Elias Chess

Clouds. Always clouds. They’re why my life is as it is today. Fucking clouds.

I can’t believe I used to lie out in a field for hours, just so I could look up at the sky and be with the clouds. Big clouds, little clouds, grey clouds, white clouds. Cirrus, Cumulus, Stratus, Nimbostratus. I loved them all.

And here I am now, the pilot of a 737 wearing my goddam pilots uniform and I get to see my precious clouds everyday. Is this what you were hoping for little Timmy? Huh? To fucking live up here in the sky and be able to look out at your damn clouds all day long?

I can’t wait to get to the hotel and close the blinds. Then I won’t have to see that endless sea of fluffy pillows. I’m amazed I ever saw any beauty in it at all.

Do other people with occupations of love feel this way? Martha loved flowers. She picked flowers in the field during recess, her dress covered in floral patterns. She’d hand them out to everyone in class when we got back inside, saving the biggest and best for herself, usually a lily, sticking it in her hair above her left ear. Even the walls of her room were covered with rose patterns. Does she feel the same way now in her flower shop? Or is she like me, shutting herself off from what she loved now that she made it her life. Are the walls of her home still covered with flowers? Does she still wear floral pattern dresses? Or does she wear, plain, drab, grey dresses? Are her walls painted sterile white, her lawn only grass and trees? Does she still own a flower shop?

I hope to God little Martha didn’t grow up like little Timmy did. I hope little Martha is present in Martha today like she was before she left me. Going outside to pick the flowers. Giving them to strangers in the street, keeping the biggest and best for herself, sticking it in her hair. I hope she still loves the thing that she made her life.

Boat, spaceship, house. Duck, bunny, horse. Knight, fireman, spaceman.
Hey Martha, what do you think that cloud looks like?
A flower? Well that’s boring.
What about that one over there?
A flower?
That can’t be a flower. You’re not even looking at the clouds! You gotta come over here and lay on your back. That gives you the best view.
Oh you just want to pick some flowers? Fine, have fun by yourself.
Train, car, ambulance. Fish, cat, mouse. Mommy, Daddy, me.
Martha Hanley.

Here we are ladies and gentlemen; we are beginning our descent and will be landing at Logan Airport within the next few minutes. Local time is 9:15PM and it’s a cool 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finally we’re beneath the clouds. City streets below us are dotted with headlights, the giant Citgo sign flashing as always from its post in Kenmore Square. And at last, touchdown on the runway and we’re here.

I suppose I’ll stay at the Hilton again. It’s closest.

What a curious picture. Boats can’t sail on clouds. And clouds don’t dip and swell like waves in the ocean. They’re static motionless particles of water. Who the hell painted this? No signature. Must’ve been a jackass.

What? Oh no sorry ma’am, just admiring this picture here. Yes I’d like a room for the night. I’ll take whatever room has the smallest windows. Room 225? Thank you, have a nice night.

God this prep is boring. Yes, I know that’s the altitude meter, and that’s the fuel gauge. I know pulling back on the stick will bring us up and pushing forward will point us down. Yes, yes, yes, you’ve shown me all of this a million times before, can I just fly the damn plane already? Finally!

I wish the instructor didn’t need to be on the plane with me. I can do this myself. Yes, I’m checking to make sure the fuel is full, my seat belt is locked, my goggles are fitted comfortably to my face. Can we just go?

Oh god he turned it on. The motor’s running, the propeller’s spinning. We’re rolling. Ok Tim we can do this. Gaining speed. Gaining speed. Ease back the joystick.

And we’re off the ground!

Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus! This is amazing! Man, everything looks so small from up here.

Aw c’mon man, what do you mean we can’t go up any higher? I want to go to the clouds! Why else would I have gone through this crap?

This flying thing’s kinda cool though.

That’s not what I call a small window. At least it’s got a shade. There, that’s better.

And there’s that same damn painting from the lobby! Of course, it’s bolted to the wall. Who the hell would waste their time painting clouds? If you’re going to show a boat sailing, at least have it sailing in the damn ocean where it belongs.

I suppose it has some charm. I guess before planes, crossing the sky was like crossing the Atlantic to Christopher Columbus. Something new and daring.

Something grand.

But shit, we know better than that today. Now we zip through the clouds like it’s nothing. I don’t even think about it anymore.

But to some people it still is I guess. I’ve probably flown several little Timmys over my career. And they probably love the shit out of those clouds like I did when I was little Timmy. Well I hope they don’t make the same mistake I did.

OK, today’s the day. Keep calm Tim you can do it. Don’t worry about your tie; you checked it in the mirror about fifty times before you left. You can do this. You have good qualifications, they’ll love you. Or as Uncle Sam says, they want you!

Two months of pilot training. Two years doing stunts with the airshow. Sure you’ve only had experience with single engine biplanes, but that can translate into flying cargo or troop transport planes. No fighters though. No sir. I don’t like the idea of getting shot down in a Spitfire somewhere over occupied France. And more importantly I can’t worry Martha too much. I promised her I’d do nothing too dangerous.

Martha’s great. I don’t think I’d have the guts to think about doing this without her. Although I wouldn’t be wearing this tie if it weren’t for her either. Do I really need to wear a tie when I go to enlist? Oh well, she thinks it’ll make me look good.

I hate ties.

