Elmer’s father told him stories of a woman who wore clouds and floated through the sky, almost invisible unless you paused, steadied your breath to match the rhythm of the wind. He thought about those stories when he went to bed without a kiss on the forehead from his mother. Now, he thinks of Lily as the woman in the sky. Lily, after she floated away from him permanently, who left him in the night without saying goodbye. Elmer never tried to call or find her. His father told him the woman is not something to control, but to revere. Even long after Lily is gone, he still walks along the shore, as they did together, and looks not at the water but at the clouds. He tries to see the shape of the woman, but she stays hidden, and he can’t match her cadence.
Elmer is not surprised by Lily’s leaving. He is accustomed to unrelenting and unintentional destruction, though he knows now many of the broken things in his wake were not his fault, not really. Too old and withered to think about marriage, Elmer leaves the city. He builds a shack on the Gulf of Mexico, near a small inlet outside of Reynosa where the waves don’t reach, overlooking ocean water like liquid glass. He doesn’t yearn for children as he once did with Lily.
He sits every afternoon in an Adirondack chair with peeling white paint, his toes buried beneath warm sand, throwing broken shells into crystal water. He watches the splash, the swallowing of an intrusion, and the effortless return to its original shape like it wasn’t punctured. He drinks cheap bourbon and doesn’t think about anything but the woman in the clouds. He breathes the salt wind while it blows his hair back and slowly erodes his sun-shot skin.
Elmer sat in his room picturing his parents as thunderstorms competing for the sky. Each insult lobbed was a lightning strike, rattling his shelf of porcelain patron saints. His mother purchased them, though she was moderately religious, a left-over compulsion of her life in Mexico City. St. Bruno to ward off demonic possession. St. Rita of Cascia for when he was lonely at night while his mother worked. When his father snorted white powder and vanished for days. When all Elmer had was his sister, Anna, who was much too young to be responsible.
The lightning struck again, this time a cast iron skillet against thin sheetrock. St. Anthony of Padua tumbled from his shelf, through Elmer’s too small fingers, and landed on the tile. It didn’t break from the fall, but cracked, straight through the small saint’s head in a jagged diagonal line. Elmer put the figure in his pocket and ventured into the hallway, toward the storm, compelled to know what it looked like when the sky fought and swirled.
And in the kitchen, he saw his mother, her heaving chest, a tower over his father on the ground with a thin stream of blood leaking from his nose. She spat as she yelled in a language Elmer would not learn until long after she was dead. She grabbed a near-empty bottle of Four Roses and smashed it next to his father’s head on beaten Saltillo tile.
Elmer opened his mouth, but he couldn’t yell. There was a rope around his throat keeping his voice trapped somewhere inside. His mother looked up from the floor covered in glass like broken water and saw Elmer. She froze, a picture of a cloud glowing with internal electricity. They watched each other, both too scared to move, until Elmer’s mother began to cry. She took her purse from the kitchen table and left without closing the door, and the sun shone through, leaving a rectangle of light where his mother would never again stand.
Elmer swept the wreckage into a pile and saw his fractured reflection in shattered glass obscured by rivulets of his father’s blood. After he and Anna finished cleaning their parents’ mess, he blamed himself for his mother leaving. He believed he bore witness to something only true because it was seen; if he had stayed in his room, she would have eventually come back.
Later, Anna and Elmer would sit together and listen to the stories their father told to bring sleep when they craved a mother’s kiss. They would breathe in unison to the rhythm of his words.
Spencer is an emerging writer in Phoenix where he lives with his wife and two smaller versions of his wife. He is an intern with Superstition Review. His work has appeared in Riggwelter Press, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, Ellipsis Zine, Gravel Magazine, and JMWW Journal. Find him on Twitter: @LitmanSpencer.