I think it was the sheer weight of the clouds that made his knees buckle. They just got too heavy for him. They went with a ‘cerebral accident’ but I know it was air pressure. Too much on his head and no arms around his torso to hold him up. They found him down Manchester Street with his hair in a puddle. A slick of petrol rainbow on his temple.
Jack’s clouds were already heavy when I met him – three o’clock on an October afternoon twenty five years ago. I was reeling down a Kemptown side street in a bendy haze of vodka and heartbreak. It hurt like I might die. It hurt like a flaying. He caught me as I wavered at the top of his basement steps. I threw up in his pot plant. I cried in his arms. I told him I couldn’t live without her.
‘Pop her over that cloud, sweetheart. You see that line of white light on the top? Can you imagine how bright it is on the other side? Pop her over there in the bright light.’
Sipping alka-seltzer at his kitchen table, curled on his sofa with a mug of tea, Jack helped me lift them all over the top of the clouds. Jack never judged. Love is love and loss is loss. Girls with broken noses and bunting made of lies. Best friends who went to London with the rent money. Grandmas and uncles swallowed up in cancer. No-one was lost to me after I met Jack.
‘Darling, if I couldn’t look up and imagine them there, dancing on the flip side, I wouldn’t be able to keep going down here. ‘
We were on the pier and the waves were blinding in the winter light. The clouds were perfect for a Jack moment – dark and threatening but with a rim of silver white hope.
‘I don’t even know if I want her there, Jack. It all hurts too much.’
‘Oh, you want her there.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘I’ve got them all on my clouds, haven’t I? Even Derek.’
‘Yes, well, you know what I think about Derek…’
‘I’ve got him, aged thirty two, dancing up to his ankles in all that white cloud, like on the beach in Sitges. I’ve got his kisses and his smile.’
‘And not his bloody rages or his jealousy?’
‘My clouds, my choices. You make your choices too.’
And Jack was right, of course. If you start policing your clouds then you’ll have an empty paradise over your head. If you’re hoping for entry to other people’s then you’d better operate an open door policy. So I did. Jack on his back with a joint and mug, telling me the secret to love.
‘Imagine any one of them laughing and you’ll want them there.’
Trouble is, get to sixty seven with all those lovers, all those friends, all those lovely women from Superdrug… Get to sixty-seven with all that endless trust and collisions with lives lived in chaos… Get to sixty seven with such a party over your head… Well, if you do that, you’ll likely find the clouds give way. Like the floor in the bedsit in Over Street in 1982. Like the decking in Piper’s garden that summer.
So the blood bloomed out in Jack’s skull. I watched them carry him into the chapel but I slipped off up the slope, through the trees to the brow of the hill. The sky was big and blue there was my back-lit cloud. Up there, on the flip side of the darkness, Jack’s telling them all, turning up the music, shouting over the top, telling them all how much I love them.