Hm? Oh yes, I’m Timothy Miles. They’ll see me now? Great thanks.
Ok pilot, this is your time to shine. The clouds and myself believe in you.

Another day, another wall of clouds.

I just heard a cute conversation as people were boarding the plane. A little kid named Jimmy is on his first plane ride and his mother agreed to play a cloud naming game with him.

Another day, another wall of clouds.


All systems are go, and we’re clear to take off.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Timothy Miles speaking. On behalf of myself and the entire crew, welcome aboard Delta Airlines flight 134, non-stop service from Boston to Los Angeles. We’ll be flying at an altitude of about thirty-seven thousand feet and the weather should be relatively calm on our journey. Weather in Los Angeles is sunny with a bit of a breeze. Thank you and enjoy the flight.

And little Jimmy, you enjoy those damn clouds. Weather’s bound to give us some good ones today.

Fuel, check. Cockpit secure, check. Troops aboard, check. Propeller’s spinning, runway officer’s giving me the OK. We’re good to go.

Months of training in an AT-11, moved up to a C-47, and now I’m taking off from Upottery Airfield for my first mission. This is the real deal. You’re not just flying over the UK anymore, you’re flying over to Europe in a Gooney Bird.

And Martha thinks I’m flying supplies between the US and the UK. I can’t tell her I’m going right into enemy territory in front of a huge invasion force, dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines and hightailing it outta there. Hopefully she’ll never find out.

Jesus the sky wasn’t supposed to be this cloudy. I can’t see shit. How the hell am I supposed to know how close we are to the LZ?

Is that thunder? God I hope that’s thunder. That would be better than what I think it is. Those clouds don’t look like thunderheads though.

I think we’re getting close. If it weren’t for these goddam clouds, I could tell for sure. Better turn on the red light.

Here we go boys.

Closed blinds. No pictures of boats sailing on clouds. Small windows. The LA hotel is much better than the one in Boston.

If only those thunderheads weren’t looming in the distance there. Makes me think back to that first mission. Even today, thunder gives me nightmares. We lost a lot of good pilots that day. Not to mention the paratroopers. Balls of fire falling from the sky. Black clouds of AA fire filling the air.

Ok let’s not think about that anymore. Happy thoughts.

Little Jimmy was cute. The Stewardess told me the boy and his mother played the cloud naming game the whole flight.

I miss the days when I played those games with my mother. Or with Martha. Well, I tried to play the cloud game with Martha. We ended up playing a lot more games than that in the end. Until she figured out I lied to her about not flying dangerous missions that is. I mean Jesus, I was just trying to keep her from worrying. She should’ve been thankful.

Although walking into a hospital and seeing your husband-to-be laid out there on a cot, tubes stickin’ out of him from everywhere possible can be pretty traumatizing. It probably didn’t help that I told her I was going to go back to do it some more too.

I should give her a call sometime. Catch up with each other. See if she still likes flowers.

Nah I’m crazy. We’d just end up screaming at each other again.

Dear Tim,

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I can’t take it anymore. You are flying all these dangerous missions, and all I can think about is how you looked on that hospital bed. Or how you could have looked worse. Or not even been in that bed at all but in a coffin.

I’m sorry but I just can’t handle it anymore. There’s no end to the war in sight and I just can’t take it.

They gave you the choice to stop flying so many dangerous missions, and you didn’t take it. You didn’t want to fly paratrooper missions in the first place, I know, but now that they’ve given you the chance to rotate to a safer job you just turn it down. It’s like you’re obsessed.

I’ve found someone else. He helps me take my mind away from you and the war and he makes me happy. I kept telling myself that I’d wait for you, and you were the only one in my life, but you’re just not there for me anymore. Whenever I do see you, or hear from you, you’re distant. Your not the same Little Timmy I grew up and fell in love with. You don’t look at the world with wonder anymore; your voice is dull and depressed. All you can talk about is flying in your damn plane on your damn missions. I can’t worry myself with that anymore.

Joe is there for me. He listens to me when I tell him my troubles and wipes the tears off my face. You don’t even listen anymore. The war turned you from a beautiful blue cloudy summer sky to a hurricane. I can’t live with the Tim that Little Timmy grew up into.

I know it doesn’t make up for anything, but I sent my engagement ring to your parents. You should be able to get your money back for it.

Yours truly,


C-47, AT-11, Spitfire. Jeep, Sherman, Panzer. Destroyer, Cruiser, Submarine.

Cumulus above. Stratus and probably Nimbostratus a few miles away. Contrails of a jet flying diagonally across the sky.

Jeez you have a really different take on clouds when you’re older.

Ok Tim, this is more than a call. I thought you decided against making a call in the first place. God this is crazy. You know when she opens that door and sees you standing there, she’ll slam it in your face like the first time you got back from the war.

Well it’s worth a shot. Thirty years is a lot of time for people to calm down about things like this. We’ll probably have an awkward cup of coffee. She’ll tell me if she still likes flowers. I’ll tell her I hate clouds. It’ll be a grand old time.

I hope her husband won’t be there. What was his name again? Joel? James? Jim? Something with a J. He’s never there anyway from what it sounds like. It’ll be fine.

Will seeing her old engagement ring hanging around my neck make things awkward for her? Who knows, maybe it’ll make her happy. Make her think a bit more kindly about me. Show her that I still care.

Here’s the door. See some flowers on the porch. I guess that answers one question.

Well come on pilot, knock on the door.