravitational winds, he closed his eyes, looked at her and smiled… happy.
Empathy was the wonder box from which the trill came, or the sounds of these lines… and entropy, the hidden spring of the crystal nightingale inside empathy.
“Feminine noun… knowledge of another, close to intuition; interpretation of a different self after one’s own… sympathetic transposition into outer objects”.
The crystal nightingale chirped a thousand times more delightfully that the flesh and blood one… so the birds were chased and the unrivaled song of that nightingale brought by the great scholar Dyson filled the air. He jumped over the rainbow with Ala-Sola because she was otherness incarnate… He opened the cage door to chase the gray cold ball of feathers away… and let in the new eternally young glass soul.
All images around stripped off, though not their hues, they clad their bodies in the equivalent of kisses, which Ala-Sola also sealed his eyelids with… so by and by he felt an array of fresh desires fill up his life. She did not touch him, yet contained him, like a stream of lava. Moment after moment and one ages after another were like the foamy wave crests on an ocean of joy… pushed ashore by the arcane winds of being together, by the esoteric breeze of knowledge… by the whimsical winds of change. Never-ending moments, sheer timelessness, Ala-Sola was always there, explaining and fulfilling his new world.
His new life, ultimately. And sweeter-than-life was so different from Earth. Ala-Sola was living inside me. With ease and grace she took the shape of my inside, like a perfect cast. There had been fear, too. It was no easy job understanding that the people there gave up their cradle and hastened into space, towards light, beyond any atmosphere, pushing endlessly their border lines… and turning into something else.
The people had grown alike the world they were inhabiting, which was a mixtum compositum, as large as a planetary system, built over generations from the scraps and remains of old planets, a star in the middle, whose energy they could entirely retrieve. At first they’d lived on the matter rings around, in a willful energetic continuum, along the spatial or the temporal axes, anywhere, in fact.
Ala-Sola was both this side and that, of indescript present. Not only did she fill in all gaps, but also undid, one by one, all snapshots in the maze-galleries of reunited past and future… draining him of what he was, filling him with her misty zest for life.
Millenniums passed like a drop of honey oozes by and their love drained, self-consumed from inside out, its fluffy core crepitating over its covert dissolution, molecule by molecule, into nothingness. Time passed and the end neared, as nears the end of this story all about clouds.
“Entropy. Feminine noun. Thermodynamic measure of reversibility reflecting status of macroscopic physical processes. Entropion. Masculine noun. State of inside revolution of the eye”.
And one morning came when, laying on the sand and staring at the misty stars rising in the east, comfy inside his shielding body, Ala-Sola agreed to show herself at the outer side of window-eye-new-colour, since so long ago, by then, their world. Matei sensed silk and scales at hand: the idle snake of boredom coiling deep inside of him.
Making him think… of future.
“Does that make you feel better?” his alien lover asked him, in tears, touched by the chill of his thought.
“I believe in future not for being better, but for just being”, replied Matei. “I believe in it as in the most tangible avatar of happiness”.
She pressed his eyelids, with her warm breath, again and again… then his whole body… in infinite tenderness.
“Only the limitless present exists, doesn’t it? she whispered in his ear.
But velvet and silver could no more fire him. Her eyes two small remote mirrors, her hair, skin, body, look, voice… the dark dessert of the world sweeter-than-life itself… meant less and less to him. The rustling waters of change around them were just sheen, frozen faces, endlessly reflecting their own. At the end of the day, revulsion waited for him… he feared of getting caught where he most wanted to get. And then he started forgetting her… and she started comparing him with her, mistaking him for his inner void.
He pushed her farther and farther away, shunning emotions, making her believe she was the deserter.
“Don’t let’s hate each other, Ala-Sola”, he would tell her, already so far.
He scarcely heard her, whisper why, moan, acknowledge existing through him, or else disintegrate, return to the continuum of the primary silent ubiquity.
“Our love lives on… as this understanding… that nothing is eternal…”
Before he had a chance to find out if the statement was – who for? – mere solace, he found himself alone, facing with the starry mist.
Alone, on that wreck of a ship, of his, Hernando reminisced his travel.
Feverish, that very moment he started looking for the things he needed. He made those implements endlessly patient, polishing the crystal shards lost on the sand, picking slivers gravitational lens, of silver haloids… and studding it all on molecular plates.
Not before long, his new camera was ready. He smiled. He installed his trivet far away, in the middle of a huge uneven crater, like the inner face of a skull. He picked a long exposure, adjusted the lens, set the focus… and, one mid November starry twilight of death-sweeter-than-life-painting-window-eye-new-light, with a fresh, indomitable hope in his soul, he crossed the amethyst vault.
The motion of the starry clouds, which only the immortal could see, or those for whom life stopped, caught in one videogram after another, made up the lines you are reading now… and he started, again, talking to us.
Twin fish of the dark, passing through the customs of the sky, a star in his mouth for a silver coin… he was the only one who could tell it all, as he now knew that, when you start shooting clouds, no disaster is perfect.
It’s only perfectible.
In English by M. A. Christi