“The cloud you're looking at, it just disappears,” says my father. “And eighteen a day. That's enough.”
“Eighteen, really? That's enough for a dragon to live on?”
“No,” my father says, “It's enough to get them where they need to go.”
“Where's that?” I ask.
My father becomes sad, stares at his feet before lifting his head to look back up at the clouds. “To where your mom had to go. They go there. And if you time it right, you can catch a ride with one. Sometimes, your mom told me, if the dragon's in a good mood, he'll take you with him. But cloud dragons, she said, they're unpredictable, hard to control even for her, a cloud princess."
I look to see if any clouds disappear, swallowed up by dragons, but can't be sure if what I see is what my mind wants or what my heart needs.
“Are you going to be in trouble?” I ask my father, and I mean it, too. I'm worried. When I told Ms. Kriggle about how my mother went back to live in the clouds, she wanted to know why I'd think that, so I told her I didn't really, but that when my father tells me a story, it's so nice, so kind of wonderful I can't help but like it, even if it isn't really true. “It's just a really good story,” I say to Ms. Kriggle whenever she cries and asks about my mom. “It's just better than thinking she packed up and left.” Ms. Kriggle, she covers her face whenever I tell her something like that. She shakes big sad shakes. And that's why I worry. Because Ms. Kriggle, she wants to speak to my dad.
She doesn't believe him either.
Inside the classroom, my father waits for the last of us to filter out the door. He waits for Ms. Kriggle to stack paper. He waits in a child's chair. And the funny thing, the thing about my father, is he fits in it. Though the chair is meant for a child, he fits right in without a struggle. My father, he's not big guy. He's soft, small, handsome. Different. The kind of guy, he says, who a princess falls in love with but wouldn't sacrifice her kingdom for.
He tells her, my teacher, Ms. Kriggle, he's sorry, he shouldn't have told me that story. Ms. Kriggle says, “I'm glad you understand, Mr. Rulik, but it's not Simon I'm worried about. He seems to understand it's only a story, a story he likes. I mean, Mr. Rulik, he likes your story, but I'm kind of wondering why you're telling him it, if maybe you aren't you yourself still having trouble processing what happened to your wife. And God knows, I'm sorry. I'm not even sure of the details. I don't even know what happened, Mr. Rulik, but maybe you should talk with someone. I mean, I'll never understand what you're going through. I'm so sorry. Don't cry. I just wanted to say it's a good story, Mr. Rulik. And if you ever need to talk or maybe want me to keep an extra eye out for Simon, anything at all. I'm here.”
“It's a good story, isn't it?” my father asks. His voice cracks, and when he says it, I can imagine what he looks like on the other side of the door, seated across Ms. Kriggle. I can see his shoulders, the heaviness there, the heaving up and down, his breath slow, face wrinkled, eyes sad. I can see him.
Christopher DiCicco | 7