The day Stephen came in with the cloud over his head was the day dad stopped talking. It didn’t happen all at once though. He yelled a lot of things at first, most of which I didn’t understand, but eventually he stopped and that was the end.
Mom and I were at the table playing that game where you have to guess the murderer. It was the kid’s version though, so I don’t think anyone really died. I heard the door open before the others even though my dad was in the living room watching reruns of The Price is Right. I could never understand why he watched that. It always ended the same way and he’d always fall asleep before it was over.
I remember bounding up from the table, scattering the game pieces in my excitement. Stephen hadn’t been home in a few weeks. He used to visit a lot his first year in college, but as the time passed he’d turn up less frequently. Mom liked to say he’d found a girlfriend, but I’d never seen her.
I raced down the hallway and into the foyer, ready to throw myself at my older brother like always. But as I rounded the corner, my socked feet sliding across the tile, I caught sight of him and could tell something was different. Stephen was standing at the door. His shoes were still on and he had no bag. He smiled at me, but just as an afterthought as he listened to the sound of our parent’s shuffling in from the other room.
Dad got there first. He was smiling, but then he saw the cloud and his face went all hard and made his eyes look like they were bulging out of his head. When my mom came in from the hall hers did the same thing, but only sadder.
“What the hell is that?”
“What do you think you’re doing bringing that filth into my home?”
Dad was pointing at the cloud over Stephen’s head as it rumbled anxiously.
“Please, let me explain—”
“Don’t you dare even try.”
Stephen shook while dad yelled. He said some stuff about how it would ruin the family and make us look bad, but I didn’t really understand why it was such a big deal. It was just a cloud after all.
Mom backed away like she did that time I showed her the rat I caught in the basement.
Then Stephen looked at me.
Dad grabbed the neck of my shirt and pulled. I stumbled backwards away from my brother and his cloud, which had gone sooty black and was leaking raindrops onto the tile. Mom picked me up and carried me to my room even though I told her I wasn’t tired.
I could hear dad yelling through the door as mom kissed me goodnight. I tried to ask her why Stephen was in trouble, but it must have come out wrong because she said I didn’t know what I was talking about.
She shut the light off as she left, but I couldn’t sleep. I heard Stephen slam the door and a few minutes later dad’s footsteps stomp down the hall and into his office. Maybe I didn’t understand. The last time dad had shut himself in his office was when Aunt Amy had died, but as far as I knew everyone was still alive.
Dad didn’t come out for a long time after, and when he did he had gone quiet. It made mom sad and she would cry during dinner sometimes. She’d blame it on the onions, but most of the time there weren’t any onions so I knew she was lying.
The next time Stephen came home was to pick up his things, which dad had thrown by the curb with a sign that said ‘Free’ propped up on top. He had the cloud wait in the car while mom let him in through the back door, but she wouldn’t look at him and left the room without saying anything.
I asked him where he was going, but I don’t remember where he said, somewhere that started with an F I think. He grabbed the peanut butter from the cupboard but didn’t say anything else to me. He seemed sad, but I didn’t know why. I felt like I should say something, so I told him I thought his cloud was alright which made it worse because Stephen started to cry. He hugged me tight, not like he did when Emily’s dog bit me, but like how grandma did when we moved away from Springfield.
Dad came in then. I thought he was going to yell because he had that face like he was going to, but he just stared at Stephen who didn’t say anything either. He looked like he wanted to, but I think he couldn’t figure out what it was he wanted to say, so he left. He hasn’t been back since.
Whenever I asked about Stephen after that dad would leave the room and mom would pretend like she didn’t hear me. Eventually I stopped asking. I was wrong about his cloud being alright. None of the other families have clouds, and all of them can still talk.
Maybe one day he’ll get rid of it and come home. For dad’s sake.
As a full-time student, Ellyn Hurst spends most of her time studying punnett squares and gene loci, but still manages to scribble down flash fictions and notes for her novel between powerpoint slides. Her dream to be an author began as early as grade school, though was put on hold for a long time as she focused on math and science early in her college career. Recently, she has been re-introduced to her first love and has taken to writing avidly on her novel in hopes of becoming a full time author upon graduation.
See ebook illustration for this story here!